You’re new to running (or maybe you’ve been doing it since 2nd November 2010, just to pick a date completely at random).
You’re sick and tired of looking down at your pace and seeing double figures*, but you’ve persevered and now you’ve finally reached the stage where 10 min/miles are a thing of the past. You’re starting to feel like a runner, rather than someone who just does some running.
…Except then some smartarse who gets paid to wear a tracksuit and carry a clipboard tells you “the long slow run is the most important run of the week” and that, basically, you need to slow the hell back down again.
Eh? Let me just get this straight…
But I’ve already been doing that. It’s done. I’ve graduated. I’m one of you lot now, surely.
I’ve always struggled with the concept of running slowly, which is surprising, given the fact that I’m so damn good at it. In fact, throughout my childhood and most of my adult life it’s been something of a speciality, my signature move if you like. I remember many occasions at school where my PE teacher would shout what I can only assume to be proud encouraging word, amazed at my natural athletic ability as I shuffled wheezily round the track. At one point he even said I was “bloody unbelievable”.
In all seriousness, running slowly because that’s all you can do is easy (and I should know). The hard bit is biting back the pride and forcing yourself to slow down after you’ve worked hard to build up a decent level of fitness. That’s easier said than done when a new and exciting world of potential is stretching out in front of you, with the promise of a PB around every corner. But pride can be a dangerous thing to a runner. Not snakes-in-the-sock-drawer dangerous, but pretty dangerous all the same. Pride can result in injury, hamper recovery and, in the case of the LSR, it can stand in the way of achieving the very best from our running.
Up until very recently, the idea of slowing things down once a week left me feeling confused and frustrated. I’d occasionally head out on such a run with good intentions, only to find myself aiming for a PB before the first mile was out. Rather than being at a slow, purposeful pace, my long runs just became a byword for junk miles, as I stuck on a bit more distance each week but saw little in return other than achy legs and a vague sensation that I was breaking myself.
But after a couple of years, I’ve finally had an epiphany and found peace with the art of the long slow run, and it’s all thanks to my heart rate monitor.
A few weeks ago I realised that by setting my Garmin so that all it was displaying was heart rate (no pace, no distance, no GPS compass pointing to the nearest owl sanctuary) I could just keep things nice and relaxed without subconsciously pushing myself up to what I thought was a more acceptable pace. The first time I tried this new approach, I did around 11.5 miles, aiming to keep my heart rate at 145-150bpm (around 70-75% max). It felt a lot more comfortable than my normal LSR attempts, but I struggled to keep to my heart rate consistently in the target area. The result of this was a pace that varied so wildly that anyone watching me would have assumed I kept slowing down to let hedgehogs snuffle warily across my path.
But it felt right so I stuck with it, and a few weeks down the line the results are impressive:
- My sense of pace and effort feels a lot more reliable and I’m having to spend less time looking down at my watch (which also means I’m having slightly fewer collisions with trees).
- I’m adding distance without feeling like I’m setting myself up for injury.
- In just the last 7 days I’ve PB’d at 10k and half marathon**.
- On my long runs, my average heart rate is coming down while distance and speed are going up. Here, look…
|Distance (miles)||Avg HR (bpm)||Avg pace (min/mile)|
(I’d love to be able to treat you to a nice graph, but I’m as good at graphs as I am at zero-G dentistry)
- Just an overall sense of ease while running slow. Breathing relaxed, taking in the scenery, nimbly avoiding muggers-or-possibly-ramblers. It’s nice to feel unburdened by pace or distance now and then. Okay, so I still have my watch set up to give me mile alerts (because I haven’t completely turned hippy just yet) but it doesn’t matter to me whether the pace for that mile was 9 min/mile or 12 because, by running to heart rate, I’ve already hit my target regardless.
In summary then, there’s no shame in reverting to a pace you thought had been banished forever. Just remember that the old you used to huff, puff and occasionally cry at that pace. Now, though, your breathing is effortless, your legs aren’t on fire***, you’re comfortably holding a conversation and you may even be eating a lasagne as you run. Actually, you probably shouldn’t be doing that last one.
Once you overcome the pride thing, there’s something very liberating about running steadily along, knowing that you could turn on the speed any time you wanted to. The best bit is when someone overtakes you during one of these runs. You allow yourself a warm cup of smugness as they hurtle past you, breathing through their ears and in a world of pain, while you effortlessly glide along at your own pace
So what if you’re back to running 10 min/miles again? The tables have turned; you’re calling the shots now. It’s on your terms.
10 min/miles are your bitch!
PS: After my “Heartlek” disappointment, I decided to check to see if anyone had already beaten me to the title of this blog post. They had. But rather than forcing my poor beleaguered brain to come up with another title (and risk it going in a huff or staging some sort of dirty protest) I thought I’d instead share a link to the original blogger, who has summed up the joys and benefits of slow running far more elegantly than I (and with fewer references to hedgehogs and lasagne).
www.theartofrunningslowly.com is a fantastic blog, and well worth a read. Go and see for yourself.
Want more? You’re weird. You can find me on facebook here or chase me around twitter: (@borntoplodblog)
* I mean minutes per mile. If you’re looking at mile per hour and seeing double figures, then I think you’re doing just fine. Relax. Have a scone. ** Other than heart rate training, I’ve not really been doing anything different in my running or nutrition, so I can only put it down to that. Although now that I think of it, I did watch nine episodes of Spongebob Squarepants in a row last weekend so it could have been that. And there was that thing with the genie, where I wished for a PB at 10k and half marathon, but I think that’s just coincidence. *** If your legs are on fire, in the literal sense, you should probably stop reading this blog and go and find somebody trained in putting out leg fires. Go. Go now.