Should I pause my Garmin, and other existential runner questions

Should I pause my Garmin, and other existential runner questions
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If you’re like most contemporary runners — equipped with our fancy GPS watches that track miles, pace, cadence, heart rate, calorie burn, sweat rate, outside temperature, altitude, humidity, wind factor, the S&P 500, and possibly Charlie Sheen’s mood swings — you have probably pondered the classic contemporary runner’s dilemma:

To pause, or not to pause my Garmin if I have to stop mid-run?

Red lights, water breaks, bathroom stops, fix-the-wedgie stops: they add up. The longer you’re out there running, chances are, the more time you’re spending at rest.

Take one of my recent long runs:

For an 18-mile run, an average pace of 9:22 is not bad for me. I was under instruction to run the first eight miles easy, then run miles 9 to 15 in the 8:30s, and scale back to a 10 min/ mile or slower for the last three – and looking at it mile by mile, I nailed it. (Definitely chose “slower” for the last three miles, too!)

But now, look at my “elapsed time” (detail on the Strava activity page) vs what is, in effect, my moving time:

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.09.55 PM

The thing is, this route is an out-and-back that goes through a total of three red lights, including a very busy intersection (typical wait time: two to four minutes), and two road crossings where drivers don’t watch for runners dashing out of the park trail, so you better look twice before you do. And, in this case, I had one water stop and one bathroom stop. The result is a difference of nearly eight and a half minutes.

Does that change things?
Does that mean I nailed my paces, or not?


I actually asked my coach how he wants me to record my run times in my log – should I do moving time or total? – and he told me to do moving time for run and bike, and total for swim. I get it. Those are training runs (or rides), and they will be interrupted. You can’t beat yourself up for messing up the pace on Mile 15 because you had to wait at the red light for three minutes, and now it’s 11:30 instead of 8:30.

Yes, you did take a break; yes, your heart rate went down – and yes, in a race, no one will stop the clock for you. For training runs, though, my philosophy (and I’m glad that my coach agrees!) is that it’s the movement that matters. Give the prescribed effort when you can, and if circumstances are forcing you to pause – pause your GPS, too, so you can keep accurate track of real effort, vs rest.

Races, of course, are another story.

In a race, the clock doesn’t stop when you do

I have heard of situations when things like a passing train or, recently, a gas leak (talk about danger of “blowing up”!) have caused course marshals to stop participants for anywhere from seconds to minutes. Later, the times are adjusted for the affected athletes.

But in general – this seems so obvious, I feel silly saying it! – your net finish time is the time that it took you to get from the start to the finish. Do whatever you like in between – eat at each aid station, go porta-potty, take a nap – it is added to your net time. The timing chip don’t lie!

As someone who qualified for the Boston Marathon with what ended up a meager eight-second cushion… I can’t tell you how well I understand that this is a fact.

Which is why it boggles my mind to see some people reporting race finish times that are, in fact, the moving times on their Garmins or on Strava.


The actual race result – the net time – is out there on the Internet, for everyone to see. Who are these people fooling, besides themselves?

I, too, wish that moving time was the standard in race tracking. Wouldn’t it be great? You could take a five-minute break at an aid station, instead of rushing though and getting sticky electrolyte drink all over yourself. You could take a nap! Transition times would be scrapped from your total finish time in triathlon, and you could blow-dry your hair after the swim, and put on some lipstick before the run!

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Of course, that’s not how it works. For race results, moving time means zilch.

On training runs, sure: set up your Garmin on auto pause. Granted, if you run 10 miles at a 7:30 average pace, but take 5 minutes standing rest after each mile… well, that’s quite a different effort than running 10 miles at a 7:30 pace without stopping. If the goal was the latter, then you cheated yourself.

But for most runs, go ahead and let your timer stop at that red light or water fountain break. As long as you’re not doing it in the middle of what needs to be hard work and, in this way, consistently jeopardizing the work, you’ll be OK. And if you are doing that auto-pause a bit too much, too long, then don’t expect those training paces to manifest themselves in a race.

Do the work. See the real results. Don’t lie to yourself (and others) about your results. Few will be fooled.

Most importantly, though, have fun running and racing! Isn’t that why we do it, after all?

The Hardest Part of Training for an Ironman…

The Hardest Part of Training for an Ironman…
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I am now less than three weeks out of my first Ironman and as such, naturally I’m the know-all expert on Ironman training! Right?

