Sometimes I do a faster three, or a slower five or six, but on a typical day, it’s four – two out and back. I strive for negative splits, each mile faster than the last. But I haven’t focused on overall pace in ages.
In the past couple of months, I’ve added some interval training. So some days I do my steady four and others it’s sprint work, or longer faster bouts, with periods of low intensity to recover. I selected a fat burning plan, rather than one for speed building. That said, it’s reasonable to expect speed gains when you put your newly optimized lungs and legs to the test.
I haven’t done that.
On my four-milers, I take it easy on purpose. I warm up the first mile, and lock into a comfortable stride for the next three.
But last night I reflected on that.
I’m stronger and more flexible than I’ve been in years. Yet here I am, still doing these slowish/easy runs. I can go faster like I used to. I think I’ll try…
This morning I arrived at the greenway in the same state of mind. Walking toward the start I thought, Every run can’t be conversation pace. And off I went. I wasn’t after a tempo run, but I was going for a push.
My first mile was faster than usual, but still within range for my warm up pace. I locked into a zone and began to kick things up a notch.
Mile two, faster. In fact, nearly 40 seconds faster than my usual pace for mile two.
Mile three is where I usually slow things down. Typically, I have to concentrate to maintain my pace. If I don’t run negative splits, it’s usually because of the mile three bust. But I kept pushing, and when I heard the Garmin chirp, I’d dropped another 30 seconds. I’d run a minute faster than my usual mile three pace.
By mile four, I decided to take breathers. I pushed the pace but stopped the clock when I needed to rest. That said, I dropped another 50 seconds from the previous split, still a minute faster than my usual pace for mile four.
I felt great! For one, I accomplished what I set out to do. And two, a strong workout feels great when you’re up to it.
Now I’ve got my work cut out for me… I have a new target pace for non-stop runs. Because every run can’t be conversation pace.
It rained forever and a day. Seriously. Forever, then 24 more hours of rain.
It was probably more like a week, but it really seemed the clouds would never cry themselves out.
I run. And while I engage in a variety of exercise programs, running outdoors is my favorite. It’s lovely to watch the sun rise. To smell the flowers and pine trees and whatever else is on my running trail. To listen to birds as they sing, or fight or just say hello. It’s corny. It’s great. I love it. And thanks to The Rain, I couldn’t run. For days. (Forever).
Then The Rain stopped.
The local runners waited a day for The Dry because we knew our trail would be flooded or overrun with unpassable puddles, slick with wet leaves and what have you. So we had to be patient. And on the second dry day we ventured out to brave the probably-still-messy trail.
But the main trail entrance was locked. A big gate chained shut so no cars could get near the trail head.
Not to be outdone, we, and now I really mean me, I took to the street to find another trail head at the nearby park. It would be my first time using this new entrance, so I set off with an adventurous spirit. I found it with little trouble and was on my way. A little muddy, a teeny bit slippery, but I had a nice run on a new path. I managed 4 miles that day.
Then The Rain returned.
Between The Rain and The Dry, it would be another SIX WHOLE DAYS before I could run again. And even then, I had to sneak. On the sixth day, trails were still closed, but the shy sun beckoned and I answered her call. Off I went to put my name on four miles.
In my excitement I started too fast and tired quickly. And if that weren’t enough, I soon came to a puddle I couldn’t pass. It was simply too deep and the grass around it too muddy. I was going to have to call it quits just halfway to my goal. Disappointed, but really glad to be outdoors, I turned around and ran it back in.
In the end I claimed the win. First, for going out and trying my best. And second, for getting some miles. It took twice the grit to get half the distance, but that’s how champions are made.
Today’s run surprised me. It had been over a week since my last 4-mile run. Generally speaking, a couple of rest days are good for me. But too many means I start to lose a level of fitness.
It’s not to say I forewent exercise completely. In addition to rest days, I had a couple of bouts of weather-induced indoor aerobics. I also threw two short runs in the mix. In a hotel and pressed for time two mornings in a row, the treadmill beckoned. I’ve mentioned more than once how much I enjoy outdoor running and dislike treadmills, but there was no safe place to run nearby. It was the ‘mill or nothing.
Let’s get right to it and say both of those runs sucked. I never felt as though I could get a good breathing rhythm. I never locked into an ideal stride. I just wasn’t comfortable. Both days, two miles of running felt like five or six miles worth of work.
