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 think you’re supposed to 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.


14 thoughts

  1. Before I came into terms with running easy I used to struggle so much with not pushing the pace on every single run. Every single run had to be hard or it felt too easy and like the work out itself was pointless.

    Then I got a stress fracture due to poor training and doing 95% of my runs on a treadmill so I could always push the pace.

    What I learned as cliche as this is is just trusting yourself. I ran 3 months without a watch and not doing any timed runs and after that I was able to run without worrying at the pace. I would say run all your easy runs without a watch and see where that takes you.

    Also you are going to kick butt at Wineglass. I cannot believe it’s so soon!

    1. I really want to start going watch-less more often; on the occasions I’ve run without it recently, it’s been really helpful to me.

      And honestly, I have to say, you were a big help to me in finally getting the “slow down” thing through my head (well, mostly through my head). I don’t know if I truly believed in the whole easy run concept until we ran together a few times and I realized that if someone who is racing half marathons at 6:30 pace doesn’t care about running at a 9:30 pace, then why should I be getting so hung up on it?!

    1. Three days?! Awesome!! Good luck – which one are you doing?

      I’m running Wineglass in Corning, NY. 10 days to go for me!

        1. Oh neat! I enjoy the Binghamton area, and I know Corning is beautiful this time of year so I am looking forward to that. Good luck in Asheville!

  2. It’s probably also that you feel great (fuckyeahtaper!) and also a little nervous about your race. I have a ton of ways I slow myself down (run with someone slower, wear HRM, listen to audiobook/podcast/chilled out music, run for time instead of miles) but I think the best thing is to just repeat a mantra about how running slow is part of training — the *most* important part, at this stage. ’cause as you said, it is!

    1. Fuckyeahtaper! That might be my new favorite phrase from here on out, so thank you for that.

      Running for time instead of miles is usually my magic cure to the pace problem, but I really like the idea of listening to an audiobook or podcast; I think I may try that this week!

  3. I do a 5 mile tempo (FASTER than my HM pace), the week OF my marathons. It keeps me feeling fresh. You definitely haven’t hurt anything. You still want some high intensity runs, just run at a shorter distance. 🙂 Good luck!!

    1. Yeah, I can see the benefit in that. I do have a short speed workout planned for next week as a kind of sharpener to get the legs feeling fresh again. I think my frustration was mostly due to the fact that this is a recurring problem for me, if that makes sense. But you’re right, it’s definitely not the end of the world. Thanks!

  4. I struggle with this every time I run. I want to feel a workout, that’s how I best enjoy it. learning to slow down and enjoy the relaxing runs is something I am definitely working on.

    Take it easy, check the weather, play with mcmillan, hydrate, rest, eat and text me….that’s what taper is for. I’d tell you NOT to do the weather or mcmillan thing but I am pretty sure that computer virus we both have is NOT going to be able to be hacked off my computer anytime soon.

    I absolutely can’t wait to see you at Wineglass, it’s going to be epic.

    1. I know the slowing down thing will click for both of us eventually, even if Hollie has to start hitting us over the head with a hammer.

      I just ate a huge bowl of pasta in my pajamas while watching TV. I am going to embrace this taper, dammit!

  5. Great post. I definitely run way too fast on most of my runs but I think I am addicted to the burn. Not a good habit to get into and something I’m still figuring out and adjusting as I run longer distances. Now that I know I’m definitely running NYCM, I’ve slowed down a LOT, but psychologically it’s a bit of a mind game. I KNOW I should be running 60-90 seconds slower, but coming off a series of 5Ks where I was running 8:00s? Soul crushing. But, it’s all about perspective.

    1. I totally get that – seeing “slower” numbers on my watch never feels good, even when I know it’s the right thing to do. It makes you question your fitness, your abilities, and on some days, you even question why you’re training for a marathon in the first place. I am definitely addicted to the burn, and honestly it helps to know that I’m not the only person with that problem!

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