Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Steady As She Goes: Pacing Yourself to a Strong Finish

I think one of the hardest things for me to do in a race or even during a training run is to run a consistent pace. I'm usually all hopped up on adrenaline and nerves at the beginning of a race, and the one thing I am consistent at is going out too fast. Initially, I think to myself that I can do it. That I feel good going this fast. And then the inevitable happens.

Fatigue. Boom. Slowing down. Crash and burn. Sometimes I even have to walk. Sometimes I've hit the wall way early than I should have. Burned up all my fuel stores. 'Cause that's how I roll.

Oops, I did it again. Stop the madness!

Are you guilty of this? When will I learn? Actually, this doesn't happen as often as it used to. I have learned a few things about pacing myself during a race. Since this week's Wednesday Word is consistency, I thought this would be a good week to share my secrets.


Truthfully, my secrets aren't so secret. Ask any running coach or running expert and they will tell you that the key to successful pacing is consistency in your training. Of course, you need a little bit of patience as well, because it's really hard to hold back when you want to go. Don't hold back too much, though. We runners all talk about negative splits but the real trick is to run consistently. All the experts agree that running a consistent pace is much easier and as effective as trying to run negative splits. Actually, we should eliminate the term "negative split" from our runner's vocabulary and just concentrate on pacing.

It's easier said than done. I'm no expert but I've been running a really long time with consistent results. So what has worked for me?

Learn to run by feel. What does this mean? I like to run fast but that need for speed has gotten me into trouble in the past. So with the help of my coach Becky, I learned to run fast, but pacing consistently by doing speedwork. Not just any speedwork, but mile repeats, 2-mile repeats, and yes, 3-mile (or 5k) repeats. To be able to hold a pace, running fast, for that length of time takes discipline and control. By doing this kind of speedwork week after week during my marathon training, I learned what it felt like to run a fast pace consistently.

Train with a heart rate monitor. I don't do this often, but I have used my heart rate monitor to help me learn how hard to push myself, especially in the heat. Heart rate training also helped me to learn to run by feel. By keeping track of my heart rate, I knew at what point I needed to hold back.

Just to clarify, some runners do MAF training with a heart rate monitor but that's not what I'm talking about here.

Use your music to your advantage. Have you ever run to music when that ONE song comes on that just kicks your feet into gear? There are apps that you can use to find music that fits your pace. Rock My Run is one that seems to be really popular, and after checking it out, I can see why! Dimity and Sarah, the original badass mother runners, really like this app and offer free mixes on their website. In the app itself, you can pick from 1000s of mixes set to the pace you want. Or you can let the app adjust the music to your pace. I've never used Rock My Run, but I totally get the concept behind it. The app is free but there are upcharges for subscriptions services. You know I love to run to music. If you don't like to run with music, I don't understand you, but you can still take advantage of running to a steady beat by using a metronome app.

When I run with music.
source: giphy.gif
Train at the pace you want to race at. During marathon training, Becky has me do at least 1-2 runs at race pace per week. Running at race pace also trains you to run by feel. It's like running on cruise control and it really makes sense. By consistently running at a certain pace, your legs and your heart will dial into that pace on race day. How do you calculate your race pace? There are plenty of race pace calculators available that will help you figure out your predicted finish time and pace you need to get you there. Runner's World has a few calculators to help you plan your training as well as your predicted finish time. You can even print out a pace band to keep you on track.

Run your own race. How many times have we heard this saying? I work just as hard on my mental fitness as I do on my physical fitness. One area where I've really grown is being patient at the beginning of a race. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with years of running experience as well. I've learned to be patients at the beginning of a race and not let myself get caught up in the crowd racing out of the corral. It really takes a lot of self-control to hold back, but the reward is in a strong finish. Just let them pass you up. Yep. Wave buh-bye. You got this. And wave buh-bye again when you pass them later in the race because they've run out of gas.

For me, this is always a work in progress. There are so many factors that we runners can't control. Fueling, the weather, or just having an off day can affect our ability to stay consistent on race day. But you just might surprise yourself. Learning to run by feel can only come with practice. That's the key.


Do you do training runs at race pace? What tricks have you found help you with pacing? 

I'm linking this post with DebRuns and Wednesday Word. Head on over to see what everyone else says about consistency!
I'm also linking up with Coaches Corner. I'm not a coach, just a seasoned runner with a little advice to give...Debbie, Lora, Rachel, and Susie are the coaches! They've always got good info to share.