The past couple of mornings, I looked forward to getting back outside. Yesterday, was a disappointment. Mild fall temps were on my side, but the pouring rain was not. I decided to get on with the remainder of my day, foregoing exercise altogether.
Today, it was cooler than ideal, but clear, and I was determined to go get my miles. But get this: I was worried. Because my recent runs were short and difficult, I wondered if I had what it took to eek out my mileage. Some Saturdays I toy with the idea of a “long run” (five miles or more), but today my standard four felt like a stretch.
I wondered just how long it would take me to finish. How would I feel at the halfway point? Would I have to walk it out for large stretches of the trail? Would I just stop at a mile and turn around? The questions loomed. This level of uncertainty about a run is unusual for me, but there it was. I stalled a bit, and went out anyway.
When I got to the Greenway, I could tell immediately the run was going to go well after all. I easily hit my warm up pace and found a comfortable stride within the first 1/2 mile. It felt nice to open up and push the tempo. Being outdoors again was glorious, despite the cool air. Despite the damp leaves clinging to the trail.
I felt great, like the in shape runner I am.
Getting up to Snuff
I’ve run intervals a few times this year. Before now, I’d never tried them out. It’s true they help with speed, and I’ve come to realize they build my confidence as well. I know I’m reasonably fast for super short distances – I was a sprinter in my day. A few years at 3+ miles per run, I’ve now built some endurance, but often I’m scared to push my pace. I simply don’t want to peter out.
But intervals are designed for you to push, then rest. And really, I’m not racing anyone. I’m building my own fitness. Who cares if I need to rest at various points during my run anyway, intervals or not? And just because I got comfortable holding a steady pace at four miles, didn’t mean I needed to remain comfortable. That can easily lead to stagnation. And to some degree, it had.
In recent runs, I’ve found myself thinking about all of this while also mulling a scene from Gattaca (spoiler alert). In it, brothers Anton and Vincent are swimming. Ever since they were children, they tested each other to see who had the endurance to swim the farthest in open waters. Anton always won.
An older wiser Vincent finally stopped living down to everyone else’s expectations, and resolved to give life his all. In a confrontation between the two, they decide to swim one last time. Right when Vincent would’ve cried mercy, he didn’t. This time, Anton was the one who tapped out. He screamed at Vincent demanding to know how he was accomplishing this. How was he pushing beyond well-established boundaries? Said Vincent,
I never saved anything for the swim back.
Vincent gave it his all. He held nothing back. He learned to overcome his limiting beliefs about himself. In the end, he was victorious.
Often, I hold back when running. I get comfortable with a certain pace. Knowing I can push it, but will have to recover later, I don’t take chances. Steady state. But with the introduction of intervals, I saw my fitness increasing, and it became easier for me to see what would happen if I push it. I’d go faster! And yes, I may have to rest a bit, but I’d go faster for longer the next time.
So today, out on the open path, no music, no pressure, just me, I ran. And when it felt good, I ran faster. And when I thought I’d been running a good distance at a good pace, I checked in. Do I really need to rest right now, or am I holding back? And I’d rest or run accordingly.
It was a great run. Much faster than usual the first two miles, and faster in stretches toward the end. I ran my fastest overall pace for this distance.
I surprised myself. I didn’t hold back. The race was only with myself, and I won.
I’m a runner. After a several month hiatus, I ran a few miles in June of this year, and began running in earnest in July. I was serious about getting back to it. I had stopped earlier in the year due to spending an inordinate amount of time in hotels.
I’m an outdoor runner. Treadmills, while great for me as a new runner, simply irritate me now. Seriously. Staring at wall? Or talking heads? Or those red snaking lights on the console? No.
For some, running is part of a serious training regimen. They’re preparing for races and other sports. Me? I just love the endorphins. Exercising is how I get going in the morning. Many hotels are not situated near runner-friendly territory, and I’m not so dedicated to running that I’ll regularly subject myself to worn-out treadmills and the fight to find a free one.
And so here I was, in a hotel for two nights. As I unloaded my car to check-in, a quick glance confirmed there wasn’t a nice stretch of sidewalk/running path nearby. I’d brought my exercise DVDs so I was set. But I knew I wanted to run. Determined to keep my newly established momentum, I resolved to beat the morning rush and *gag* get my morning miles in on the treadmill.
We shall see. I stopped messing with hotel treadmills long ago. But maybe there’s one available. And that works.
I was proud of myself. And why not? I had a goal and I was well on my way to reaching it. The next day, I stuck to my DVDs. Endorphins flooded my body and all was well. That is until I noticed the sunrise and took a good look out of my window.
