Bit of an indulgence this week…
I had a few ideas knocking about for my latest post, each as captivating and incisive as the last, but yesterday I went for a flipping brilliant run, so sod it – I’ll just write about that instead.
The plan was to head out after work and do a gentle ten miles around the lakes at a slow pace (slow enough to keep my heart rate below 70%). On a five mile recovery run this usually sees me hovering around a 10:30 min/mile pace* but over ten miles I’d probably find myself having to slow down more towards the end as my HR crept up.
With the exception of a couple of lovely runs in France, my running has been a little bit meh since the magnificent Thunder Run back in July. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve been okay, but my weekly mileage has slipped below 20 miles and my pace feels a bit samey regardless of distance. That said, I’ve reached the stage as a runner where I’m at peace with these inevitable periods of meh-ness. I see them as a necessary fallow period that heralds the arrival of better things, and know from experience that they don’t last for long.
So I set off at a gentle trot, but straight away noticed that my Garmin was playing up, showing my heart rate as a teeth-rattling 240bpm. I did allow myself a quick feel of my pulse, just in case my watch was right after all and I was about to explode into tachycardic soup. But all was well, and in reality I was coasting along at a much less soupy 130bpm
I’d chosen an out-and-back route that took me along a lovely old disused railway, but to be honest the outward journey felt less than inspiring – just a case of getting some decent miles into my legs.
I hit the five mile point and turned to head for home…
…And someone lit a fire in my belly.
Not literally of course, that would be unpleasant and probably count as attempted murder. But anyway, what I mean is: Something Changed.
For the next five miles it was as if someone had reached down from the sky and flicked a switch on my back, from “cumbersome plodder” mode to “fleet-footed assassin”. Accompanied by the sweary refrains of Kid Rock pounding through my earphones I devoured the miles, feeling the ground fly under my feet so effortlessly that I had to keep checking that I hadn’t accidentally borrowed someone else’s legs. One of my goals at the moment is to bring the pace of my short runs down to 8 min/miles, and so whenever I bring my pace to anywhere in that region it gives me a warm fuzzy “I’m a real runner” feeling inside. But that’s on short runs. I couldn’t possibly hope to…
Hang on a minute…
Well over halfway through a ten mile run, and my watch is telling me that I’m currently doing a 7:30 pace! Scratch that… 7:15! I’m just about to enter mile 7, and somehow I’m maintaining a pace I don’t normally see even during mile one of a 5k, and it feels good. Not effortless by any means, but there was certainly an economy to it, a sense of grace that I’ve glimpsed before but never been able to hang on to.
(I should point out that I never claimed that it looked graceful. I fully accept that to the casual observer I could easily have been mistaken for a strategically-shaved koala, let loose in rural Northamptonshire after downing a litre-and-a-half of cheap cognac. But it felt good, and that’s all that matters).
We often talk about the fabled “runners high”, in which the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other inexplicably nudges you into some metaphysical realm where everything goes a little bit grasshopper. I guess it’s totally subjective to each runner, but I’ve encountered my version a few times now**, and this was the mother of them all. It’s difficult to put into words, but if pushed, I’d have to describe it as really really really really lovely.
More? Okay then, prepare for a barrage of nouns. Tranquillity, clarity, freedom and raw shimmering potential, all piled high on a plate and covered in chocolate. It’s a moment that flashes past in the blink of an eye, but at the same time stretches out forever (although not for quite so long as the ending of the final Lord of the Rings movie, thankfully).
And then, just as I was thinking “well, this is nice”, things kicked up a gear. I became conscious of the fact that, although moving at a cracking pace (for me at least), I was still adopting my signature running style of throwing myself forwards and hoping that my legs eventually joined me out of morbid curiosity and a sense of obligation. Well that wouldn’t do, would it? I leaned forward a fraction, shifted my gait underneath me, and made a conscious effort to drive myself forward with each step. A driver, not a passenger. I suddenly felt the muscles in my thighs engage, and it was like I was running for the very first time. A quick glance at my watch – 6:30/mile, and still feeling strong, composed.
But as majestic as this all felt, it was a frightened kitten compared to the unwelcome truth that I should really think about slowing down before something went twang. So I eased off, but not too much. I still managed to keep up a pace strong enough to secure a hefty negative split. So hefty in fact, that I managed to beat my 5k PB during the last three miles of a ten-mile run.
So that’s my latest experience of the elusive runners high. I tried my best to describe the feeling without coming across as too melodramatic, but I don’t think I really did it justice. What I will say is that every runner deserves at least one; it’s like a right that you earn the moment you first lace up your running shoes. Keep working. It’ll happen.
PS: Some of you will read this post and wonder why I’m making such a fuss about running at a pace that, for many, is just a steady jog. But it’s a big deal for me – it wasn’t so long ago that a consistent 10 min/mile seemed out of my reach, and I think a part of me will always be grateful for any pace above “shambling”
* Not actually hovering. Not yet anyway – just waiting for the Asics Hovershoe™ to be invented. ** You’d actually be surprised by how few talking raccoons there are in my version.