I joke, of course, I know nothing. I follow a training plan my coach gives me weekly. That is all.

Yesterday, I finally learned that this weekend will be my last seven-hour (100 mile-plus) ride. That’s after two 100-milers plus a few 80-milers, plus a bunch of 17- and 18-mile long runs, plus I don’t even know how many laps in the pool.

So, the hardest part is over, right?

No, let me tell you what the hardest part of training for an Ironman is. (But here’s what it isn’t, first.)

  • The hardest part of training for an Ironman isn’t riding your bike for so long that your nether regions go numb, or running for hours on legs that feel like wooden logs. It isn’t even having to accept that you’re getting slower in the pool despite swimming 10,000 yards a week, because your body is exhausted and you can’t keep your butt up in the water and it sinks.

  • The hardest part of training for an Ironman isn’t fitting 18+ hours of training each week; nor even the guilt of all this weekend time spent away from your family.

  • The hardest part of training for an Ironman isn’t the training itself — or the effort you have to put into all other everyday tasks after this training. When simple things like focusing on work for two and a half hours are harder than the two and a half hours you spend running that morning.

  • It isn’t any of that.

The hardest part

Those things you can handle, ultimately, if you figure out these two:

1. Getting enough food.
2. Getting enough sleep.

Those are the two hardest things about training for an Ironman.

Now, you think, how can food be a problem — you can always eat more, right?

Well, yes. Counting calories to make sure you’re getting at least 3,000 is admittedly a better problem than counting calories to make sure you don’t exceed 1,500.

Worst case, you can always make more protein pancakes.

Unless you’re too tired to bake pancakes — then you dump the protein powder in some almond milk, shake it and drink.

Unless you’re too tired to make a shake — then you grab whatever you find in the snack cabinet.

Unless what you grab are those delicious Trader Joe’s Mango Joe-Joe’s, which are pretty much empty calories with so much sugar that half an hour later you’re even hungrier.

But by then, you’ve already gone to bed. It’s past 8 p.m., after all. So now you have to decide between going downstairs to eat something (and what would that be?) — or trying to go to sleep anyway because next morning you’re up at 5 a.m. to swim.

Except once you’ve thought about food — forget about sleep. So you make a sandwich, with avocado and mayo, because it’s the quickest thing to throw together, and has lots of good fat (and some not so good fat, but who’s counting). You eat it, but then you see popcorn and throw a packet in the microwave — and then put a movie on because can you eat popcorn without watching a movie? no.

And before you know it, it’s 11 p.m. and that plan to get 8 hrs of sleep has yet again gone out the window.

You see?

1. Getting enough (good) food.
2. Getting enough sleep.

So when you tell people that you’re training for an Ironman and they think your main job is trying to get enough of this:

Image source:
Image source:

You should probably clarify that, mostly, your goal is to get enough of this:

Because, friends, training for an Ironman is… trying to decide between going to sleep at 8 pm (so tired) and making one last trip to the kitchen (so hungry).

Usually, hunger wins.

Training for an Ironman is... trying to decide between going to sleep at 8 pm (so tired) and making one last trip to the kitchen (so hungry). Usually, hunger wins.

Let Tri Season Begin: Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon

Let Tri Season Begin: Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon
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On May 15, I raced the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon. It isn’t really what I’d call a sprint-distance race, since each of the tree legs is a bit longer: 3/4-mile swim, 16-mile bike, and 5-mile run. It was my first triathlon of the year — and I was undertrained.

I had only had three weeks of swimming and riding (I had racked my bike and stayed out of the pool in the months leading up to the Boston Marathon), so I knew I wouldn’t be 100% race-ready for this one. Heck, I would’t be 80% ready.

Yet, I’d been looking forward to the race for months. MHST would be my Boston victory lap: a beautiful morning out with friends (no fewer than eight of my training buddies did this one) and a morning of swim-bike-run fun on the roads where we often train.

Race Morning

I was planning to pick up my race packet on race morning, but on Saturday, I made the impulse decision to drive over to packet pickup at the Sports Basement in Sunnyvale. I needed to buy a new race belt, anyway.

That was the last smart decision I made that day. Later that night, as my mind was drifting off into lala land, I thought: Hey, I bet it would be totally cool if I slept in a little tomorrow. And so I changed the alarm, from 4:30 a.m. to 5.

Why not? Transition opens at 5:30, the race starts at 7. I had about a 30-minute drive out there… leaving home at 5:30 would be OK.