Lo and behold, I spotted a sidewalk! Not just any sidewalk, but one alongside a lake! A picturesque, runnable path. And I had missed my opportunity to complete a beautiful outdoor run. Twice.
I couldn’t believe it. I was so focused on “sucking it up” and “sticking to the plan,” that I allowed my previous experiences with other hotels to dampen my curiosity and sense of exploration. I barely looked around before I determined I had no other options. I didn’t even inquire, even though I’d considered doing just that. All because I had convinced myself that what was visible was all there was.
Boy, was I wrong.
That taught me something. It’s great to have a goal in mind and a serious commitment to stick to it. And it’s important to have clear focus so I can dismiss distractions and detractors. But equally important is maintaining an open mind and open heart to be able to explore options that may not be visible to the naked eye. It’s a balancing act. But I’m learning to live in the spaces between focused intention and seeking spirit.
Don’t allow your tunnel vision to block your view of the lake.
I really wanted to go, and although I had planned on strength training, I chose to heed the call to get some miles instead. I’m so glad I did. I’m a runner. You could also say an out-of-shape runner, or a runner on vacation, or a runner who hasn’t run much this year, but I’m still a runner.
My personal long is 5.55 miles, and at one point my average distance was 50 miles/month. It’s been a long time since I’ve hit either of those two metrics. I pretty much gave up running late last year when I began spending more time in hotels than my own home. I don’t know if you know this, but many hotel treadmills suck, and that’s only if you can manage to snag one before 5:30 in the morning.
Not the business.
But I love endorphins and being fit, so I certainly didn’t give up templebuilding altogether. I did high intensity aerobics in my hotel room and lifted weights whenever I was home. And then, I moved. Gone was my 4-mile running trail past dolphins and jumping fish. Not only would I have to figure out new routes, but I’d have the added challenge of real elevation in the mix. Georgia has hills.
I ran my first miles of the year a couple of weeks ago. A little over two one day, a little under 3 the other. Both of those were on the familiar flat terrain of Florida. My legs and hips protested. I ached after. The good ache, though. More of a you’re-cross-training-and-it’s-awesome ache. I’m in Georgia now, and those five miles brought the running itch back.
So today, with little more than the thought of “running about two miles – to the park, around and back,” I headed out.
It was hard. And it was great. I’ve decided to push myself and run a few more times the rest of the month. My goal? 20 miles. It doesn’t matter that I used to run 50 miles in a month. It doesn’t matter my average pace used to be a little over 9-minute miles. It doesn’t matter that I used to run 4 or more miles at a time. I refuse to judge myself by a metric applicable to the person I was then, but am not now.
Today’s me is a runner, starting from scratch. First time running hills. First time running 20 miles in 2013. I can’t start from where I was. But I can start from where I am. The starting line is wherever you are right now. All you have to do is begin.
I run 50 miles a month. I’ve hit the magic number a few times now, but I knew October would be difficult.
October was wonderful and busy and challenging, due in no small part to time in planes, rental cars and hotels. Traveling put a cramp in my otherwise clearly delineated exercise schedule. Treadmills? Yuck. Four a.m. wake up calls to get everything in? Definitely not. I decided to just run my miles whenever I could, and I’d adjust as needed. No ink on the calendar this month. Pencil only. Just in case.
Early on, I accomplished two amazing personal victories, yet I was already behind.
Might have to change my goal though, I’m not seeing a path to 50 after missing two runs this early in the month and heavy travel on tap.
And at some point I came to believe there were too many miles and not enough days remaining. Tired from the wear and tear of the month, I embraced inflexibility and pessimism. I decided there was nothing more I could do.
I gave up.
And I sat with that for a moment, that spirit of gave up. I realized two things. One, it didn’t suit me just then. Gave up felt like a stranger invading. Unwelcome. What have I been doing all these years, if not training myself for perseverance? Two, it didn’t make sense! It was definitely possible I would not reach my goal, but why in the hell was I giving up the game when there was time left on the clock?
“Even if things don’t unfold the way you expected,
don’t be disheartened or give up. One who continues to advance will win in the end.”
I had time and determination left. And the only way I’d know if I had enough of either was to keep striving. I erased a few items on my schedule, realizing I was going to have to release the less important ones to keep my primary goal in focus.
Down to 10 miles, I had choices. Stick with my typical four milers and somehow squeeze in a shorter run? Or go for the five-mile barrier I hadn’t challenged in 18 months?
