Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Confession: My timing was off

A few changes occurred in my running habits after my move to the Des Moines metro area.

It began with the whole "you're an undersized woman in a totally unfamiliar city" thing, which prompted me to bring my cellphone on almost literally every run.

That then led to a newfound interest in and dedication to timing my runs, which has spawned a new set of questions: When I stop, do I stop the timer as well?

This is more complicated than it sounds. I'll start with the less shameful subquestion: What do I do when it's traffic that's halting me?

I've approached this from a couple angles. On the one hand, it's not 100 percent my decision to stop (yes, jaywalking is an option, but traffic's flow doesn't always allow it). On the other hand, it frequently benefits me, such as when a busy intersection is in the middle of a long uphill. Or, while it might help me catch my breath, doesn't it also give my muscles a chance to stiffen up and break my rhythm?

Ultimately, I suppose, on race day this mostly becomes a moot point; I've only encountered auto traffic in one race over the course (ha!) of my career.

The more guilt-inducing subquestion, though, is whether it's legitimate to pause the clock when I'm the only one forcing myself to stop — whether it's a sinus issue, a loose shoelace or just shortness of breath.

My rule of thumb has been wholly self-serving. If I walk, I keep the timer going, but if I stop for any length of time — be it for the traffic question or the wimpiness question — I pause the GPS. My justification is that I know I don't have that luxury on race day, but that in training, I don't have the luxury of extrinsic motivation (the no-excuses race clock).

All of this rationalization fell apart Friday, when I set a three-mile PR. My pride in the achievement was tempered by a timing glitch and a deliberate timing alteration.

First, the glitch: As I approached the entrance to a small strip mall, I slowed down to let a car turn in. The car's driver, however, stopped upon seeing me and waved me through. After I reached the other side, I realized I must've bumped the timer and paused it — so I hastily hit "resume." This alone wouldn't have added more than 12 seconds onto my time, though.

What would have added 12 seconds onto my time, at least, was the break I took after running west, into the wind, and preparing to turn north, possibly still into the wind and definitely slightly uphill.

I paused. Blew my nose. Gave myself a silent and speedy pep talk. And off I went to finish out my three miles.

When the final time read 25:48, I was elated. It took a few minutes for me to realize that it was a tarnished PR. I'd been able to dismiss my slight worries about pausing for any number of reasons, be it my fault or just stoplight synchronization, because I hadn't been notching any times of which I should actually be proud.

It doesn't resolve the stoplight question, but I think it's resolved the other ones: As I practiced race pace Monday, I sacrificed seconds during mile five — ultimately, the second-slowest — to take a Kleenex break.

So now that I've made my confession, anyone out there care to weigh in on the traffic question?

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