Tag Archives: garmin

Half Marathon Training and Finding A Faster “Easy” Pace

Training for a Half Marathon, and running quicker on eays runs than before

Ambivalent about forming any 2021 training plans, I decided none the less to use one of Garmin’s automated training plans to build up for a hypothetical half marathon by the start of next year. Being in shape to run a half by January would get me in line to be ready for a late spring marathon… if coronavirus allows it to happen.

(Incidentally, BBSC Endurance currently plans to host the Lake Mead Marathon, Half Marathon and other races on January 9, 2021, which incidentally fell 18 weeks after I had started the half marathon program. So, if that Half Marathon happens, it would be a good goal race. We’ll see.)

Garmin’s automated training plans prep for either the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Marathon distance. You select a desired training schedule and time goal. You choose from one of three coaches, whose identity determines the algorithm that automatically prepares your training schedule. Garmin then has you do a brief 5 minute “benchmark run” to estimate your current fitness, from which your initial workout distances, intensities, schedules, etc, are set. This benchmark also clues you into how realistic your chosen pace goal may be.

I’ve built my own training schedules for years, but for many reasons decided this time around I’d prefer to let Garmin build it for me.

  • I have more schedule flexibility.
  • I’m doing other strength and cross training
  • Garmin tends to book shorter workouts, which is easier to get done.
  • I’m studying for certifications and working on other projects.
  • I wanted to train and build volume, but didn’t want to worry too much about how to go about it.
  • Not to mention… with coronavirus cancelling everything for a while, I had nothing to lose in trying things this way.

So this time around I used an automated plan.

Garmin’s three choices for coaching styles are:

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Finally Running A Lot Again

With today’s 4.5 mile run I earned this August Rundown badge on Garmin, for running 40 miles within 2 weeks.

This sort of thing should not be a big deal if you’re running regularly. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t been running like I was before. After I stopped training due to Coronavirus cancelling everything, and since I pivoted towards strength training once I resumed training… I hadn’t been running all that much. Before beginning the badge challenge in mid-August, I had averaged zero or single digit mileage every week since March 15.

When I finished the week of August 16-22 with 14.6 miles, it was the first double digit week of mileage I had logged in 5 months. And with today’s run I finish this week of August 23-29 with 22.6 miles, my first 20+ mile week since mid-February.

Granted, I had one other practical reason for not running, aside from Coronavirus or wanting a break or wanting to focus on swolework:

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Garmin and the Challenge Carrots

One thing I’ve noticed more of from Garmin is that they’ve recently rolled out time-based challenge badges.

For example, you opt into a challenge to bike 300km in the month of August, or take 70K steps in the next week, 300K steps in August, run 40mi in two weeks, etc.

Perhaps they’ve always done this. Perhaps they’ve caught my eye more recently because the Coronavirus restrictions have taken away all live races and there’s nothing to train for. Maybe this is a new thing that Garmin’s social-engineered to keep users motivated in the short term.

In any case, last week I opted into the step badges, 70K in a week and 300K in August. I’ve recently averaged about 8000 steps a day, a far cry from the easy 16K or so I’d average daily in Chicago. And this 8K was an improvement over previous months, where average days were 3K-4K and I had several 2K days. Even recently, my rolling average would ebb and flow up and down as my overall activity ebbed and flowed.

But in trying to cut some more fat, I’ve decided to get more active with walking or running. Once the challenge badges came about, I figured the artificial goal of trying through the end of August for 10K steps a day by hook or by crook would spur some valuable extra calorie burn. This took me from sometimes trying sometimes not trying to hit a rolling automated steps goal to setting a hard baseline of 10K steps a day. It was like the first time I wore a Fitbit all over again.

A 2 mile morning walk or 2-3 mile run every day gets me about 5K-6K steps right away. Incidental walking at the office gets me a few more, and longer walks during breaks at work pad the totals until I finish a typical office day at over 9000 steps. At that point, incidental end-of-day walking at home gets me to 10K if I haven’t already hit the mark.

On weekends I take that walk or run, then go to the gym at some point during the day which adds a couple thousand more incidental steps (my gym has a large footprint and you need to do some walking to get around). If by work-at-home day’s end I’m short a couple thousand steps, I go for an evening twilight walk in the neighborhood, however long is needed to hit 10K (usually 10-20 minutes is enough).

My days off begin with a walk or run, and a variety of day-off activities usually logs a good deal of steps, not including another trip to the gym. I usually have no trouble getting to 10K on my days off.

I’m sure the overall net calorie-burning effect is minor, but the hamfisted goal has certainly helped me be more consistent about moving around every day. Previously I would let days get away from me due to work and other concerns and I’d finish with maybe 3K steps. This likely played some role in my not being able to burn fat as I slim back down. This keeps my metabolism on point, and now it’s just a matter of eating right.

Now I’ve decided to do the 40mi two-week run challenge, which will require a 2-3 mile run every day through August 29. I had jogged sporadically in the mornings, opting to walk most days. I want to see how doing those short runs everyday at 7am will affect me. Since there’s no races to train for, it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t work out or a setback forces me to bail on this. It’s a chance to see if easy everyday running for two weeks can work for me.

Plus, more importantly, running burns more calories per minute than walking, and will generate more muscle/mitochondrial benefit than just walking. I will ultimately be in better condition for it, and might even lose a few more pounds of fat in the process.

