Coach Mike Mead

May 2010

Keeping Time on the Run

We runners today have some nice advantages with the latest technology, yet I find some so-called “runners” who do not use the simplest things to keep them on pace like watches! That’s right, I know runners who run without watches.

How do they know how fast they are going? Time is the standard for runners. For most runners who favor distance, the four-minute mile is the all-time classic time standard. Run one of those and you’re considered someone who is hell on wheels!

I began running at a time when chronographic watches – that is a stopwatch function on your regular time piece – were very difficult to come by. My first summer or two of training for high school cross country, I remember taking a good look at the kitchen clock before I headed out the door for a run and as soon as I returned I tried to remember to check the clock again to see how long the run took.

I find it a little annoying of runners who run without a watch. But what I find more annoying are runners who run with watches to the point of distraction. You’ve seen these runners in competitions. They fidget with their watches as they start a race and then at the end of the race. Evidently watches became such a nuisance in college cross country years ago they are not allowed in NCAA championship cross country meets. The reason, as runners finished they covered up their race numbers as they were fidgeting with their watches.

It’s most particularly annoying with watch-wearing runners in track meets where technology is such that the big meets have a running time display at the finish line AND at the 200m mark. In addition, these meets use the latest timing equipment that can sort out close finishes in a matter of seconds, rather than minutes and produce the most accurate finish times available.

Despite all of this technology, there still are runners who wear their watches in races and instead of paying attention to the display clocks on the track, they get distracted by the ones on their wrists! I think they tend to lose time when they fiddle with their watches.

It’s different in road races where display clocks can only be found at the finish line. The well-run road races have timers positioned at every mile mark, so one could forgo the watch.

I don’t (yet) own a GPS watch, but they are a great way of measuring pace and distance covered for training runs and competitions. It is important in training to know if you are getting in the effort you hope to achieve on any particular run.

There have been two things I’ve done throughout my running career that were very beneficial to me as I developed as a competitive runner. One was having time goals and the other was establishing time goals on my training courses.

From the very beginning – that being high school – I set overall time goals and split goals so I had a good sense on my racing pace. My main event in high school was the two-mile (3200m by today’s high school standards) run which is eight times around a 440 yard or 400m track. As a freshman, I ran a best of 10:09 and by my senior year I got it down to 9:30. Each time I surpassed a time goal, I set another one. I broke down the individual lap splits so that I knew my interval splits, could make adjustments as I went through each lap and got to where I could “feel” if I got off pace. Remember, we didn’t have chronographic watches back then.

The other helpful training tool was establishing several training courses of various distances. I would set an initial time on each course and then the next time I ran it, I would try to improve the time run on it. This kept me honest in my effort and gave me purpose. Sometimes I would incrementally improve the time for a couple of consecutive runs on the loop then I might lag a little.

As I make my umpteenth comeback, I still run regular training loops and courses for time to gauge if I’m making progress. By being aware of specific times on your specific training loops, you are forced to focus more on these runs. As you get stronger, the times will get faster and you will look at ways to shave more time off with each run.

For a greater challenge, have check points on your various loops. That is, know your time (or splits) at various points on a particular loop. Then on certain days, maybe come through a check point a little slower then try to push the rest of the way with the goal to set a training course PR. If you experiment long enough, you’ll develop a pretty fair racing pace.

So pay more attention with time on your training runs, but don’t get too hung up with time in competitions. It is true; time flies when you’re having fun!