As a recreational middle of the pack runner, I often question the validity of my running. Am I a real runner if I am not super fast? Lots struggle with this question and my answer to anyone else – “Of course you are a runner no matter how fast or how slow!!”
To myself I am less kind. I second guess my “runner” status all the time. I compare myself to others who are stronger and faster. If I miss a run then I must not be a “real runner” cause “real runners” never miss a workout. Oh the things this brain will do to bring me down.
Irony is, while not fast, I am not slow either. I have run times that I am proud of, especially given my lack of natural running talent. My Personal Records (PRs) are all hard won after lots of dedicated work.
My 5K PR is a 24:22, run in 2009 at the Medved 5K to Cure ALS in Rochester, NY. While I haven’t beaten that time since, my last 5K on April 22, 2017, just 2 shorts weeks after completing the Whiskey Basin 57K and in 100+degree weather, I ran a 25:39. This isn’t too shabby considering ultra training involves little speed work and heat is notorious for slowing a person down. With some focused speed work, I feel confident I could break my PR.
Never before have I been able to break the 2 hour mark for the half. I came close with a 2:00:29 half in 2011. At last broke 2 hours at the San Diego Half Marathon on June 4, 2017. I felt on top of the world with my running identify after this accomplishment.
Two weeks later, I began my HR journey. Running within my HR zone these last several months messed with me mentally because I had to slow down so very much. Choosing to run slower left me once again struggling with my identify as a runner. I had to put aside ego and focus on the goal I was trying to achieve. Definitely not easy, though anything worth obtaining should not be easy.
Being able to focus on my goal, my end game, the truth of the science behind running slowly, was a key part of sticking with the training plan I had laid out. Accounts from others who have tried this method seemed to see results anywhere from a month to six months. I desperately wanted to see results to validate this decision.
My hope was to be able to see those results in how I ran the McKenzie River Trail Run (50K). Alas this hope was dashed when raging fires in Oregon threatened the race course and the race directors had to make the difficult choice to cancel the race. What a grand disappointment to me and to my training. This sent me into a bit of a tailspin with my running.
After coming home from our waylaid trip to Oregon, I had a whirlwind of activity at work keeping me occupied and focused on everything but the status my running. Eventually I was able to pull out of the tornado that had become my life and check in again with how my progress was coming along.
Not seeing immediate progress was definitely a challenge through the many months. But I knew that this was a long game. So I did a “test run” in which I ran my baseline 5 mile loop and compared to another baseline run that I did at the beginning of this adventure.
Much to my surprise, my pace had increased substantionally!
My first baseline run in the middle of June was done early in the morning. During this run, I did a simple loop near my house. I warmed up for a mile, then began my tracking for the next three miles, leaving the final mile for cool-down. I did an average of an 11:48 per mile with an average heart rate of 151 bpm. After just averaging 8:53 per mile for 13.4 miles, the idea of slowing to an almost 12 minute mile for a short 3 miles run was difficult to swallow. And this slow down only grew greater as the temperatures rose, the miles compiled, and the hours added onto each other.
Upon doing my check-in run after the disappointment of my cancelled 50K, I mimicked the same route at the same time of day. The only thing I couldn’t keep consistent was the temperature, but by running at 5:30 am, I was able to keep the temperature for both runs to a minimal factor in the results. I went on the run expecting to see little improvement while simultaneously hoping to see low 10 minute miles. Wanting it all, expecting nothing. Neither proved to be reality.
My new baseline was a 11:03 per mile, though this was run at the much lower average heart rate of 144 bpm. If I had aimed to maintain my heart rate closer to the top of my aerobic zone (151 bpm), I would not be surprised if I wouldn’t have been 15 seconds per mile faster. This is a theory I will put to the test soon.
So I have not gained perfection. Ideally I would be running that half marathon pace of 8:53 per mile at an aerobic heart rate. Maybe one day I will, but for now I will gladly take the progress.
As the months continue, I plan to adjust my running some. Closer to 80% of my runs in the aerobic zone, rather than 100%. If nothing else, this gives me a chance to just go out and enjoy the run without a care in the world. This will be a welcome change. But after seeing these results, I plan to continue to incorporate aerobic training into my regime.
The journey continues……..
PS – Check out my Upcoming Races….I recently made some changes to my plans you can check out here!