Will I keep up with the Garmin Challenges of the day/month/etc once this month is out? We’ll see. I always like to trial-run ideas like this, a la Steve Pavlina’s 30 day challenges. Once I finish it out at month’s end, maybe I’ll have gotten everything I wanted out of it and forget about it. Or maybe I’ll just keep taking the Challenge Carrots every week, every month, building up fitness through hitting artificial Garmin-badge milestones until a more serious challenge emerges.

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My take on running apps

Virtually all reasonable running apps track the same essential information free of charge:

  • Run distance
  • Run time
  • Pace
  • An estimate of calories burned
  • Net elevation increase
  • A weekly total of all of the above
  • A map of the route you took, whether manually mapped or tracked via your watch/phone’s GPS
  • Functionality to post viewable data from your runs on social media

All seek to upsell you more features to get you to pay for an advanced version of their free service… which usually offers more detailed reporting on tracked data, and access to specific training programs.

Strava is the Beyonce of running apps: It has a large, somewhat manufactured and evangelical fanbase, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best app to use. One free feature Strava does provide that other apps don’t is a Foursquare-like geocached comparison of your performance along a given route versus other runners who have taken that same route. This can turn running a particular route into a competition with other runners… if that’s your thing.

Many other running apps are perfectly suitable for tracking your runs. MapMyRun, Runkeeper, Nike+, TrainingPeaks and so on allow you to suitably track this information.

While I use a Fitbit, its run tracking leaves a lot to be desired. While it does monitor run time and hear rate in conjunction with your tracker, you’re not able to map runs manually, leaving you completely at the mercy of your enabled GPS tracking to map any runs.

As I’ve said before, GPS is often inaccurate as a run tracker due to location-drift, regardless of your location. You’re tracked by a satellite in space periodically pinging your device. Even if a GPS tracker doesn’t screw up your tracked route, the tracked route often drifts off-path into buildings and other surrounding terrain, screwing up your tracked mileage by as much as half a mile on a 60 minute run. This can make tracked stats like pace per mile a completely inaccurate number, much like trying to use an abacus on a wobble board.

Thus any stats based off of my Fitbit, like pacing, mileage or stride length stats, are too inaccurate to be useful. I have noticed that other people’s mapped data from other trackers like Garmin have similar issues.

I still use my tracker to time runs and get heart rate data plus step count, but I map runs manually elsewhere to get the remaining stats.

Screenshot (Sep 18, 2018 7_59_10 PM)

Personally, I track all my runs on Runkeeper and have since I seriously got back into running years ago. I wouldn’t call it the *best* app, but it’s suited my tracking needs just fine. I have yet to discover through research any app that will allow me to port my historical data without losing valuable information (this always seems to be met with a subjective counterargument that said information isn’t valuable).

One free feature on Runkeeper I find useful is the ability to track mileage on your different pairs of running shoes. I like to know how many miles I’ve put on every pair of shoes and where they are in their respective lifespans. Other apps likely do this, but I appreciate that Runkeeper has the feature.


All this said, I still utilize a Google Doc (pictured below) on top of this to track my runs as well as my planned training schedule. The doc easily allows me to view my training progress over longer-term periods, as well as see how future training may impact my development. And one key value over Excel is that by being stored in the cloud, I can access it anywhere regardless of device.

RunLikeHell-2018-09-18

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The key to finding a useful app for anyone is to figure out what data you want to accurately track, and then utilize a combination of tools that will allow you to accurately track that data.

Some just want to know approximately how many miles they run. If you have a Garmin GPS tracker, then that tracker’s app is probably fine by itself, even if the results are a bit inaccurate. Some couldn’t care less if they ran 4.15 miles and the app only says they went 4.00. As long as they know that weekly total of, say, 35 miles is pretty close to what they did, that’s enough for them.

To a lesser extent, this is true of Fitbit, though I will say a built-in GPS will be much more useful than GPS tracking that relies on your phone. The transmission between devices can lead to highly inaccurate results. Ditto simply using an app and your phone. I will note that at first I used Runkeeper’s GPS tracking, but at times I would get wildly inaccurate maps that ended up useless. I finally just decided to enter runs manually afterward and that’s worked better for me.

Some may want to track their pace, and most won’t want to put in the amount of effort I do to verify that pace. If you can accept some degree of inaccuracy from your tracker, and the tracker tends to be mostly consistent in how it tracks (and how inaccurate it is with) your route, then you may be fine with the GPS tracking.

Just don’t take the pace readings as gospel: If it says you ran an 8:00 mile, and it’s important to you that you know that you ran exactly an 8:00 mile or better, you may want to double check your distance on a map of your route, and calculate it out.

If you can see that your tracker tends to be consistently inaccurate (say, it always measures your pace about 10 seconds fast), then that can make your readings useful provided you know to make that adjustment afterward.

For speedwork, it’s often a lot easier, especially if on a track. If you know exactly how far an interval is, your measured time is enough data to figure out your pace with a calculator. I would go off charts and the math rather than your tracker’s pace reading. Your tracker may give you a pace that’s inaccurate, but 400 meters is always 400 meters.

In any case, the best app for running honestly depends more on your needs and equipment, more than on the quality of the app itself.

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