Indeed, it was — until I hit a traffic jam about three miles down the road from transition. It turned out that the designated parking lot had filled up and late arrivals like me were stuck in a bumper-to-bumper nightmare, moving at 3 mph. People were parking off the road and riding to transition, speeding by those of us who decided to wait it out and park safely. An aggravating 40 minutes later, I was out of the car and riding to the start myself.

It was 6:40 a.m. when I finally arrived at the bike racks and found my friends. The race announcer was already rushing everyone onto the water start and I was just beginning to set everything up!

Never mind, at least I’ve done this before. Rack bike, lay down towel, bike shoes-helmet-sunglasses to the left, running shoes-race belt-visor to the right. Dump two Nuun tablets and two Nuun Plus in water bottle, fizz out, close. Squeeze into wetsuit, grab swim cap and goggles. Snap quick pic with team. No time to pee! That’s OK, we’ll do it in the water.

7 a.m. Off we go into the water.

Free photos courtesy of USA Productions. Love it!
Free photos courtesy of USA Productions. Love it!



My swim was as expected: blah. I tried as hard as I could to focus on good form, push the water, fast arm turnover… In reality, I would find myself wildly off course any time I sighted, and I could swear the reservoir water was choppy. Good thing it’s supposed to be safe to drink. Before I could find a rhythm, the swim was done.

My swim time, 25:19, was the slowest of all top 20 female finishers. At the time, I didn’t know how slow (or fast) this was, but as usual, by the time I got back to my rack, most of the bikes were gone.

Transition was a fairly quick (for me) 1:42: socks, shoes, grab Magic Bike and go. We’ve got some chasing to do.



I had decided that no matter how undertrained I was bike-wise, I’d go as hard as I could. And if I blew up on the run, so be it.

So I pushed. The course is hilly and my legs burned the entire time, but I’d biked these roads before and had a good idea of the ups and downs my body and mind were about to experience.


It’s a beautiful course, by the way, if you live in the area and haven’t done this race, you should. At least, come out and ride those roads. Enjoy the full reservoirs – thanks El Nino! – and gentle rolling hills, and challenge yourself on the short, but lung-busting climb up Sycamore road.

I got the bike done in 50:17, an average 19 mph.

I wonder how much faster I could take this course if I trained better, with hill repeats and at least three months – not three weeks – of riding consistently. Maybe I’ll find out next year.

Ran into transition, jumped into my running shoes. T2 time: 1:08.


Time to go balls out. My feet were cold and each foot strike felt awkward, but at least my legs were there. The MHST run covers the first 2.5 miles of the bike course, then you turn around and head back towards the finish. It’s all gentle rollers, but nothing really hilly.


I covered the first two miles at a 7:30 pace, wishing with all my heart that I could go faster than that, but couldn’t. My legs were fine — my lungs were not. I guess that’s what four months of marathon training does to you: you get the endurance, but lose your speed.

I was especially concerned to be running this pace on what seemed like an incline and kept thinking of the fight I’d need to put on the way back to avoid a walk of shame up the hill. Except something weird happened after the turnaround: running got easier. The gentle climb I expected never came. My pace went down to 7:07 for mile 4. I passed some people, then a woman who was in my age group.

Then I immediately thought, shit. I have a mile to go, and she’ll catch me. Must not let that happen. Must. Not. Grunt. Inner scream. At least, we were still running downhill. Pace for mile 5 on my watch was 7:03.


I crossed the finish line just as my lungs were about to explode, with 1:59-something on the clock. My wave started 4 minutes behind, so I calculated that I’d gotten just under 1:55. Well, this was my first time doing this race, so I had no clue what that meant. Whatever, I just wanted to catch my breath and get some water.

After that, I went back out on the run course to cheer on the rest of the team — then headed back to the finish area to get food and beer. After a hard race, beer is the best!

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

So is checking the results and finding out you placed! I got 2nd in my age group, a good 8 minutes behind the first crazy-speedy lady. I can only dream to be so fast one day!


What a great way to open triathlon season. (Oh, and guess what was in my prize pack: a race belt. So now I have a spare.)

Here’s to a new tri season, having fun and kicking butt!

Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon
Swim: 25:19
T1: 1:42
Bike: 50:17
T2: 1:08
Run: 36:27

Total time: 1:54:56
Overall place: 79 of 497
Female: 12 of 170
Age Group: 2 of 25