94 comments :

  1. I've been talking so much about pacing with the 10-year-old. We've done a couple of 5K's. And when I walk my full marathon in California she's coming with me and doing the 5K with a friends family. It is impossible to explain pacing to a 10-year-old ����

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    1. Because 10 year olds just want to fly! They're like little baby bunnies, really...

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  2. Run your own race is something that is always in my head. Most runners do not think about training to race, but it is key to having a great race. My coach has always taught me to go out slow and I think because I am an older runner, I do that naturally. My biggest problem during marathons are the miles from 18-23 and I try to focus on the runners around me and keep a consistent pace. Running at race pace several times for my long runs during a training cycle works well too. Plus, if you keep a controlled pace during a marathon, it is really fun to pass people the last few miles! Insert big happy smile here!

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    1. I struggle with miles 18-23 as well. I'm not sure why. But once I push through those, yes, it feels good to pass people that late in the race!

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  3. I'm actually really good at the consistent pace thing, unless Chicago's wind is rearing its ugly head. I'm having way more trouble with consistent pacing nowadays than I did before my injury, but I hope that it comes back with time!

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    1. I'm sure once you get in some consistent miles, the consistency you know and love will return!

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  4. I'm a run-by-feel gal. I ran for so many years without any technology telling me otherwise. Surprisingly, I'm able to stay somewhat consistent, even when I'm having an off day. The downside for me, though, is I have a difficult time running slower (not that I'm fast), it's really tough making my body do a pace that doesn't feel natural. UGH. And, YES to music!!!!

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    1. I too have a difficult time running slower. I have to really be focused on my pace and that feels weird...

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  5. So much good info here! I think I should start trying to train with a heart monitor. I've had heart issues in the past but have grown out of them but I still feel it effects my running sometimes. Also I will check out the app you suggested because there are definitely songs that motivated me to run faster than others.

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    1. I've heard a lot of good things about the app. Let me know what you think!

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  6. Great tips. This is something I am working on. I need to work more race pace repeats into my training.

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    1. The funny thing about those RP runs--they always felt so slow to me! It's all about self control, which I clearly need to wrok on.

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  7. I have had always had issues with pacing and that is one of the reasons why I love running with my group. Someone is always reminding me if I start too fast. I have made the mistake so many times of starting a race too fast and totally dying. Takes a lot of discipline.

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    1. Oh gosh, I've done the go too fast and die at the end thing more times than I care to admit. When will I learn?

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  8. I rarely do entire runs at race pace but often do parts of runs there. It's so important that we learn what that pace feels like and are able to get there by feel. That pace is going to feel very slow at the start of a race but the longer we can stay on pace, the longer we can run without struggling.

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    1. RP always feels so slow to me, which is why those runs are really important!

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  9. Holding back at the beginning of a race is so important, but it's a mistake that almost all runners make, even the pros. In spite of what your head keeps telling you, you are not going to suddenly run that much faster than you trained for. And I think race pace runs are essential! How else will you know what that pace feels like? Thanks for linking up!

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    1. RP doesn't always feel natural to me but it's the right way to train!

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  10. Pacing is hard for me - I had one running buddy who I could consistantly run a certain pace with, but she can't run anymore, and I'm all over the place. I wonder how I would do with a metronome - I should try that just for kicks.

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    1. I have PTSD from my piano lesson days and using the metronome. But I think it would be very effective!

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  11. This is great! I am trying to get better at running by feel. I like what you said about training for race pace and do think I had some success with that in my last race. Love the word consistency!

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    1. Consistency and running work very well together!

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  12. Oh yes, there are definitely certain songs that just help put a pep in my step and that I always seem to run faster to. "Panama" by Van Halen is one of those songs.

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    1. I've been running to Van Halen's I'm The One lately. Another fast song!

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  13. I'm always in a "work in progress" too with my pace. I blame adrenaline and the race atmosphere. I need to use my heart rate monitor more often. Great tips! I don't often run at race pace. That's another thing I need to work on. Because I am not doing any road races this year ... it's challenging to determine a pace for mountainous runs.

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    1. I should clarify--my tips are only for road races! You're on your own with those mountain runs!

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  14. I definitely like to use music to my advantage, particularly in the last few miles of a race, I'll have to look into that app.

