Every running magazine, coach, seasoned runner and their dog know that running your easy days truly easy is the way to go but this is the biggest thing I struggle with.
I don’t know if it’s how comfortable a faster clip feels, whether really it’s the numbers on the watch, lack of running self-esteem or the fact I want to get home for dinner but I really REALLY struggle to slow it down. I know it sounds lame, “oh I just can’t run slowly” but once I get in my groove and the rust has eased after the first half mile I get carried away.
Previous advise from poor coaching was that “you naturally run fast, a 6.45 mile recovery run is just the normal for you”. What a load of tosh. It’s taking me years to un-do this mentally, to reap the rewards physically. Even now, I still have a long way to go. Like quite a few runners, I was burned out and had totally lost my aerobic capacity. I could burn it out at 6.30/mile for an hour or so every single day for weeks but after months of that I was toast not just during my runs but after and that weaved it’s way through my life causing a domino-effect of issues. I now run my easy runs hovering around the 7 min/mile mark but often even slow could be kinder.
The reasons for balance are abundant: truly easy running trains your body to be efficient; it’s kinder to your muscles and organs; you save that energy for the sessions when it counts…it’s all very sensible but the naughty gremlin on my shoulder tells me that it’s okay to just run a bit faster – “there’s a lot to fit in today and that little bit quicker is more fun”. Bad gremlin.
Over the past year or so I have actively been trying to change this…so what have I done?
- I wear my watch but actively don’t look at it except to know how long I’ve been out. I don’t even look at pace in speed work because you know what, some days you may not feel so good so pressurising yourself to hit a pace that you can’t do that day only to bash yourself for it later isn’t good. I’ve learned to feeeeeeel it all out. Sometimes that means I run way too fast during my speed blocks but mostly it means I accept and appreciate my body’s efforts for that day. Fast or slow.
- I actively think about the purpose for my run. Recovery? Threshold base building? Leg turn-over? Long running easy? Long running with efforts? Race simulation?
- I am no longer a Strava runner. My runs occasionally filter over there when I load my Garmin up but I don’t look at my own or anyone else’s training on there. Strava doesn’t help me mentally because I know I can take no positive from it. Doesn’t mean Strava is bad, just means it’s not my friend.
- On easy runs in the city I listen to music and make sure I can sing when I run. If I can sing it out, I’m running easy. In the countryside, I take in the scenery. I self-talk myself down from the ledge of pushing up hills or trying to catch Dan on his bike.
- Most of all, I remember that the gremlin telling me to ignore sense is bad news. I now know he will be there but I can try to shut him out until it’s time to get the fast legs out.
Really, I think it’s mostly a case of leaving your ego at home. I still have a long way to go but I’m a lot kinder to myself and much more sensible than I used to be. I am no longer judged on my easy run pace (or actually on any pace for any session) but it’s myself who I have to prove that it’s okay to. Deep down I know I HAVE TO nail this balance but I get caught up in the day to day. The journey goes on and I’ll keep trying to learn.
I know what people reading this maybe be thinking – boohoo that I’m worrying about slowing down but it’s more common than you think. I’ve listened to a really good podcast interview with Anna Mae Flynn on the Training for Ultra show where she talks about her lack of aerobic capacity and the constant drive to push, push, push and just how much that’s taken a toll. She was a total crusher before, but now she’s even stronger and can take on those longer races with conviction. Give it a listen, it’s really revealing to how discipline and balance really pay off no matter what level you’re at.
I’m going to carry on trying to find my balance and comfort zone in easier paces and anyone who wants to come and join me for run and help along the way is very welcome.