The Art of Running Slowly

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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…

Slow down?

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)
Week 1 11.5 153 10.16
Week 2 12.0 151 10.13
Week 3 15.0 147 10.15
Week 4 15.1 144 10.03

(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.
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22 thoughts on “The Art of Running Slowly

    • I guess it’s all subjective really. That’s one of the great things about running: you only have to compete against yourself (unless you’re a vesty whippet-like elite. They compete against themselves AND other vesty whippets).

  1. I’m generally a slow runner and I trained myself to run slowly to keep my blood sugar from rising too much during a run. I’m a T2 diabetes so I have to watch the blood sugar from rising too fast. Running slowly does that for me. Of course, I do speed up if I’m training for a road race.

  2. Great post. Our HR profiles are the same. Running at 150 bpm every other day, and the results have been awesome. Better speed workouts, weight loss, and a little bit of excitement (mystery) about what the pace will be when I start a HR workout. Feels like you can PR in a sense with every HR workout.

    Great advice about setting the Garmin to only reflect HR and not pace. Helps to focus on one number and not two.

    • Yaay! Heart rate twins! 🙂

      I totally agree with you on the results, and it’s nice to run with the feeling that I’m actively listening to my body rather than just telling it to “Shut up and run”.

      Sort of feels like I’ve stumbled across runnings biggest secret.

    • PS: I misread the last sentence of your comment at first, and thought it said “helps you focus on number ones and twos”.

  3. I am dreaming of running 10 minute miles right now but I know I will get there eventually and I am going to keep going at it even if it kills me which it might!
    x

    • You’ll get there Em. It wasn’t so long ago that I was desperate to manage a single 10 min mile without my knees and/or lungs exploding. Stick with it.

      PS: loving your bucket list 🙂

  4. Really interesting post Jay – I actually spent about 2 hours chatting to a random runner in my local Sweatshop a few weeks ago about heart rate training. He pretty much told me everything you’ve said and then some (i.e. 2 bloody hours worth – it was pretty embarrassing by the time we realised we’d been standing in the shop for that long talking running and not actually bought anything).

    I think I’ve got a heart rate monitor with my Garmin, I got it off ebay so it wasn’t packaged properly and I haven’t got instructions. Is it a belt thing you put round your chest? How do you set up your Garmin to read it? I’ve got the 405cx (or xc whatever it is)..

    • Hey Tess. I think the Garmin should automatically detect the chest strap. Once it’s picked it up, it’s just a matter of twiddling with the display and alert settings so the screens and bingly-boops are to your liking.

      I was about to say that “twiddling” is my new favourite word, but then I discovered “bingly-boop”.

  5. FFS Jay, you didn’t follow the 10% rule! Such an amateur!

    Seriously though, thanks for the reminder about HRM training – that’s what led me to a sub 2 hour half this year. I need to do more of this, and will get back to it after my “race of the year” in early October.

    • I’ve still yet to conquer sub 2hrs for a half. I got a PB during last weeks 15 miler but still only 2:11 so knocking eleven more mins off will be tricky.

      Not sure what happened with the 10% rule because I do normally try to follow it. Maybe I’m just rubbish at percentages.

  6. This is SO spot on! I basically have one pace – I can’t run fast, and I hate running slowly.

    However, now I’m doing the marathon next year I am going to knuckle down and do this properly. If this requires getting a heart rate monitor and a Garmin and eating those horrible gel things, so be it. And also, running slowly.

    • Running slowly and to heart rate is definitely the way to go. It’s making me quite a bit quicker at shorter distances too.

      Gels aren’t for everyone, but there are loads of alternatives. I particularly like Clif shotbloks, and I’ve been known to go for an impromptu long run just to have an excuse to gobble a load.

  7. Ha! Love it! Just embarking on my first half marathon training regime…did 10.26min/miles and was chuffed, only running since April and I am a natural born plodder!! In every aspect!! Laughed out loud reading this, thanks xx

    • Hey Lisa, thanks for the kind comment.

      10.26 mins/mile is good going, especially if you only started in April. You’re doing great 🙂

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