Saturday, December 14, 2019

Pace matters, until it doesn't

Not exactly a blistering pace but I did get a blister.
 Most of 2019 has gone by and we will soon start another new decade. The idea that we will begin our own Roaring Twenties (roaring good or roaring bad? Discuss.) is both exciting and scary. From a running perspective it's an important milestone for this blog which began in the aughts (does anyone actually use that term?) and will, in 18 days, limp gracelessly into its third decade. That's right haters, I'm still standing!

I started blogging in late 2008, around the time that I started running seriously. Seriously did not mean well or fast, but that's when I started. Like most runners, I had simple objectives: run faster and longer. Something about health and piece of mind. But mostly run faster. That was a reasonable goal and I did make progress. Running also led to many great friendships and experiences, blah blah blah. You can read all about them in the almost 2,200 Emerging Runner posts. But let's get back to pace..

No one is ever satisfied with the speed they run. Sure, in the short term, runners celebrate their PRs and PBs. Aside from that, we are always castigating ourselves for falling short of our perceived potential. Don't agree? Tell me how many times you've told yourself that you are so satisfied with your current performance that you wouldn't wish to change a thing. Speed matters, until it doesn't.

When I first began running I had no benchmarks for speed, so I focused on increasing my distance. Running my first non-stop mile was a big deal. My pace at that time was almost inconsequential. I remember someone telling me, "If you run 8:59 a mile or faster you're a runner and if you run 9:00 or more you're a jogger." I took that as gospel and was pleased when I recorded my first run after purchasing a Nike+ foot pod and confirmed I was a runner. I soon dismissed that definition when my results showed I ran in the 9's as often as in the 8s.

I competed in a lot of races between 2009 - 2014 and probably hit my high water mark in 2012. Pace mattered then because PRs and age group podium-ing were both reasonable aspirations. A few things happened after that, including suffering a herniated disc and changing my work commute. This disrupted my workouts and hindered my performance. I watched my pace balloon to the point of near embarrassment. If 9:00 per mile was a jogger, what was I at this point?

I made the decision to stop working in early 2019 and since May I've had much more time to run. Five years ago I probably would have taken this opportunity to run at lots of different places and get back to 6+ mile runs on a regular basis. In reality, I've found it easier to commit to near daily runs by sticking close to home, running 3-4 mile routes in my neighborhood. I'm covering 70-80 miles a month, but my average pace has only improved 4.8% over the last seven months.

Hardly moving the bar on speed was disheartening, and I worried that I had a physical issue that was affecting my pace. My Garmin's heart rate monitor reported some erratic data that was hard to dismiss. I tested its accuracy in a few different ways and moved to a chest strap that showed a more stable range. But still...

Without going through all the details, I had a full day of lab testing -- cardio echo, carotid artery Doppler and even a nuclear stress test (super fun, here's a post I wrote about a prior stress test I did in 2014). I even had a couple of neurological tests for blood flow, just for good measure. The results of all that were clear, I couldn't blame my slow pace on my heart or arterial system.

I was happy to get confirmation from my doctors that I was physically fit, but I felt like I had no excuse for my slowness. I decided I had license to push harder on my runs and there has been a small improvement in my performance. However, it occurred to me that one of the reasons my test results came out so positively is due to the way I run.

I don't look at my pace readout on my Garmin anymore. My objective is primarily to follow my route and enjoy the experience. This seems to be the right thing for me. If I have to choose between healthy, active meditation or a minute per mile improvement, it's hardly a choice.

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