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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Slow down. Relax"

That's what the pacer for my group told me last week when he asked if I was running solo on Saturday. Saturday is supposed to be an easy run. You take your time, walk if you want, enjoy the day.

My problem is that my body has one speed, and it's too fast. Fast for me, anyway. I'm never going to be a Boston qualifier and I get passed by plenty of people on the pathways, but if you look at speed as a personal scale, my body likes to head to the top and stay there the whole time. I have trouble dropping down and varying my pace. It's like there's this comfortable groove around a 5:55 kilometer and I have to fight to stay out of it. My tempo runs look like my steady runs, which look like my long slow (ha!) distance runs. That kind of defeats the purpose of doing different types of runs. I have the most boring fartleks ever.

Right now, I've got myself in the 4:30 finish pace group in my clinic. At this point, since we're focusing on form and technique, that means even my 'fast' runs - the tempos - are 30 seconds per kilometer than my usual solo pace. The slower runs are a full minute slower. Yikes!

Running with the group proves that I can fall into those paces easily - so why do I have so much trouble slowing myself down when I'm out by myself? I managed to hold my 'easy' Saturday run to a 6:20 pace (although I caught myself creeping up on 5:45 a couple times), and my tempo run on Tuesday was around 6:00. Part of it is what I'm used to. If I'm just running with no goal or purpose other than going out for a run, a six minute kilometer is what I fall into. And that's cool... it's comfortable and I like it. Unfortunately, it's counterproductive when the whole purpose of a run is to hit a specific pace and I'm not hitting it.

Worse, part of the problem is embarrassment.

It's buried deep. I didn't even see it until I was trying to slow myself down and realized that I was mentally resisting it because I didn't want to be the slowpoke on the path. I'm not generally a competitive person, but I can see my speed naturally increase if I get passed. I thought I'd gotten over my embarrassment of running in public a long time ago, but there's still this tiny seed of fear that someone's going to look at me plodding along and judge me. If I'm passed when I'm going at my top speed, it's fine. I run what I run. But if I'm deliberately holding myself back, someone might *gasp* think that an easy seven minute kilometer is the best that I can do.

Why do I even care? It's not about the speed itself. There are plenty of people who top out at a seven minute kilometer, and I think they're awesome. There are people I know who run a 5:30 or 5:00 like they're out for a stroll, and I don't assume they're judging me. If 7:00 was my natural pace, I'd be perfectly fine with it, just like I'm fine with acknowledging that I can't push past 5:30 for an extended period.

Let's go back to November 2010, when I started doing Couch to 5k on the treadmill.

(As an aside, holy crap. It was less than 27 months ago that I couldn't manage ten minutes of plodding along on the machine. See, this is why it's worth it to start, even if you're nowhere near the level you want to be. You'll get there.)

After a couple disastrous weeks of trying to run, I decided to allow myself to walk - and even then that was only because the program told me to. Embarrassment was the reason I'd failed at every single workout attempt I'd started in the past. I couldn't get the steps down in aerobics. I didn't know how to use the gym equipment, so I didn't try. Running at a respectable speed on the treadmill made me look so sick that a neighbour asked if he needed to call someone. I simply refused to slow myself down to the level I needed to start at.

For that first C25K session, my cheeks were burning and I was near tears. Not because it hurt, but because I was so humiliated to be walking on the treadmill. Four minutes of torture walk, where I could just imagine the other gym-goers throwing insults (and possibly tomatoes) at me, followed by one minute of running that was just difficult enough to prove that this was the proper starting point for me. Repeat four times. Go home and cry.

The next week, I got to move up to three minutes of walking and two of running, and it started to get better. I kept going for the entire eight (okay, ten) weeks, until I could knock out 5k on the machine doing 4/1 run/walk intervals. From there, I increased my distance and moved outside. I did my first race, ran more, built my distance some more, got the crazy idea to run a half marathon, trained, did a couple of those, and now here I am.

