I like to go fast. I am surprised that I still feel this way at my age (52 and counting). I thought I’d be all worn out by now and ready to sit around. The fact is that the more active I am, the more active I feel like being, overall. It’s not that I don’t need rest. I think I’m resting better nowadays than I have in 35 years. I don’t have young children getting me up regularly and I can more often sleep until I feel my sleep needs have been fully satisfied. And I sleep better when I have active days. I think the last 35 years of my life I was pretty sleep deprived, some beyond my control, but a lot of my own doing. While I don’t mind sitting some, I like to be moving a lot. Moving fast is better.
However, for nearly every race event over the last couple of years, I think I have ended up pushing myself too hard. In retrospect and after a bit of research, I see how this may be what caused frustrating injuries. Running with bare feet has allowed me to run better and farther than I have before in my life, but I was apparently still asking too much too soon of my body. It hasn’t been anything serious in the long haul, but it has been painful. It also meant I had to take otherwise unnecessary breaks from enjoying this developing aspect of my life.
The first part of my research was already in my past, waiting to be discovered. The second part was observing the conversations on my Barefoot Runners Society forum. This was all brought together by my experiences adjusting to swimming in my Fastlane current generator (as you can read about here.) All of these things led to one of those light-bulb-in-the-dialog-bubble moments. I needed to slow down my running to give my system time to build up more gradually. It wouldn’t be lazy and it wouldn’t need to feel plodding. It would just be relatively easy. Speed would be a carrot in my future, IF I was patient.
I remembered that there were two main times in my past when I had been able to run distances fairly easily. Both of these times were before running shoes had changed to the modern waffle stomper. The first time that I remember was when I worked in the fields during the summers, when I was about 11 – 12 years old. I would just be walking around, carrying things, pulling and picking, for hours a day. Then, when I would show up at my first PE class in the fall, I would just zip around the large field for our “test run.” I distinctly recall getting back to the instructor one day and looking back at all the other runners and being shocked at how far behind they were! I wasn’t even winded. And, all year long after that, I was able to be very active and pretty much faster than everyone. It was a normal state of being.
The next time period that stands out in my memory is during my first couple of years in college. I would get up 5 days of the week and run 5 – 10 miles. I knew nothing about training. I never had any idea what my pace was. Although I had been a sprinter in track now and then, I had never received any significant training. I was either too young or I was not the coach’s favorite (even though I was consistently in the top 1-2 places, so go figure!) When, during my college days, I did have a couple of Air Force ROTC runs that I participated in, I blithely ran ahead of everyone (this was a little shocking to the young men), enjoying the breeze on my face. It was all just a jaunt in the park, until, one day, I bought some of the “new” running shoes. Suddenly running was hard. I didn’t attribute it to the shoes. I figured I had just gotten weak. My interest was still there, but I was discouraged and had no idea what to do about it.
Fast forward to the last couple of years, after I discovered barefoot and minimalist running. The joy of running was back, and I was doing well in races for my age and preparation, but I was training pretty hard. I enjoyed the speed, but the speed workouts and tempo runs were very hard many times. Even though I liked the sensation of going fast and I liked the results of my races, one day I was finally satisfied that I had speed potential still and felt okay about backing off some to do what is called “building my aerobic base” for a few months.
Current literature on the method, as presented by a doctor in The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness, recommends careful attention to heart rate, using a heart monitor. As I evaluated my past and how people have developed as good runners without heart monitors for years, I decided against this. It may be important for someone who is not used to knowing how hard they are running or someone who is having a very hard time relaxing about running. But with the emphasis on low stress, not having to worry about a monitor was going to be important for me. This is nothing against technology. Running with my Garmin and being able to keep track of my current mileage also lowers my stress during a run. It is a matter of personal preference and experience.
So, I committed myself to 4-5 months of building up this aerobic base, but I didn’t know how it was going to feel now. During other supposedly slower runs in the last couple of years, I had frequently felt a lack of movement and a heaviness, while still ending up breathing hard at the end of the run. I didn’t know if I would be dealing with this again. To my surprise, it has not been an issue. The best I can figure is that even during my “slow” runs previously, I had always felt I should be pushing it a little, so I was fighting myself on multiple levels. I also think my barefoot running form had not evolved as well as it has now. Right now, I can run lightly at a slower, aerobically paced speed. I can even change my pace and rhythm here and there and still feel springy. One month into this effort, I can run for 11 miles without feeling out of breath. This is a revelation to me!
My overall speed depends a lot on the surface. Although I am at the point with running barefoot that I can run farther and a bit faster on rougher surfaces than even last year, it is always comparatively slower on rougher surfaces for me right now. Unless I am reaching new distances at that roughness, this is not much of a factor in how my feet feel. On the smoother surfaces, I can get a better idea of my comfortable aerobic limits right now. By running on a mixture of surfaces, either in the same run or on alternate runs, I get the best of it all.
My choice of not wearing a heart monitor is, so-far, confirmed. I am not frustrated by my comparative lack of speed and my runs feel fun. Being able to breath the whole time is wonderful! I don’t have to worry about checking the monitor while I navigate different surfaces or deal with various kinds of traffic (from other runners and bikers on the greenbelts to cars on the roads). My legs and feet feel like am I consistently landing more gently, adapting appropriately to the various conditions, because I’m not always trying to go faster.
I am not being a purist, which would require keeping all activity during this time period below the aerobic, fat burning level. I cannot give up my dancing every couple of weeks. When I dance, I dance all out. However, for me it is not the same as pushing myself for a speed workout. I don’t even get out of breath the same way, for whatever reason. Dancing is something that has to be done when there is music and it would be more stressful for me to try not to do it for the whole winter and early spring! So, my results will not be indicative of someone who follows the doctors program more closely, but it will be low stress and I am hopeful. Some days, when another runner passes me on the greenbelt, I really have to talk myself down. Who knows what their training program is? I am pretty sure this is going to be a good experiment and another 3-4 months is not all that long to wait to add some fast running back in.