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Confessions of an AP addict: or I need a stopwatch intervention

On a recent flat trail run I began to drive a friend crazy by pausing my GPS stopwatch every time we had to stop for traffic or to adjust gear. Then, I didn’t start it again until I was actually running. Normally I wouldn’t have thought twice about this, but I noticed that my friend’s fingers never touched her watch other than at the outset. Near the end of the 18 miles, we approached a gate that we needed to stop and open, and I said, “Look, I’m not even going to stop my watch!” I felt like I deserved a pat on the back. I think we actually did fist bump. I closed the gate, and then immediately went to restart my watch…that I hadn’t stopped. It was then I knew I needed a stopwatch intervention.

[caption id="attachment_599" align="alignleft" width="300"]Suunto Ambit2 My latest drug of choice[/caption]

I was always more of an AP-phile, one who is more concerned about her average pace per mile than other aspects of the run, and I was always trained to stop the watch when I wasn't running. I had to know how far I went combined with how long it took me and how it felt, and then entered that data in my running logs. Before GPS or Google Earth, I didn’t know how long trails were, and that alone kept me off of them for many, many years. They were harder, too; my pace got super slow and I even had to (horrors!) walk sometimes. That was going to bring my run’s AP way down. Oh, my ego!

It wasn’t just my running ego, though. I’ve always used my logs as comparison tools to evaluate my training. How can it be fair to compare those tough, trudging miles up and around the mountaintop to that time that I ran a mostly downhill 10-miler on an asphalt jogging path? How can I gauge my fitness with such variety? How can I know if I’m working hard enough or getting any better? On the other hand, I also use my AP to determine whether I’m running a slow enough recovery pace, and sometimes a 15:00 mile on a steep, technical trail is definitely not recovery.

[caption id="attachment_598" align="alignright" width="300"]Old-school simplicity? Old-school simplicity?[/caption]

I have a handful of benchmark routes that I repeat every so often to evaluate my own fitness level. Using segments or routes on Strava makes this particularly easy, as do other online programs like Garmin Connect, Movescount, Map My Run, RunKeeper, etc. Logging runs that way isn’t for everyone, though. Some keep it simple, like in a notebook, and some (and I just don’t get this, although I am a little jealous) don’t log their miles or time run, ever. I daresay that their fitness levels are judged by how they feel, if they’re tired at the end of the day or week, or if they just plain feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and healthy. I use all of those lovely things, too, but I just can’t hide from that AP, which lurks behind every road run I do.

When I started running trails a few years ago, however, the AP just had to go. I couldn’t look at miles in the 13s and 15s and compute it with the rest of my training, even if I knew I’d worked my butt off and was getting stronger. It took me a long while--months, even—to get to where I didn’t automatically stop my watch while stopped to rummage in my vest for some food or to check out a pretty view. I’m still split on whether to stop the watch during a break on a summit. Who knows what is the accepted thing to do? But the more important question is probably, “Who cares?”

In the end, who really cares whether my AP is 7:30 or 11:30? I mean, some of my friends might figure something was up if they saw me online getting continually slower on flat runs, but they wouldn’t, like, blackball me from a group run. And they’d still be my friends. It’s not like the competition is checking my pace out, either, because, let’s be honest: unless you’re Kara Goucher or Ryan Hall, who has competition? Not me.

[caption id="attachment_611" align="aligncenter" width="960"]2015 01 31 @ultratrailmatt Not everyone needs or wants to wear a GPS or watch. We all still have fun. PC: @ultratrailmatt[/caption]


However I end up using my stopwatch, the GPS data is ultimately for my own use, not for bragging rights on a good outing or something I feel like I need to hide or excuse on a bad run. Ultimately, there will even come a time when my own fitness level won’t matter too much to me. But until then, my AP on certain types of runs combined with how I feel does let me know if my training is progressing properly, and dang if I don’t find it so annoyingly useful.


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