Nailing the right running pace is no easy feat, even for the best runners. Whether you're tackling a 5k for the first time or stepping up to a marathon, finding the perfect pace that doesn't leave you too tired to get over the finish line or even risk an injury is something that takes work.
Tracking pace as a metric has been a staple on running watches since, forever. Now Garmin wants to take that core running metric along with other data and put it to greater use to help you get that pacing right from the start line to the finish line. Wherever that may be.
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It's doing that with a new feature called PacePro. It's currently only available on select Garmin watches, and we've been fortunate enough to test it out and discover exactly how it works ‚Äď and more importantly, if it works at all.
Below we'll delve in to the ins and outs of PacePro and let you know how we got on with it when we put it to the test at the 2019 edition of the Simplyhealth Great South Run.
How does PacePro work?
Before we get into the testing and the setup process with PacePro, let's get into exactly what it is and how it works.
On Garmin's dedicated page PacePro is described as follows:
"This first-of-its-kind feature offers dynamic, grade-adjusted pace guidance throughout your activity, based on elevation and your personal pacing preferences. This helps you plan the ideal pacing strategy for your activity ‚Äď and maximize your performance. Viewing the pace profile on your compatible device shows your target pace for the current split along with a measure of how you compare to the target. You can also customize data fields based on your desired uphill effort and negative split preferences."
To summarise that, PacePro aims to offer guidance in real-time on the ideal pacing strategy for a race, split by split. So once you've got it all set up, you'll be able to look down at your watch and see whether you're sticking to the pace you need to be doing mile by mile (or kilometre by kilometre) to get the finish time you desire.
If you miss the target pace for a section of the race, the watch will let you know about it and adjust accordingly to help you still get that ideal time.
To do this, PacePro is doing a few things. It's obviously tracking pace, but it's also factoring in elevation changes on a course or route. That requires selecting or creating the course profile on Garmin Connect first and then syncing it to the watch.
While supported Garmin watches do enable you to create routes on the watch, Garmin points out that those routes created on the watch will not work with PacePro.
Along with the course profile, you also have the ability to choose how hard you want to run on the hilly parts of a course/route, and whether you want to bag positive or negative splits as well. Again, this is selected in the Garmin Connect app prior to your run.
Right now, PacePro is available on all of the Fenix 6 series watches and we've noticed that there appears to be support for the Garmin Marq Athlete as well. The things that these watches have in common is support for mapping, which is a crucial component for this feature.
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The Fenix 6 series and the Marq are of course not the only watches in the Garmin family that offer that mapping support. The likes of the Forerunner 945 and older Fenix watches also have that capability ‚Äď which of course opens up the possibility for PacePro support on other Garmins.
Garmin has said that PacePro will be launching on other watches, but is kicking things off with the new Fenix. It's yet to confirm a release window for when that support will start rolling out, but it's good to at least hear that it's going to drop for other watches.
Getting set up
The experience of getting PacePro up and running starts with Connect, Garmin's companion smartphone app. As mentioned, this is where you'll need to select your course, set the pacing strategy and uphill effort parameters and save it all, ready to send to your watch.
Depending on whether you're using the iPhone or Android version of Garmin Connect, PacePro Pacing Strategies should be found under the Training tab.
From there, you'll be able to create a PacePro Strategy simply by hitting the big + icon. Then you'll need to select a course or select a race distance. If you're selecting a course, you can see courses already created by you or perform a search for others.
Before you perform that search, it's worth tapping the filter icon (next to the magnifying glass icon) where you can also select whether you're looking for road running or trail running courses.
When you get into search, it'll provide you with a map of current location and will pinpoint running routes with little running man icons. Now if you're planning to run a route that's not nearby, you can pinch and zoom to move to another part of the map and it'll pick out those popular routes and races.
When you do that, you can type to search for a particular route or hit the List tab to see a list of uploaded courses. It's important to mention here that these are user generated courses, so some of these course or route profiles can be taken from a range of time periods.
That's perhaps not too big a deal if it's just a run in an area that has remained largely unchanged over the years. For race routes, that can be a bit more challenging as we found out in our own race test (more on that later).
Once you've found your route, you'll need to pick a goal time and then a goal pace to create your pacing strategy. Once that's done, you'll be pushed into another screen where you can see the course profile, with your route color-coded based on the parts you'll be going slower and faster on. If you deal in miles as opposed to kilometers (or vice versa) when it comes to splits, don't worry, you can change that as well here.
When you scroll down the page you can see your pace plotted out in a graph along with the elevation profile of the course. Below that lies the pacing strategy and uphill effort toggles, which you can slide up and down depending on how hard you want to work on those hills or whether you want to finish with negative splits.
By doing that the PacePro minimum and maximum pace numbers will change to reflect how you will need to approach the run.
It'll also create your split times you'll need to achieve to secure your target time.
Once you're satisfied with your strategy, hit save and it'll be stored in the Connect app for you to sync to your watch. It's also stored on the app if you want to use the profile again, or amend if you want to tackle again with a faster or slower pacing strategy.
Once you've synced your strategy over to your watch, it's now all about getting ready to run and hitting that Start button.
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When you're ready to put that strategy into action you'll need to select your activity and then hit the up button to see the option for PacePro plans. If you've successfully synced the plan over, it should show up with details of your target time and pace target.
When selected, you can have a look at your target splits, elevation plot information and view the map for the course. When you're satisfied with the task that lies in front of you, hit that Start button on the watch, choose whether to enable course navigation, and you'll be met with the screen with your data fields and blue bar running through the middle of it.
In terms of the data you'll see working from top to bottom, you'll get target pace, current pace, a bar indicating how much is left on your current split and then the Overall Ahead time. This will show you whether you're running over your target pace time (the + sign) or you're actually going quicker (the - sign) than it.
If you've enabled course navigation, you'll also have turns pointed out to you at the bottom of the screen. If you want to dig into your usual running data screens, you can do that using the up and down buttons on the watch.
A great running watch feature?
So how did it go for us? As far as getting PacePro set up goes, it's pretty easy to do, though we'd appreciate the process of creating the strategy to syncing being a few steps shorter.
From a race point of view it was mostly good. It shifted our focus from thinking about chasing the overall time to securing smaller wins by chasing split times that ultimately would help lead to the desired finish time.
It's certainly an odd feeling not focusing on the cumulative time when for many runners (including ourselves) this is something you fixate on. In a positive way it helped us mentally break the race down into pieces. We never got quicker than the target split pace, but we knew we were only seconds away from it.
The one issue we did encounter was with the course profile we'd uploaded. With course navigation enabled, it was apparent during our test race that the profile we'd used wasn't reflective of the latest version of the course. Therefore one turn was suggested when there wasn't one. The impact being that it added a couple more minutes onto our Overall Ahead time, which was a bit demoralizing.
It did only happen on one part of the course, and having chased a 1 hour and 10 minute time, we finished with 1 hour 11 minutes. The PacePro strategy had seemingly levelled itself out to accurately project our finish time. We finished just shy of it.
On the whole, there's a lot to like about what PacePro is designed to offer as a running watch feature. It's a way of approaching a run that gives you the ability to better shape how that run plays out, based on where you believe your strengths lie.
If you think you can tackle hills at the same pace as those flats, you can choose to do that. If you want to save some energy for the later stages of your run, you have better control over that too.
We imagine Forerunner owners will be chomping at the bit to try it out and we think there'll be more than a few people looking to PacePro to give them a helping hand come race day.
We took part in the Simplyhealth Great South Run as guests of Simplyhealth,whose plans help cover the cost of a range of health treatments, including physiotherapy, optician, dental appointments and more.