Lessons on Running Slower and Faster

Lessons on Running Slower and Faster.png

I realize I haven't shared anything about fitness in a while. So, in true blog fashion--I'm just going to talk about what I've been up to.

I've been running...slower...and also faster. 

The Route66 Half Marathon was quite an eye-opener for me. Let's just say it was not an easy course (hello hills). But aside from that, it was the first race I ran in where I actually wanted to quit halfway through (somehow I didn't, but still). 

The reality of the situation was that I did not train consistently (maybe ran 2 or 3 days a week) or properly (longest run was 8 miles like 6 weeks before the race)---so was I surprised? Not really. After all, you can't reap what you did not sow.

The question remained: why wasn't I motivated to train consistently or properly? I started asking myself if I actually liked running, or if it was just a guise for maintaining a particular body type.

I know I used to love running, I loved training, pushing my pace, the experience of racing and the camaraderie of the running community. So I did some deep diving. I researched training styles -- I couldn't shut out the idea that I was just approaching training the wrong way--making recovery more difficult and running less enjoyable.

 BY FAR the best part of running the Route66 race was getting to be a part of this relay team :) Thanks to Dr. Chris Barnes for this sweet jumping picture!

BY FAR the best part of running the Route66 race was getting to be a part of this relay team :) Thanks to Dr. Chris Barnes for this sweet jumping picture!

I looked into different low heart rate styles of training and came across the 80/20 method. This training philosophy involves training at an easy (low heart rate) pace 80% of the time and training at a higher intensity (race pace or faster) 20% of the time. Scientifically speaking this makes total sense and is evidence-based. But yet, I know I wasn't training this way.

Like most amateur runners, I was guilty of running most of my mileage somewhere in between an easy comfortable pace and my goal race pace. Which, if you're familiar with running training, means I was training too hard to recover well between runs, but too slow to get any faster.

So, I set out with my new, roomy altra running shoes (nothing motivates you to run more than a new pair of kicks) and went for an easy run, sans my tunes. I wanted to determine whether or not I actually enjoyed running. I determined that, yea, when I don't kill myself to stay at an uncomfortable pace for every single mile, I do in fact enjoy running, a lot. Once that was settled, I nerded out and drafted myself a flexible* training plan. 

*flexible because no one can say what life will bring. Whether it's holiday parties, sick kids, inclement weather, or just a change in what my body needs, it's important to be flexible and accommodating of changes with any exercise "plan". 

I planned my goal race and determined how many weeks I have from now until then. Next, I decided how many runs were realistic for me to do each week. From there, I planned for 80% of my runs to be at an easier pace (a pace where I could still talk, or if you like HR--where my HR is no higher than 75% of my max HR, using 220 - age to determine max HR). I also planned for 20% of my running to be at race pace or faster.

For me, this translated into including 1- 2 speed work days during the week, one long run day, and the 2-3 easy, recovery runs. Of course, like any endurance plan, mileage will have to increase (slowly) as the weeks go on. 

The results -- so far, so good. I haven't felt the need to stop training or take a 5 hour nap two days into the week, so that's progress.

I don't think that practicing gentle, respectful, intuitive movement and training for an athletic event are mutually exclusive. In fact, while it may feel like it's taking longer to build up my mileage and get to my goal pace with this method, research seems to show that it's a more effective method for performance improvement.  Training harder is not always better, and pushing past your body's signals for rest is not always healthy.

Whether you're a runner, a cross country skiier, or a self-proclaimed couch potato, listening to your body's need for movement AND it's signals for rest is a beneficial practice. Read more about it in this post.

I'm interested to hear from you guys--have you ever hit a rut in your exercise routine or sport? What did you do about it to turn things around? And to the runners: any tips on/experience with this training method?