Running Smart

Okay, so those of you familiar with my ramblings might be looking at the title and wondering if you’ve come to the wrong blog. Traditionally, a more fitting title for one of my posts would be “Running Stupid”, “Running a little bit odd” or “Running while dressed as a yak and covered in glitter”. But rest assured dear, sweet wonderful reader* this is still Born to Plod and I’m still me.

Honest.

The reason for the title is that after sulking my way through a post-xmas slump I’ve spent the last couple of weeks tentatively enjoying a bit of an epiphany. As an aside, I’m starting to notice a distinct pattern to my running, which is probably evident through my blog posts. I tend to have a short spate of crappy runs which, although starting off full of vim and enthusiasm, quickly become a chore as my legs turn to lead and I start to get overtaken by the elderly. You don’t know crushing defeat until you’ve been lapped by a woman whose son-in-law played Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army**. But then just when it begins to feel like I’ll never have another great run again, the lightbulb above my head goes “bwiiiiing”**** and something rekindles my love affair with this glorious, sweaty pastime. It could be that I try a new route, or change something in my diet, or run at a different time of the day; It’s more likely to be pure dumb luck, but the upshot is that my running mojo feels revitalised, as if the sun has jumped out from behind the clouds and shouted “Ha!” like some sort of gigantic fiery gaseous, but ultimately friendly, ninja.

I’m aware that I’ve just used a sort of a simile within a simile, and that it didn’t really stretch, so let’s just move on shall we?

So the pattern goes something like this: badrunbadrunbadrun (oh woe is me, my mojo will surely never return, oh there it is) goodrungoodrungoodrungoodru (deep breath) badrunbadrunbadrun (oh woe… And so on.

A short while ago I wrote about junk miles, and my aim to cut them out and stop simply throwing myself at the miles willy-nilly. Prior to that my approach to every run was to just get out of the door and come back later, with some arbitrary “running about” in between. The downside of this was that my pace didn’t really change, and I found myself hoping for a PB every time I ran, regardless of distance. Of course, PBs don’t happen just because you want them to, and I sometimes found myself vaguely disappointed during the first few minutes of a long run when the first mile wasn’t my quickest ever. In hindsight I think that this could have played a part in the majority of my mojo-dips.

I’ve already spoken about my plans for a more varied and better structured approach to running in 2012 (In previous blog post “the J Word”), but that was over two weeks ago so I thought I’d better let you know how it’s going. Or we could just cuddle for a bit.

No? Fair enough. Well anyway, things seem to be shaping up okay so far, although admittedly it’s still early days at the moment. I’ve still not got round to putting together an official training plan (or, more accurately, asking someone else to write one for me) so it’s still a bit seat-of-my-pants, but my running week currently looks something like this…

One go at the bleep test

One LSR

A couple of treadmill interval sessions

One random just-for-old-times-sake plod if I get the chance

You may have noticed I haven’t allocated any of these runs to a particular day of the week yet, and that’s because, if I’m honest, I’m pretty much just making the whole thing up as I go along at the moment. But the important thing for me is that it’s keeping things really interesting, adding a whole new dimension to my running and making me feel like someone who’s just started poking around at that big lump of metal that’s been sitting on my driveway for all these years and discovered that I can actually sit in it and it’ll take me to the seaside and the shops and Finchley Ink Museum.

The treadmill intervals (treadmintervals?) are a real breakthrough for me, because I’ve always resented both with a passion that I normally only reserve for jellyfish*****. I’ve yet to get my head round all the “6x600m” type stuff, so they’re more like fartlek runs on a treadmill (fartmill?) because I’m just tailoring my intervals to a combination of perceived effort and idle whimsy (with a side order of speeding-up-whenever-someone-attractive-walks-into-the-gym). But in any case I’m now up to 5k on the bloody thing, which for me is a massive improvement because for some reason I’ve always found running on a treadmill much harder than running outside, to the point where I’d rather have done ten miles on a trail or road than ten minutes on a machine. Also I’m getting to paces I’ve never really reached before; a couple of minutes here and there at 8 min/mile might not seem a lot to some but it’s a great day out for me. I always thought that treadmills and smiling were two things that would never come together in my world (unless it also involved a steam-roller) so this development has really surprised me.

The other big change for me has been finally coming to terms with the Long Slow Run. My issue with the LSR has always been that, having come into the world of running with all the natural athletic prowess of a rusty fridge, I’d fought tooth and nail to get to a point where I could consistently run at a sub 10 min/mile pace. And suddenly I was being told that I should be doing a long run at a much slower pace? Bugger that – I should be trying to go quicker, surely? After all, I mastered slow running years ago, gradually plodding around my local park in a foul mood, like a truculent womble, whenever I made a half-hearted attempt at getting fit. I fought and fought against it, but this week saw me finally setting off on a proper LSR. Arriving at Stanwick Lakes first thing on a Monday morning (and telling myself that -2 degrees + flimsy shorts = “character building”) I set off, planning to do around 8 miles at a gentle pace of 11-12 min/miles. I could happily write an entire post about the run that followed, but I’ll try to keep it brief because I’ve waffled more than enough already.

It was a fantastic run. Partly because the usual loveliness of that particular route got kicked up a notch by the crisp tranquillity of the icy morning, and partly because I’m now officially a convert to the joys of a true LSR. For starters, I love the novelty of my Garmin telling me to slow down, rather than to speed up. I love the fact that at the end of the run I was still breathing comfortably through my nose, legs fresh and generally feeling as if I’d been on a morning stroll rather than nine miles of trails. But more than all of that, I love Love LOVE the fact that I’ve just typed that last sentence. That a little bloke as wide as he is tall, who’s never really considered himself a runner, can use a phrase like “a gentle nine miles”.

So that’s it; I’m finally sold on the LSR. On runnersforum.co.uk there’s a thread called “What’s your goal for today”, and I never really understood the many people who declared their goal for the day as “an easy 7 miles” (or whatever), because no run was easy. But now I finally get it, and the icing on the cake is that my final time wasn’t actually a million miles away from where it usually is, probably because on this run I was sticking to a consistent pace rather than just throwing my legs out in front of me as fast as I could manage and having my pace dictated by fatigue.

As I’ve said, it’s early days. But for now, here’s to an exciting new era in plodding.

*Have you had your hair done? Looks fantastic.
**Not a true story***
***I mean the bit about me being lapped by her isn’t a true story, not Dad’s Army. Everyone knows that Dad’s Army is real.
**** I won’t tell you how long I spent trying to work out what noise a lightbulb would make, if indeed they made a noise. Which they don’t. But if they did…
***** By which I mean that I hate jellyfish. Thought I’d better just clarify that in case any of you started thinking I was a regular visitor to http://www.jellyfishpassion.com. There’s nothing wrong with that sort of thing, just so long as you’re:
A) not doing anything that’s against the law, and
B) a jellyfish

The lovely Stanwick Lakes

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