Resetting my running habit

Thanksgiving is not known for gift-giving, but I got all I wanted for Christmas on Thursday night. My brother-in-law Scott Craig gave me his Garmin Forerunner 205, because he upgraded to a new model. I had not expected to have something so useful.

And now, I may just run a marathon on March 21, 2010.

Since not running the Richmond marathon, I've not really been formally training for anything. I've not crossed 10 miles since time in late September and have gotten into a rut of doing the same 7 miles again and again. The training program got me in the habit of wanting to know my pace, and wanting to know how fast I ran each mile. I've been too scatter-brained to map out each course so I can manually keep track of my pace on my bumblebee Timex.

One of the first lessons I learned from Mark Lorenzoni of Ragged Mountain Running Shop is to buy a watch. Without a watch, there's no point in considering becoming a competitive runner. And, if you're running, you may as well try to improve yourself and the best way to do that is through knowing how fast you go.

With no real racing goal in mind, I've managed to shave about 6 minutes off of the 7 mile loop I run from my house to Belmont and back. On Tuesday night, I ran it in 58 minutes. I can't do the math to figure out what pace that translates into, but I know I ran the first two miles at just over 7:30 each before needing to slow down. Pacing. I still need to learn pacing.

Enter the Garmin.

To the non-runners who may read this, the Garmin uses GPS to track your position in real-time, measuring how far and how fast you are running. Every mile it beeps to give you an update and tells you your pace.

This has the effect of liberating me, because now I can run wherever I want without having to keep track of anything. I have so many mile-to-mile points marked in town, and the two I checked today were pretty much spot on. I ran the first of my 7-mile in 8:30, mostly because the watch kept telling me I was on that pace.

Just like a treadmill.

A year ago, I began this journey on a treadmill, gradually building up my miles and my speed. By March, I was hitting the road, a process which sped up dramatically as soon as I ran the Camp Holiday Trails 5k, my first race, at 25:08. A week later, I ran a second one on the same course and ran at about 23:30 or so. I didn't run again until July, when I ran a 6:23 mile in the Kiwanis Fourth of July 5K race. Of course, I had to stop for 30 seconds to throw up, but I'm confident I'll get the hang of pacing with time.

I had not learned that lesson in October, when I ran the Blue Ridge Burn 10K at Walnut Creek Park in Albemarle County. In that case, I had not looked at the map before hand, and mistook a road crossing where the course went past the the finish line to begin one last mile loop. But enough of that. I was okay with how I did.

Today, I ran the first two miles right where I wanted to and then sped up and gradually brought up my pace. I made some stops on the way (and hit stop on the watch) and worked my way up a trail leading up Observatory Hill, but at one point ran a 7:45 mile without really feeling too fatigued. I really enjoyed running and knowing exactly how far I had gone. It gave me confidence I could go as far as I wanted, much like knowing there was a white chalk mark every mile to help me keep track of the data.

So, today feels like the beginning in a new chapter in my running habit. I can imagine myself running more often, and becoming motivated to become better so I can set a real target for the Shamrock Marathon. I want to reach out to others who are training to run it, and met one woman last week who is thinking about it.

Today, I went running for pleasure. Sure, I was training, too, but I was just reminded of how much joy it brings me. I ran past the stadium as Virginia and Virginia Tech fans were slowly making their way to the game. Running past people in a crowd is a great way to people watch, because no one is paying any attention to you at all.

The last day of college football is like the end of fall for me. Winter is here, along with a need to get more gear to run in the cold. But, for now, I've got the most important piece of equipment I need for a while. I think training with the Garmin is going to really help me steer myself towards becoming a much better runner. And, to that I extend a very huge thank you to Scott.

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