Yesterday after work I laced up my shoes for 5 miles around my neighborhood. It’s officially taper time around these parts, which means shorter, easy runs from here on out. It was a perfect fall afternoon – sunshine with some puffy Simpsons clouds, about 55 degrees. Right from the get-go, my legs wanted to move. I set off up the first of my favorite hills, and instead of backing off, I gradually pushed harder. When I got to the top, I hammered back down instead of relaxing and letting gravity do the work. I didn’t want to ease up on the pace, and for the entirety of the run, I hovered in that “comfortably hard” zone – somewhere between half marathon and marathon pace.
This was, quite possibly, the stupidest thing I could have done. No workout that you do within two weeks of a marathon is going to help you for the marathon. And no workout that prepares you for anything is written as 5 miles total somewhere in between half marathon and marathon pace.
Even more worrying to me was that as I was running, I was consciously telling myself to back off. And telling myself back, no – this feels good and I’m going to keep at it.
This is certainly not an isolated incident – running too fast but not fast enough has plagued me throughout my past few years as a runner. So why is it just so hard to slow down?
As I ran on, I thought about this. I know (and fully believe) that to run faster overall, you need to log a lot of easy miles. Running your base runs too fast is a great way to get injured, and it also typically compromises your ability to hit paces on any actual speed workouts. I also know that during taper, the best thing you can do is to let your legs recover. So why would I sabotage myself so willingly?
I think – for me, at least – it stems from a long, well conditioned cycle of working out as a way of atoning for “bad” behaviors. I’m no special snowflake; I’m sure most girls were body-conscious and had some sort of strange relationship with food/exercise during their teens and early 20s. Skinny was the ideal; if you weren’t skinny, you weren’t good enough, and if you didn’t at least try to be skinny, you were even worse. Ate a cheeseburger and a piece of pie for dinner last night? Better hit the elliptical for a bit. Genetically predisposed to have boobs and hips? Jump roping for 20 minutes should help. The gym is a punishment for not being perfect, ergo it makes no sense to go to the gym and phone it in. If I’m working out, I’m working out.
Running is different – at least, the way I currently approach running. I don’t run to maintain my weight, lose weight, look better in a bikini, or atone for anything. I run because I want to become a better runner. That means that yes – some days, my work out doesn’t feel like much of a work out. That means that even when I want to feel that nice comfortable burn of a moderately hard effort, I need to stop and think about what I’m trying to achieve.
This is, of course, all much easier said than done. I think my brain is somewhat conditioned still to seek out that “comfortably hard” pace because it leads to the greatest reward: immediate gratification. I think the wires are still connected from the days when a moderately hard effort on the elliptical would erase any bad feelings I was experiencing about myself. A hard-ish workout to me is almost like a favorite teddy bear or blanket from childhood; it’s comforting, and you still seek it out occasionally, even if you know you should be mature enough to not lean on whimsical artifacts of a past life for present comfort.
I plan to focus heavily on keeping my easy runs easy over the next 11 days. I know that is one of the biggest favors I can do myself in trying to meet my goal for the marathon. But I also know I need to continue focusing on this in general; my plan for the next year is to continue building my base mileage, and I know keeping the easy runs easy will be essential to staying healthy.
Do you have problems slowing down on your easy runs?
If not, any advice to offer my thick head on how to get better at this?