Short Courses & Fast Times

I’m closing in on the second full year of my return to running (after a mere thirty year layoff), and while I’m pleased to be running 5k  after 5k at just about exactly my goal time of nineteen-anything, I’ve yet to really break that magic number of twenty minutes. And I blame the courses. Or my Garmin. Or at least the combination of the courses and the Garmin.

In the good old days of cotton shirts and cheap shoes, races were timed with an official stopwatch that started with the gun. No chip timers. No same-day online results. (No “online” anything.) And no GPS watches telling you the race was only 3.08 miles.

It’s this last one that’s made me think: what counts as “really” breaking twenty minutes? The chip time on my most recent race was 19:58. But not so fast. Here come my Garmin (which I remembered to stop at the line this time) telling me I’m 2/100s of a mile short of the needed 3.1. Not as bad as the 19:20 I ran last year… on a 2.9 mile course. Still, a quick calculation of my average pace tells me that would put me across the line in 20:10 of a full 3.1, so goal not yet met.

And it gets worse. I don’t normally bother with the Garmin for intervals on the track (though I’m not doing those lately… see my 30/20/10 post), but the last time I did the watch kept telling me I’d hit the ¼ mile split ten or twenty feet shy of the real split. I know 400m is not exactly ¼ mile, but this was more than the 2 meter difference. So the Garmin may actually be a bit short on its own.

But even when the course is long, I’m still in trouble. A good kick in the last ¼ mile (according to my Garmin) might put me under my goal, but it sure would look foolish to do this ½ mile out of the official finish and then putz my way across the line, passed back by all the runners I just passed. I have some dignity. A little.

I suppose I could start wearing two or three watches, or pacing out courses with a measuring wheel, but lacking that level of dedication (obsession) I’m going to just go with the watch distance and wait for the good day to line up with that one good course that’s at least 3.1, but not much more than 3.1.

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Author: Steve

Researcher of narrative and political identity. Teacher of English at South Texas College. Would-be middle distance runner.

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