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    1. I always have my music at the ready and use it during those tough final miles as well.

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  15. I really love this post- I had to practice running consistently as I was guilty of going out to fast for a long time. Using a heart rate monitor really does help!

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    1. Learning to run consistently was one of the best lessons I've learned.

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  16. love this. walking to music helps me keep a steady pace!

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    1. When I've had to walk (for whatever reason) listening to my running playlist gives me that same "pump me up" feeling!

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  17. I suck at pacing myself. I run fast and then peter out. I need to practice consistent pacing and practicing race pace more.

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  18. Awesome tips - I love to run to the music. It helps keep me from running super fast or slow

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    1. Music has really been a game changer for me.

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  19. I think negative splitting serves me well for most distances, although my negative splits have gotten less drastic and now lean a little towards even splits. Warming up before a race by running two or three miles makes it easier to hit race pace out of the gate. Otherwise the first mile is the warm-up mile and then the even splits are out the window.

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    1. I like the idea of running consistently vs negative splits--there's just so much to think about during a race!

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    2. Yes, and there are factors such as heat and wind that make even pacing hard. Maybe we should strive for even effort!

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  20. I definitely need to get better at pacing. My mile splits tend to be all over the place during races.

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    1. It's pretty rewarding to see consistent splits--whether training or racing!

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  21. I definitely make sure that I don't run out too fast...I know it takes me 3 miles to warm up, and if I take the first 3 miles to warm up rather than go out too fast, my overall time will be better and I will feel better in the end

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    1. It's really hard to hold back--it almost feels like you're going too slow! And ironically, that same pace feels so hard towards the end of the race.

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  22. Run by feel is something I need to learn to do and what better time to start but now, since I'm not training for anything in particular for the next month or so. Will set my watch display to show HR to see where it's at and will run the way I feel.

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    1. I was really struggling in the heat and pulling out my HR monitor helped me with those runs. Yes, they were slower, but I learned what I needed to "feel like" to get it done. It's going to be a hot summer and I need to school myself again.

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  23. Yes to all of these suggestions!! I naturally have a consistent pace, so I naturally have a bit of an advantage there, though I do have to remind myself to slow down at the start.

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  24. These are all great techniques for even race pacing! I particularly like the one about training with a HR monitor. It ensures you get the most out of the workout and that you stay steady. Patience is so tough, especially in a marathon, but I agree it pays off! Oh, and I love the idea of not even having negative splits in the vocab!

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    1. Patience is not one of my strengths! I've had to work as much on that as anything.

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  25. I love the self control element...great techniques for training!

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    1. Whenever people tell me they aren't long distance runners, it tells me a lot about their ability to control their paces!

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  26. As I've gotten older I've gotten a little better at pacing but one of my signature moves is to just fly out of the gate and then .5 mile be like okay where's the wine, I'm over this. Good tips here! Pinning to remind me if I start training again.

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    1. Oh, you sound like you have the same racing strategy as me! LOL!

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  27. ha! I am glad to hear you say something about the negative splits thing. I have accomplished them a few times, but more often I am looking for consistency like you said. I much rather find a pace that feels that sustainable and hold it, and if I feel able I will pick it up for short bursts.
    I was actually doing really well running off feel for the past year or so...last year I had my best races ever before i got hurt :/

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    1. I hope you get back on track!!! We've got a race to run in December!

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  28. I can usually restrain myself and not go out too fast. BUT! If I have the wrong songs at the beginning of a race and I get too pumped up, I usually run faster than was planned. I did that once and it was no good. I didn't crash and burn but I could tell I was running way too fast.

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    1. I never considered that music might push too much, but it makes sense! Sometimes one of my pump up songs comes on too early in a race and I'm like, not yet! but it doesn't mess me up.

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  29. Since I started running I realized I really need to work on this. I go good the first half mile, pick it up and find a rhythm I think but a half mile later speed it up and then hit a little wall before finding my groove again.

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    1. Been there--so many times! It's always a work in progress. That's where the speedwork and paced runs really help. It's actually really rewarding to look at your paces and see consistency!

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  30. Great tips! I'm a proponent of race pace runs - my splits were within a few seconds of each other during my most recent half marathon (after easing in over the first mile) and I owe that to training at race pace!

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    1. I was hoping you'd weigh in! When I started training like this, I was amazed and thrilled with my results. That was my 2d marathon and still is my fastest to date!

