The concept of building my aerobic endurance base was new to me until about 4 years ago, and I didn’t start implementing it until about one and a half years ago. I wish I had done it sooner. When I wrote about beginning this approach to training, I thought I would be dealing with more impatience. Instead, I have found that
- I am not only less prone to injury, but
- I am enjoying running more overall
- AND improving in all the ways traditionally measured.
That doesn’t mean all my runs are “faster.” It means that my best runs are getting better. And faster. For instance, when I began to run at the recommended comfortable level, I was regularly running only at an 11:30 – 12:30 minute mile pace. I should add that I have remained low tech about all of this, in the sense that I have not used a heart monitor to guide me. My husband was not excited about such a purchase and I was not interested in it enough to press my case. I really preferred to gauge my running by how I felt and not be needing to refer to the readouts. I did take my pulse a couple of times to see if I thought I was a good judge of my effort. It appeared I was, so I proceeded.
There are a few important things that I think have affected my progress. Things that are both directly and indirectly related to the idea as I first understood it. First of all, running most of the time at such a comfortable level has made it easy to run more miles pre week and more days in a row, both mentally and physically. I have reason to suspect that this factor alone has had a good result.
One of the books that supports this, is 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slowerby Matt Fitzgerald. (I have previously recommended 2 other books by him, one in my blog about good things to do and read while recovering from injury, and another wherein I discussed staying hydrated.) Mr. Fitzgerald’s book is very practical. It caused me to question the idea of the aerobic base building being “fat burning,” for, as my husband says, elite long distance runners don’t have any fat on them. This in turn, helped me to more carefully evaluate my caloric and nutritional needs the day before a long run. While I could get away with less attention to this when running less than 10 miles, I found runs longer than that greatly hindered if I did not eat well the day before.
Possibly you are wondering what speeds I typically run now? Over time, and with occasional plateaus of results, I have reached the point where I can comfortably and lightly run 10-13 miles around a 9:50 to 10:00 minute mile pace. It should be noted that this is the bulk of the miles and that the first mile is almost always at least 30 seconds slower than that as I warm up. I still run some runs slower, particularly if I have done a lot of running earlier in the week, have just done some speed work, of sorts, (read about my version of speed work here), or if the terrain is rough and/or my feet are feeling a bit tender.
Speaking of speed work, the thing that I find is that I sometimes want to run faster, just for fun. Even without any set interval training, by the end of most shorter runs (anything less than 10 miles), I feel like running faster toward the end. I’m warmed up, I don’t have too far to go, and I’m feeling the joy of running. Based on the improvement I see in my long runs following such impromptu “speed work,” I think this helps my legs get used to the faster pace. I find that I end up running some of my long runs closer to that pace the next time, but seeing the whole long run approach the newer speeds happens more gradually.
Do I ever get frustrated or impatient? Certainly. I still have runs that seem comparatively hard and slow, but I remind myself that overall I have seen significant progress. And I tell myself to just relax and enjoy the pace I am capable of at the moment. Why ruin the whole run stewing about it not being my “best” run. I remind myself that if my body can only run slower on a certain day, it is still building it’s aerobic base and it would probably be detrimental to try to push it. When I do these things, I almost always end up enjoying the run and not feeling like I am fighting for my life. There is a difference between finishing a run feeling exhilarated with the experience versus dreading when you “have to” try that hard again.
While I still have to exert effort to just keep going during the last couple miles of extra long runs, it is not nearly as stressful as it has been in the past, and the distance that is “long” is increasing. I now know how to be at peace with slowing down when I need to, in order to let my body adapt to the longer distances. Two years ago a 13.1 miles was still horrendously hard after training for weeks for the race. As of today, it felt like I could pretty much float through that distance, especially after a couple days rest that I will get before an event. I won’t be the fastest kid on the block, but I might be the one having the most fun. I am curious to see how this all progresses in another year or two. I don’t believe I have yet discovered my limits.