Running Slow (on purpose)

imageToday I went running slowly on purpose. By slowly I don’t mean at a pace that many of us might call “easy”. This was on the borderline between “jogging” and “walking”. I was inspired by an article in this month’s Runner’s World, which can also be found at fetcheveryone.com, about training in different heart rate zones and had been planning to give this a try for the past week.

Part One

This took place on Saturday morning when I planned to measure my resting heart rate by firing up the Garmin as soon as I woke up. I’d toyed with putting my heart rate monitor on before going to bed, but decided that despite 16 years of marriage, wearing an elastic strap around my chest under the duvet would take just a little too much explaining.

I think the lowest I managed to get my heart rate down to was about 39bpm but that took some doing after the excitement of the alarm clock going off mixed with the anxiety caused by the prospect of the morning’s Parkrun. I hadn’t worn the HRM for some time and doing it up and adjusting it suddenly put me in mind of Pat Wright and Dave Arrowsmith:

Once I’d finished amusing myself by talking in a poor Middlesborough accent about my “bra”, the next stage was to find out my maximum heart rate. With my 5K complete, as I clung on to a tree trunk until I was able to stand without support (that’s how we all recover from Parkruns right? Right?), I discovered that today’s effort had led to a maximum heart rate of 189bpm. Later on I programmed the Garmin with my personal heart rate zones in anticipation of the fun-packed geeky running activities that lay ahead.

Part Two

Various domestic and work related stresses got in the way of trying my Slow Run until six days later, when working from home gave me the opportunity to do a cheeky lunchtime run in the style of Leonard from Butterflies. Despite the fact it was nearly dark at 2pm and pouring with November rain, I made it out of the door and set out to do about 4 miles in “Zone 2”, which in my case was 110-130 BPM. The point of running at this speed is that apparently you will be fuelling your muscles with fat and oxygen. Therefore you’re tuning up your aerobic system, it improves endurance and uses very little glycogen. Whatever that means.

The kind of speed I think I go when recovering from fast intervals turned out to be too fast. The Garmin kept shrieking at me: “Heart Rate Too High”, making the blood pump around my veins even faster with irritation. I started to run almost as if in slow motion. After about a mile I finally got into the Zone 2 Groove, possibly because I was now more relaxed and breathing more efficiently in classic, slow running style.

However this was soon undermined by a very gentle hill which got the heart rate up and my Garmin wailing again. Crossing the road, being close to lots of traffic, the sight of other human beings, wiping the rain drops off the end of my nose all seemed to increase the BPMs. Runners of various speeds overtook me, probably wondering why someone going so slowly could be so interested in his Garmin. Every time this happened I unconsciously sped up to try and catch them, only to be chastised by the “Heart Rate Too High” alarm.

I felt like I could have kept going all day but it all felt a bit pointless and the scenery wasn’t changing fast enough. I’d run at my slowest speed ever and it hadn’t been slow enough. My average BPM was 10 beats above target. What a failure!

After 3.5 miles I’d had enough. I pressed “Stop” and ran the mile or so back home at a “normal” speed, oblivious to what my heart was up to. A “junk mile” that felt so much better.

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Alternative Running Role Models #1 – Leonard out of Butterflies

This month’s Runner’s World has a feature on “running heroes”, but for some reason, there was no mention of Leonard from Butterflies. Leonard was the first amateur runner I can remember appearing on TV. This was in an era when families regularly crowded around their televisions to watch duels between the likes of Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. “Runners” were super-human, people that you were astounded by, not people you ever thought you might be able to emulate.

Butterflies was a BBC sitcom starring Wendy Craig as Ria, who juggled her role as a suburban housewife with a nagging feeling that maybe she was destined for a life less mundane. She lived with her dentist husband (played by Geoffrey Palmer, one of very few celebrities I’ve seen travelling on the London Underground) and two half-heartedly rebellious teenage sons. Ria spends two series contemplating the idea of having an affair with Leonard, a recently separated businessman, but as far as I can remember, never quite goes that far (hang on, I’ve got a vague recollection of a scene involving Wendy Craig, away from home, looking guilty, wearing nothing but a dressing gown…..quick, get on with the running related bit…)

You can find whole episodes of Butterflies on YouTube and fast forwarding through a few programmes, I can’t imagine the BBC will ever bother doing a re-run. The reason I was browsing Butterflies was because I was trying to find out how my hazy memory of Leonard running around the park compared with how he really appeared “back in the day”. There are no Google images of actor Bruce Montague plodding around, just a few latter day publicity shots and an ancient signed photo someone had offloaded on eBay.

My memory was of a podgy middle-aged man, huffing and puffing in a baggy shell-suit. The reality was that he was probably 5 years younger than I am now (everyone aged over 30 looked on the verge of retirement to me back in the 1970s and 80s). The podginess was imagined although he was certainly no beanpole. Leonard was also able to put on a burst of speed – check out how he zooms up the hill at 13:02 in this clip:

It was probably (thankfully) a pre-shell-suit era. Leonard actually had a nice line in (flared) Adidas tracksuits, slightly let-down by his failure to wear anything underneath – Leonard probably ran naked from the waist up on a hot sunny day.

His unique selling point as a runner was how he got to the park for his lunchtime workouts/failed seductions of Ria. He didn’t jog there gently as a warm up, he didn’t get the bus or drive. No, Leonard got his chauffeur to drop him off, who then had to wait (in the kind of vehicle you wouldn’t expect to be driven by a chauffeur) until his boss flopped back into the car, his fartlek ticked off on the training programme. You can see Leonard being delivered at the park gates by Thomas the chauffeur, as well as probably predating the concept of the “Santa run” at 0:58 here:

Leonard (surname unknown), chauffeur-driven park running pioneer, Alternative Running Role Model #1, we salute you.