Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How to set up your Garmin Forerunner for a marathon PB

You have trained hard for your race and getting ready for the D-day. My Garmin GPS is my trusted companion in all my interval and tempo training runs. It is my indispensable partner on my race day. The Forerunner provides many customizable features to help you race better. I am sharing a few here, to help you get to your PB. The settings are generic, but with TataMumbai Marathon (TMM) fever picking up, this post will be somewhat specific.

1. Pace thresholds

You can set up thresholds on your Garmin for max and min pace (in mins / km or mins / mile). When your pace goes over the max pace threshold or below the min pace threshold, your Garmin will give you an alert – a buzz.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Alerts > Add New > Pace.
Input your pace for Fast Alert and Slow Alert.

TMM is mostly a flat course, and therefore, for most of the race, you should be able to be in your pace range. Although, a negative split finish is desirable, I tend to slow down during my last quartile. If I am targeting a 5min/km pace, I would set my max pace at 4:50 and min at 5:20, to budget for a bit of slowing down.

If this is your first marathon, you can also use the Run/Walk Alert to follow a Hal-Higdon like method. Input the Run time and the Walk time. I recommend a 9min run + 1 min walk cycle for the race day.

As for Pedder road uphill, I recommend going with the heart rate threshold alert (below).

2. Heart rate (HR) thresholds

You can set up thresholds on your Garmin for max and min heart rate (in mins/km or mins/mile). When your pace goes over the max HR threshold or below the min HR threshold, your Garmin will give you an alert – a buzz.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > User Profile > Heart rate > Max. HR.
Input your Max Heart rate (if you know it. Else you can use 220 minus your age, for an approximation)

Setting the alert:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Alerts > Add New > Heart Rate.
Input the zone for High Alert and Low Alert

Going by the HR is one of the oldest techniques in the book. While I use this mostly during ultras, this is a great technique for first time marathoners, who have a “finish” goal. In order to sustain a marathon effort, you need to keep your HR between 60 – 80% of your max HR to be in the aerobic zone. I use the max HR threshold to tell me to slow down (or in case of Pedder road incline – to walk the uphill). But I find the min HR indicator also useful to pull up my pace during a long flat stretch or a downhill.

3. Virtual partner

You can race with a virtual partner, who runs at a constant pace that you can set. Typically, the virtual partner is set to your race pace target.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Data Screens > Add New > Virtual Partner.
Enter a pace or speed value.

On Race day:
Start your activity
Select UP or DOWN to scroll to the Virtual Partner screen and see who is leading.

This an optional setting, if you are inclined to see another view of how far ahead or behind you are compared to your race pace. It is like having your own personalized pacer. I prefer the pace thresholds (discussed above) to the Virtual partner. Go ahead, give it a try, see if you fancy it.

If you are having a bad day and you wish to stop all this, hold down the UP button and go to Settings. Scroll down to Smart Notifications and then select to turn them off completely.

4. Data Screens settings

The next few settings are crucial, because unlike thresholds, you use this almost all the time during your run. It is useful to track data (pace, average pace, HR, etc.) but what good is it, if you can’t access it easily.

Garmin FR935 allows you to change some of these settings even during your activity, without the need to pause the activity (a brilliant feature). But who wants to fiddle around with buttons (and affect your form) while you are trying to keep a steady rhythm.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Data Screens > Edit > Layout
Select 4 Fields Layout
Choose the Fields as per your preference.

Garmin allows for 2 split, 3 split or 4 split screens. And can toggle between 3 screens (either automatically or manually). I like to keep 2 screens – a Summary screen and a Lap screen.
In the Summary screen, I have Total distance, Total time, Average pace and Current pace
In the lap screen, I have Lap distance, Lap time, Lap pace and Current pace.


I keep current pace in both screens on the top right corner, so it’s easy to read at a glance. I set it at automatic toggle. Settings > Activities & Apps > Select Run > Select Run settings > Auto Scroll – On (Slow / Medium / Fast)

5. Auto-lap

Auto-lap feature allows to mark at a pre-set location (the start) or at a specific interval (distance or time).

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Auto Lap > Auto Distance > Set Distance

Why Auto-lap? As the course, the conditions and your pace goes a bit up and down, I like to keep a view on the average. As the race progresses, the overall average doesn’t give a good sense of the current pace due to base effect. A 5k split helps to keep track of the pace better. Also, I mentioned earlier, I slow down somewhat during the 3rd and 4th quartile of the race. I like to “bank” some time in anticipation of this. If I have made up a min in the previous 5k lap, I like to put it behind and start afresh for the next lap. I set the auto-lap for 5k and try to keep even splits.

6. Summary display / Lap Alert

There is an auto-alert when the auto-lap is triggered for a new lap. And the display switches for a few seconds to the Summary display / Lap alert. You can customize the fields displayed for this view.