Pacing *is* something I need to improve. I know how I feel after running for two hours at a 5:42 pace. It's not something I can keep up for another two hours on top of that - not without a lot more conditioning, anyway. Last night's run was proof that there's a reason to slow down. It was a 10k tempo, and the longest tempo I've done in... actually, it's the longest I've done, period. Not that that counts, because the 10k steady runs I did last year were at a tempo pace, but on the record books this was my first tempo over 7k. I was a little nervous yesterday, because I haven't done a non-stop run over 6k since my last race (we do walk intervals on the long runs). On top of that, my Tuesday solo run was rough - my legs were tight, and I had to bail out at 5k.

And it ended up being great. We kept it around a 6:30 pace with a good warm up and cool down, and I felt fantastic the whole time. I felt like I could have kept going for another 5k on top of that. Suddenly, the thought of doing 16k non-stop after work didn't seem so intimidating. My goal right now isn't to run the fastest 5k possible (although, I'd kind of like to sign up for a 5k just to see what my time would be in a race setting), it's to last through 42k and finish strong. Pacing myself properly and working on all aspects of my running - speed, strength, endurance - is what's going to get me there. Trying to push myself to always run at my fastest pace is going to be about as productive as those first treadmill workouts, when I thought the solution to my fitness problem was to push myself to the brink of passing out. Sometimes, you need to back off so you can build an even stronger foundation.

Unfortunately, that fat girl from the gym is still somewhere inside me, and sometimes she wants to come out and whine that people might be judging me. Even if the reason I'm going slower is because I'm training my body to last through four and a half hours of running, she's telling me that people are going to think it's because I'm out of shape and can't hack a little jog along the river.

She needs to shut up and let me train.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    It's nice to know I'm not the only one who struggles to differentiate a pace. The pace I naturally gravitate toward has gotten faster over the last year, but it's still hard to deliberately run slower for that long run. I'm better than i was, but there's still only about a minute per mile delta between my natural running pace and my slow pace. Slowing down by a minute a kilometer is unfathomable to me.
    1903 days ago
    I bet after a few more weeks of hitting the slower paces with your groups, you'll be able to drop down into that gear on your own and have it feel more natural. I don't know if it's possible for you to avoid that middle gear entirely for a couple weeks, but that couldpossibly help, so you don't keep going back to your default speed. The longer you stick with it, the harder it will be to develop those gears. You're doing great!
    1903 days ago
    I get pangs of self loathing when a car happens to be driving by when it is time for a walking interval. I imagine the drivers disgust as they see me slow from running to walking. I imagine them thinking, of course that fat girl has to stop and walk. (I am just starting to train for my first C25K, it's on my birthday, I took that as a sign it was time to try one).

    I feel horrible every single time. I am a complete introvert and running outside has always intimidated me, but I want it very badly. I want to be a runner. Your blog is awesome and I find it so encouraging to read how far you have come in 27 months.

    And it is nice to know I am not nuts and others worry about the same things I do while traing.

    You can do it. You're going to nail the pace you are shooting for. emoticon
    1904 days ago
    I can syphathize with that. I use to hate jogging outside for I feared that the people driving by would laugh at me. I've kinda gotten over that, but there is still that fear when I hear a car approaching. Or when I'm on a trail and I cross another runners path, I immediately pick up my pace. As if they care what my pace is, they've got their own to worry about.
    1904 days ago
    You have the Garmin, right? When you're flying solo, set it up with the "pace buddy" - it will beep if you go too fast or too slow. When my buddy and I run a race together, he sets his Garmin up with the pace so we finish at our goal time and I set up my Garmin for the 10:1's. It's really reliable.

    1904 days ago
    let me just say WOW! you are doing RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING! sometimes i think its far too easy to forget how far we've come... from struggling with the c25K to running a full marathon at a pace i couldn't even begin to aspire to reach - try and take a moment and be PROUD... i am incredibly inspired, and made more than a little jealous by your incredible running success :)
    1904 days ago
    I TOTALLY know what you mean! I was so proud of myself when I started running on the treadmill... until the day that one of the managers came in. She propped the machine up on a speed that I couldn't even approach and then stayed there (no walking)... the woman is a machine! (with a two year old... and shoulders like a linebacker and massive boobs... that she somehow managed to keep from bouncing a ton *jealousy!*). I was so embarrassed to be doing my walk/run program next to her, despite knowing that she would be SO happy for me because I was improving!

    I'm still embarrassed when I run *sigh* Need to get over that!
    1904 days ago
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