Friday, November 26, 2010

Racing a "Virtual Partner"

Is my Garmin Virtual Partner taunting me?
I run with a Garmin Forerunner 305, which like other Garmin sports GPS units has the "Virtual Partner" feature, which allows you to compete against or run with a little virtual runner dude. Basically, you can look down at the display and see that you are ahead or behind virtual runner dude, which you've set to some desired pace. There's a little running man icon that represents the virtual runner on one display, and another that represents you, and the position of these changes to depict who is ahead or behind and how much so. A numeric display may tell you have far you've run, or how far ahead or behind you are relative to your Virtual Partner.

I've tried to use the Virtual Partner a few times and been unimpressed, until recently. I think my problem  is in how I have used the feature, really. The Garmin Forerunner 305 allows you to set the virtual runner to proceed through a course at the same speed that you have on some previous run. I don't use it like this, because I rarely run the same exact route twice. As ann alternative, you can simply set your Virtual Partner to complete a certain distance in a certain time (or at a certain pace), but then virtual runner dude's pace is constant, not varying realistically to match the terrain along the route. So, you make up ground on downhills, and lose it to the virtual dude on the uphill stretches, which can be discouraging unless you savvy about how much your pace changes when running the terrain. On a training run, it's just too easy to throw in the towel and let virtual dude get away from me as a result.

Recently, I entered the "Feed the Turkey" Virtual 5K race on dailymile to benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. I knew it would be difficult to maintain race intensity without actually being a in an actual physical race, so I decided to try using the Virtual Partner for this, and I was surprised how well it worked. Of course, it might have helped that I also tried to psych up as if I was about to run a real race, as well. In any case, I was able to run what would have been a PR in a recorded race, and really leave it all out on my route.

I decided it would be better to race someone that was a little faster than me, so I set the Garmin to run what, for me, would be a very ambitious 5K pace. My recent 5K race times have been around 20:37 (although the course was 0.05 miles short) to a little over 21:00 (certified course), so I figured I'd should try and catch a Virtual Partner who was running a 20:00 5K (6:26 pace) to really push myself. A sub-20 minute 5K is on my list of goals, anyway, right?

I was pleasantly surprised in my "race" when the first mile split came in at 6:26, then. It was a net uphill first mile on the route I chose, so I was happy with that. Mile 2 was more flat with just a little up and down, and that was came in at 6:28. So, after two miles, I was only 2 seconds behind my Virtual Partner.  Unfortunately, that's when the fatigue started to hit as I hit the lowest point in the route, and lost quite a bit of ground (about 0.08 mi.) over the next mile that I wasn't able to make up before the finish. My Garmin alerted me that my Virtual Partner finished when I was at the 3.03 mile point (of 3.11 miles programmed). I had just started my final push, however, and finished the 5K in 20:28 (6:35 pace). Regressive (increasing) mile splits, but not too shabby.

So, I guess my mind is slowly changing with regard to the Virtual Partner. Previously unimpressed, I'm now seeing how I can use the Virtual partner to push myself, somewhat like I would if I were running with a slightly faster real runner.

I still couldn't help but feel like my Virtual Partner was taunting me, though.

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