How to set this:
Hold = (UP button)
Select Settings > Activities & Apps.
Select Run.
Select Run settings.
Select Auto Lap > Lap Alert
Select Primary Field and Secondary Field as per your preference.

I like to set this to show the Lap total time and Lap average pace (for the just concluded lap). At 5mins / km, this should be in the vicinity of 25:00 per lap.

7. Backlight

The Garmin uses the Gesture sensor to switch the backlight on, when you turn your wrist to view the screen. For a longer race, (such as my recent 24h runs, when I put off the backlit to make my FR935 last for the entire 24hrs), I keep the backlight off, but for a marathon, especially, given the early start at TMM, I suggest you to retain the default setting.

8. Post-race analysis

Congratulations!!! By now, you have crossed that finish line.
Sync your activity with Garmin Connect for plethora of reports, of splits, pace, HR. During days after the run, I use this to analyze where I was strong and where I slowed. It helps me get better and also do some interesting infographics like this one.

Share the work out with your coach to work on your next PB!!

Ps: If you do have your own settings that has worked for you, drop in a comment to help others along!!

Ace the Race! Good luck for TMM!! #beatyesterday

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Endure and the 24hr Delhi Stadium Run

In the days after my coming last at the Asian and Oceanic 24hrChampionship (the bubble burst??), I wanted to give a better end to a good training season I have had this year. I spoke to the race director, for a place at the Delhi 24hr stadium run, although this was only 2 weeks after Taiwan.
Aparna (AC) immediately offered to crew for me, I vowed to not slack on planning. I drew up a pace and nutrition plan, solicited feedback, fine tuned it, and printed it out.

I ended up running 176.8km in the 24hr, braving the Delhi chills.

I also just completed reading Alex Hutchinson’s best seller of 2018 – Endure. The book is a well-researched compilation of the mental aspect of endurance. I was able to relate to a lot of findings in the book and I will try to weave my Delhi Stadium run along with some excerpts from the book (in italics).

Endure has 3 parts - Part I is about “Mind and Muscle”, Part II is on Limits and Part III is about Limit Breakers. I will use the section on Limits and draw a parallel to my own experience during the 24hr stadium run.


There is a lot of talk in Endure about the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. So when oxygen levels in the brain drop, the outcome is clear. We slow down.
I noticed this right as I was getting out of the Aerobridge at the airport – the Delhi air was as if I was in a smoking zone. The body got used to this quickly and I didn’t specifically feel the effects of pollution till after the run. But the congestion took a full one week, after the run, to get out of my lungs.


In ultra-races, relatively unsexy talents like the ability to scarf down prodigious amounts of calorie-rich food and keep running without throwing up are absolutely crucial. Scientists have traditionally figured that 60 grams an hour (about 250 calories) is the maximum amount you can absorb during exercise – a combination of glucose and fructose will allow you to absorb up to 90 grams.

I saw the pro runners stick to a meticulous fuel and hydration plan at the Asian championship. This time I decided to have my own. I had a nutrition plan consisting of Salt tablets, Electrolyte (135 cal), Water, Gels (110 cal) and Solid food (Banana - 60, Chikki - 230, Granola bar -100 & Date syrup -100) to be had every 2 hours, 750 calories.

My sister had baked the Granola bars with lots of love, dipped in Date syrup, it made delicious snack. AC was an excellent support, handing out my nutrition and water as per schedule – through night and day.

The Delhi 24hr Stadium run started at 7PM. I had taken the 8AM flight and went straight to the JLN stadium. I had chapatis for lunch and more chapatis in the evening. I had tried to get some sleep (in vain) in the breezy tents set up by the track. A sports event in the adjacent stadium with announcements over the mic did not help.

But thanks to AC and the nutrition plan, I never once felt food to be an issue. Despite the Gels I was having, I was able to stomach it, didn’t feel the need to throw up (like I had in Taiwan).


Voluntary dehydration” is the physiologic lag or deficit that results when sensations of thirst are not strong enough to bring about complete replacement of water loss, as in rapid sweating. In these cases, adequate fluids may have been ingested to satisfy the thirst response, but not sufficient to restore normal fluid balance (Greenleaf and Sargent, 1965). Fluid loss of as little as 2% of body weight increases fatigue and impairs physical performance (Lamb, 2002). It is common for athletes to lose between 2 to 4 kg of sweat during a game (Buskirk, 1977).

Though it’s effect on cognitive ability is largely unexplored, the few studies to date suggest that moderate dehydration, losses as low as 2% of body weight, can impair performance on vigilance attention, short-term memory, perceptual discrimination, arithmetic ability, visio-motor tracking, and psychomotor skills.

