Going kilometric

Long Mile Road sign in Dublin

Sounds even longer as 1.609 kilometres (Image: Google Street View)

With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve spotted a running-related clue that I was never going to stay in France for the rest of my life.

In all my 8 years living in Paris, I always measured running distances in Anglophone miles rather than continental kilometres. The Paris Marathon organisers were obliging enough to mark their course with kilometre and mile signs for the convenience of English-speaking runner-tourists and expats like me.

And ironically, now that I’m back living in the English-speaking world I find I’ve had to start adapting to kilometres.

Since doing last year’s Dublin Marathon, all my races have been metric. In December I ran my first ever 5K, the Aware Christmas Run. January brought another 5K first, when I made my parkrun debut and set my current 5K personal best time of 20:55. Both of these were short post-marathon and post-Christmas runs respectively, so my approach to them was fairly casual – I just tore off and did my best.

And this spring I entered two 10K races – also my first races at the distance. The first one took place a couple of weeks ago: the Fit Magazine City Series 10K. Weeks of illness and injury meant I was anything but fit, but as with the two 5K races, I was simply happy to be there, and I still ran a good time of 43:55. Whatever race strategy I had was thought up mid-race.

Now I’m preparing for my second 10K, the Great Ireland Run on 6 April, and I feel I should prepare more seriously. Solid training, yes, but also proper race planning – and that means devising a race strategy in kilometres for a change. This might seem normal for you but it’s new to me.

Printing out the course map for the race, I realised that it would make more sense to work out my splits in kilometres. And ‘work out’ is the operative phrase here – I had to use an online conversion tool to calculate what my target kilometre splits would be. Then I wrote these strange new numbers beside the kilometre points on the course map.

When you’re used to running in miles, there’s something insubstantial and even shifty about a kilometre. The round metric figure of 1,000 metres seems rational enough – but my kilometre split time looks deceptively small and incomplete compared to my usual mile split. (Of course, I could solve that by running each kilometre in the same length of time as I would a mile, but I’d like to finish by nightfall.)

And while the unit looks small, it makes the race seem longer. I could never run a marathon by thinking in kilometres, for the simple reason that 42.1 42.2 of something (kilometres) seems psychologically longer than 26.2 of something (miles). Even a 6-miler sounds like a training spin for me compared to the ominous double digits of 10 kilometres.

So much for the thinking. But what about the training?

Well, rather than mess around my training habits for the sake of a couple of weeks, I’ll continue training in miles but afterwards I’ll calculate my kilometre speeds.

Then once this springtime mania for metric has passed, I’ll be back into a summer of mile-based races, where I’ll be going imperial hell-for-leather!

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9 Responses to Going kilometric

  1. It’s all about what you are used to.
    Not long ago I was running mainly on the treadmill and going by speed. Then I started running outside and bought a GPS watch and all of a sudden it made sense to go by pace. It took me a few good weeks to make the mind switch, it just seemed so weird at first. Now I go by pace even when running on the treadmill..
    You’ll learn to love KMs too!! And it’s a good thing that you get “more” of them (10 instead of 6.1), there’s more space for playing around with different paces.

  2. mia79gbr says:

    How funny! Was having a very similar discussion with a friend at the weekend. We decided that 42.2km sounded MUCH longer than 26.2 miles. I can’t get used to not working out pace in min/miles šŸ™‚

  3. WalkToRio says:

    Moving to Spain from the US was a bit messy, specially talking to local runners, I’d say let’s do 1/4 mile intervals, they’d say 400mts.

    • Run and Jump says:

      A track helps avoid that cultural difference, by compromising on a lap, una vuelta (unless they were fundamentalist pedants who insisted that a quarter-mile is a lap plus 2.25 metres).

      In Ireland and the UK we’d call them 400-metre intervals too, though. That said, I like the charm of a quarter-mile.

  4. Angela says:

    Heh, interesting. With 5Ks & 10Ks I sort of think of the two different unit lengths interchangeably (ie, 10K doesn’t sound any longer or shorter than 6.2 miles), but the idea of running 21K or 42K is COMPLETELY unappealing, probably because I’m not used to thinking about those distances in those units.

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