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.

Keeping going

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Today’s inspiration

I sometimes think I’m making up for lost time with this running malarkey, cramming in as many variations on the basic “going out for a run” as possible, signing up for races, buying kit and gadgets. If I’d got into running before my forties I think I might be a bit more laid back. Today I’d ventured out primarily to exorcise the demons from last weekend when I’d blown up at mile 8 of a planned 11 mile run and skulked home in disgrace. So I was pleasantly surprised to get through my new 8-miles-in psychological barrier and keeping going until my Garmin said I’d done exactly 13.1 miles. A cheeky half marathon I’d never planed to do at a gentle pace and even a burst of speed in the last half mile.

This got me thinking – how long could I have kept going today, and how long could I keep running into the future. So I’ve done a bit of research to see how sensible I’m being. My first stop was an article by Jeff Galloway Your best running may be after forty. Well full marks for the title – (conveniently overlooking the fact I barely ran for a bus for the previous 25 years) I did my first 5k at the age of 44, and have gone on to deliver more than just the odd PB, Jeff’s spot on there.

Jeff also goes on to advise Avoid continuous use of muscles, tendons, joints , suggesting people of my age should do strenuous exercise every other day. I think I’ve learnt this lesson from the foolish days of Janathon earlier this year when I challenged myself to go running 5 days a week. I succeeded, but also succeeded in getting a stress fracture so I’m consciously avoiding high-volume challenges now (Juneathon?, not on your nelly).

Break up your workouts in segments to reduce aches and pains? Not sure I’m keen on that idea. He suggests doing a couple of shorter sessions a day rather than something longer and tougher. For me that would mean more dawn-starts and I have to fight to get out most evenings, so one session every now and then isn’t something I can take for granted.

He recommends us mid-life crisis runners Use walk breaks. That’s always been a bit of a no-no for me. Ever since watching hundreds of “runners” walking the last couple of miles of London’s Run to the Beat half marathon a few years ago, I’ve scorned this practice. I told myself “Imagine – they go into work on Monday morning and tell everyone “Oh, I did a half marathon yesterday” when in fact they’ve just been out for a bit of a stroll.”This was, of course, until I did my first marathon and again tutted and gradually became more incensed at the (usually older) people who walked up every hill. When I wanted to lie down and hibernate at mile 20 and then could barely walk, let alone run for much of the remaining 6 miles it was a different story, especially as the uphill walkers then cruised past me and were standing around admiring each other’s medals as I collapsed over the finish line. So maybe one day walk breaks will be a useful strategy but for now I hope to just make damn sure I can run for more than 22 miles before I tackle the London Marathon next April.

A longer warmup is advised. Does walking down the stairs and putting on my shoes count as a warm-up? Hmmm, I thought not. I’ve got two excuses for not warming up: 1) the same reason I have for not breaking up workouts into segments – I like to exaggerate about how busy and important I am so I don’t have time and 2) I think I’ll look silly, jogging past the neighbours, high-stepping, kicking my own bottom and doing that Morecambe and Wise dance. There are periods of time when I take an almost religious approach to post-run stretching (currently I’m more agnostic and have to force myself to lie on the floor and go through the tedious motions) and I try to con myself into thinking that the stretching compensates for my warm-up phobia. However, I think Jeff might have a point here so maybe I need to learn a warm-up drill that to the untrained eye looks like I’m just walking down the street.

Apparently forty-something runners should Avoid all-out exertion. Jeff says “Running at your limits, after a certain age, can produce lingering fatigue and permanent aches, pains, and damage.” I tend to avoid training plans that use “RPE” (Rate of Perceived Exertion) to measure how hard you train – not “scientific” enough for someone who spends hours poring over the lovely bar charts my Garmin produces. However, I do think I tend not to spend much time running at the higher rates (9 or 10 out of 10) – the feelings I have when really overdoing it tend to remind me too much of the burning lungs and nausea of my teenage running experiences. When it comes to racing however, I love to beat my previous self and sometimes really go for it. I also like running intervals, not too fast and with the reassurance that very soon I’ll be getting a rest. So long as the subsequent fatigue doesn’t linger, I’m afraid I’ll be carrying on with this bad habit, Jeff.

Finally he says we should Control injuries and fatigue by taking action immediately. You can’t argue with that although my immediate action when I started to get the symptoms of a stress fracture was to go out running every few days to see if it still hurt (it did). I’m not sure this is the kind of “action” Jeff had in mind. I think it helps to have access to the right kind of experts to provide the right kind of advice when it comes to injury which can be expensive and time consuming. As I get older I think applying Jeff’s approach to fatigue is helpful. Last Sunday I never wanted to run again, didn’t think about it at all on Monday and on Tuesday evening did the slowest recovery run ever. I “recovered”, did some very satisfying intervals on Friday morning and today surprised myself by proving I could still cover a half marathon. Forcing myself to do five sessions this week was certainly not the right response.

So unscheduled days off when tired, subtle warmups and maybe strategic use of the occasional bit of walking it will be, if I’m to keep on keeping on. Any other tips would be much appreciated.