During prolonged exercise, you will use fat and you will use carbohydrate.  The chemical reactions involved in burning fat and carbohydrate produce two key by-products: carbon dioxide, which you breathe out, and water – which actually adds to the amount of fluid available in your body. Even more significant, your body stores carbohydrate in your muscles in a form that locks away about 3 grams of water for every gram of carbohydrate. This water isn’t available to contribute to essential cellular processes until you start unlocking the carbohydrate stores, so your body sees it as “new” water when it’s released during exercise.
Dehydration is linked to overheating, since it reduced the volume of blood available to shunt hear to your skin, and in extreme cases might even compromise your ability to sweat.

The importance of any underlying physiological signal depends in part on how your brain receives and interprets it. Swallowing small mouthfuls of water – too small to make any difference to overall hydration levels – boost exercise performance compared to rinsing the same amount of water in the mouth and then spitting it out.

The primary message is that, like oxygen, heat and fuel, the loss if fluids first makes itself felt via the brain. Thirst, not dehydration, increase your sense of perceived effort and in turn causes you to slow down. Eventually, the physiological consequences of dehydration assert themselves, increasing the strain on your cardiovascular system and pushing your core temperature up as the volume of blood in your arteries decreases.

Not that you shouldn’t drink when you have the chance, but that you shouldn’t obsess about it when you don’t. “It’s one less psychological crutch to hold you back from top performance.”


It is not so much the heat (or cold) but the perception of the heat that matters.

And it was coooold, easily in the single digits. I was under 4 layers at the coldest part of the night – thermals, skins, tee shirt and a sweatshirt. After about 8AM when the sun finally began to come out of all that smog, I pulled off a cameo act, changing my tee shirt on the go! The cold would come back again to haunt us in the final hours of the run. By this time, I was reduced to walking, hands inside my pockets for most.

Muscle (pacing)

Again, improving from the Asian Championship, I had very precise hourly plan for pacing. The target was to hit 206km in 24hrs – 23 laps per hour (lph) for the first 7hours, 22 lph for the next 7 and 20 for the last 10hours.

After 7 hours, at 63.6k, I was only 2 laps off target. I managed only 17 laps in the 8th hour, and 20 in the 9th, fiddling around for a distracting phone and bluetooth (to listen to some devotion) at 4 in the morning. The next couple of hours were good, but by the time I hit 7AM, I was 10 laps off target, 4 kms behind.

“Only”, you would say, but if you have gathered anything from the previous 2 pages of reading, you get a sense of the mind games. When the results came over the loudspeaker, Prannaya was at 116k, well ahead of anyone else. They weren’t announcing the position, so I had no idea how good / bad my 104km was.

I let the deficit slip another 15 laps in the next 2 hours, 14hours 121k I had mustered. Somewhere by now (can’t remember exactly) I went in for a 10min power nap, I was so groggy, I was swaying on the track and needed a short nap. I slept for 9mins under the watchful eyes of AC and Meena who were exchanging meaningful glances when I announced my of-plan sleep idea.

It’s all hazy from here on. For no specific reason, I was finding it difficult to keep lapping. AC was doing a fab job, forcing me to stay on my nutrition and hydration plan. She even had her family join in during the night to support.

With 10hours to go, I needed 80k to hit 200, but from 14 to 18hours, I had only added 26km, 146k in 18hours. Sometime after 16hours, I was told I was in 2nd place, “surprise, surprise”.  It gave me a fresh purpose to aim for. At half my age, Kannan was very close behind. I managed to keep a steady cadence and was trying to hit 20 lph.
pic credit: AC At 2:30PM, I stopped, sat down and had lunch. Prannaya joined me, he was well on track to hit 200km+.

I never went in for a physio stretch, but was doing the Morton stretch ( quite often.

I managed to stay ahead in second place till about 22hours and then gave up. The second place didn’t seem worth deliberate & audacious lane violation and this was the final nail.

Regardless, I was trying to keep happy throughout the 24 hours and my objective was to finish well. As far as the targets are concerned, I lost my focus between 14 and 20 hours. AC in her feedback rightly mentions the need to work on the mental aspect. Fatigue can, indeed, be central (brain fatigue) or peripheral (muscle fatigue).

Alex Hutchinson rightly says The end point of any performance is never an absolute fixed point but rather is when the sum of all negative factors such as fatigue and muscle pain are felt more strongly than the positive factors of motivation and will power.


It is reported that pain can be strangely satisfying to the highly motivated athlete. Getting fitter doesn’t magically increase your pain tolerance, how you get fit matters: you have to suffer – pain in training leads to greater tourniquet tolerance, and greater tourniquet tolerance predicts better race performance. It also seems you can get faster by simply training yourself to better tolerate or block out pain.
All pleasure is alike, as Leo Tolstoy might have put it, but each pain hurts in its own unique way.