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  31. Great advice! It's so true that when you practice running at your race pace and take the time in your training to work up to those speeds, you'll have a much more successful race since you know how you should feel! I look forward to going through another training cycle and seeing where my pace takes me!

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    1. To me, training at race pace feels "slow" because of all the speedwork I do. So the lesson for me is to slow down to that pace and dial into what it feels like. It's a challenge!

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  32. I simply MUST practice running at pace and I try to stick to my RP as closely as possible the day of. Usually my RP is a bit ambitious to begin with so I do not feel comfortable pushing it at all.

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    1. Well, your races are faster than my speedwork, so yes, ambitious is the right word!

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  33. I've never done a race-pace run (at least not intentionally) because for some reason they scare me! But I'm hoping to add more consistency to my training plan while at the same time adding some NEW runs to my training (like speedwork and tempos), maybe it's time to get over that hurdle!

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    1. For most of us, that race pace run will still be slower than our tempo runs or speedwork. Some people don't run a whole run at RP, but throw in a few miles at that speed on their long run. It's a good way to train your legs and your brain!

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  34. I have done training runs at race pace, but I am a little more interested in HR training. When I trade up my Garmin, that may be my next attempt. It might help running by feel get a little easier for me, too.

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    1. I have a Polar HR monitor (old school) and it works well! My Apple Watch also has a heart rate monitor, but I haven't used it for HR training yet.

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  35. Consistency as you mentioned it really is the key for running - whether it is how to start running or running a race - if you stick with consistency you will always manage.

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  36. All great tips Wendy! When I first started running I didn't use any type of "pace" for training. Lesson learned or maybe I should say better late than never.

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    1. I didn't use pacing until the last couple of years. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

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  37. It's funny because this happens a lot less to me when racing triathlon than say a marathon!! The biggest thing that helped me was definitely training with a HR monitor (that I was totally against at first!) and also running race pace without looking at my watch so my body knows what it feels like. I nailed it during my last triathlon and it was a great feeling. Now...could I do this over 26.2? Not sure...:-)

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    1. I wonder if it's because you save the run for last? And that you are already fatigued, so it's much easier to pace consistently? That's really interesting!

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  38. Probably one of the best ways I've learned to not go out too fast is to run a really big race -- then it' so congested you CAN'T go out to fast, LOL!

    Sometimes I'm really good at it, sometimes I really suck at it . . .

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    1. But then there's the frustration of weaving around all those people! That really messes with my pacing!

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  39. i have such have such a hard time running at a consistent pace, usually I am all over the place. You have some great tips and definitely music helps me be more consistent, the caveat is that I really only run with music during very long solo training runs because I like the solidarity during regular runs.

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    1. I run solo 99.9% of the time, so yes to music!

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  40. Great post! I love all of these tips!! I started training with a HR monitor 2 years ago and it has made a huge difference :-)

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    1. It's really a great tool to teach you to run by feel.

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  41. I am really working hard on learning to run by feel. It's very challenging because the way I feel can vary so drastically from day to day. One day, a super-fast pace will feel effortless, whereas the next day it will feel like moving mountains just to do a slow jog! The way I look at it is, it's so difficult to pace correctly that even the elite Kenyans have pacers at their marathons, right? =)

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    1. Isn't that the truth? But I do feel that I am pacing much more consistently than I ever have! It takes work to run by feel. Doesn't that just seem counterintuitive?

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  42. It took me a long time to understand pacing and how to embrace it.

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  43. This is so tough for me in marathons. I start off and feel gteat until half way and then really slow down. Going to try some higher mileage training (hansons ) for this upcoming marathon and see if that will help me run a consistent pace.

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    1. I still have to work on pacing myself in long runs--I want to go all out and then poof...I poop out at the finish.

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  44. I struggle with pacing on my races. I always, always start off too fast and then slow down at the end. I've been pacing a 10:30 group on Saturday morning for a few months and actually enjoy it. However, there is another pacer with me so it helps as well. The 1, 2 and 3 mile repeats SCARE me!!!

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    1. Those repeats scared me but they were really effective!

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  45. I've definitely add in training at race pace. Like you said, it's good to be able to go on auto pilot...

    As always, thanks for linking up!

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    1. It's nice to just be able to dial in the pace you want to go at when you're at a race.

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  46. This is something we all struggle with.....being consistent!

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