My next time out, I finished four and checked in with myself as I cooled down. I can do one more mile, I thought as I stretched one of my quads. I have the time. I have the energy… Let’s do it!
And out I went, for another mile. I hit five that day. Then, in a moment of inspiration, ran five again the next.
Finished my goal with two days to spare. The goal I was ready to shelve. I finished it. Early. This taught me something…
Sometimes it seems unlikely we’ll meet a goal. And if we’re tired or run down, it’s easy to say it’s not worth the effort to continue. And sometimes, for many reasons, that might honestly be the best choice. But check your gut and your resources first. Because here’s the thing: If the clock hasn’t run out yet, it’s not time to give up.
In recent weeks I’ve started to pay more attention to myself. I used to be fairly good at this, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life, meetings and must-dos compete for my attention, and my inner voice often gets silenced in all the noise.
Tuning into myself as of late, I’ve noticed that I really enjoy exercise. I’ve been running for a couple of years now, but I don’t run every day. In fact, I strive not to run every day because of its high impact on my already injury-prone body (thanks to gymnastics, track, and cheerleading in my youth, as well an awful, yet persistent, habit of sitting with one leg underneath me). So I’ve been purposely scheduling off days to rest my body, and also, depending on my schedule, to sleep past o’dark thirty.
But I’ve finally discovered that my day goes and feels differently depending on the inclusion or exclusion of exercise. Even if it’s a short walk to run an errand, or dancing around the house, I just feel better when I make a concerted effort to move. Chalk it up to endorphins, but stagnant energy is transformed, and I have momentum to keep it moving.
The hardest part, of course, is getting started. Some mornings it does take a bit of self coaxing to get out of bed – especially if the weather isn’t ideal or I haven’t slept as much as I’d like. But invariably, if I get past the “Don’t wanna!” stage, I always find myself at “So glad I did!”
With that, I’m striving to exercise more frequently, even if it simply means dancing out to Beyonce’s Get Me Bodied a couple of times.
The inner voice says it’s ready to move. It’s time my body listened.
Shout out to my line sister Dina, for sharing this great video recently.
Today I claim total victory. I ran a personal best, smashing all of my previous times for an average pace below 10 minutes a mile.
This is huge news for someone who never thought she’d run distance for fun, and who once believed the occasional dip below a 12-minute mile was cause for celebratory cheers.
And this, in a nutshell, is one of the things I most love about running.
Running is a daily opportunity to set tangible goals and work toward them. Funny thing about running – it brings you face to face with reality. Sometimes the weather isn’t cooperating; do you run in the rain or sweltering sun anyway? Sometimes your body isn’t cooperating; do you wrap the knee or rest it? Sometimes time isn’t on your side; should you cut your run in half or just wait until another day? Or maybe the laundry has piled up; do you wear those uncomfortable shorts and hike them up the whole time, or…?
Decisions. It’s extremely rare when I can say my run and the stars are in complete alignment. Despite the snooze button, my failure to wash clothes, Mother Nature’s quirks or anything else, I often decide to run anyway.
And maybe today’s run sucked: I was slow, it was hard to breathe, I was hot, cold, etc. Maybe today’s run was perfect: I hit my target pace, I had great form, it was a glorious temperature with a refreshing breeze. But true glory lies within the confines of whatever the circumstances are. In other words, no matter what, I have the opportunity to do my best – realizing that “best” may look very different under varying circumstances.
Today’s circumstances were pretty favorable. And in the past week I’ve surprised myself, shaving two and a half minutes off my “typical” total time. For the first time since I began running over two years ago, the 10-minute average pace was within my grasp!
Monday’s run was literally a couple of seconds shy of the 10-minute pace. I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as I yanked my skort up and down throughout the run, finally stopping to give it a good pull.
Going out this morning, my aim was what it always is – to have fun and do my best. Honestly, I didn’t think I had it in me to top that 10:01 pace today. Usually, I run fastest after more than a couple of days of rest. When I touched the gate at the end of my run and stopped the clock, I cheered my time. 39:10 (9:48 average pace). Total victory!
I have no idea what my next run will be like. Will it be warm or chilly? Will my knee be irritable? Will I add back all the time I’ve shaved? I don’t really know. But I do know that I’ll enjoy my run, and I’ll do my best, whatever that means at the moment. In the end, I can’t win in the past. I can’t win in the future. I can only win in the present moment. And so can you.