In the last 6-7 years since I started seriously running again, and more specifically the last 3-4 years where I became more of what I would call a 'competitive age grouper' I have made a lot of progress. When you start from ground zero you have a lot of room to improve at first. And I did. Then I joined my running team, and made another big leap. I PR-ed every distance I raced (okay, several were new distances anyway...) and was running faster than I had in years. Until I plateaued. And I've been stuck there. I have recently eeked out a few PRs but not by much... and in my cocky opinion, not by enough to truly reflect the training. Joining my team, and the last few training cycles really challenged me in what I believed I could do with speed work and tempo, and I made jumps in those areas. But the easy run was still elusive and not surprisingly, the race results weren't coming.
|Random pic from my 30th bday 30k last year. Def ran EASY this day (/walked and died). Also, nice cross body arm swing... that's good form.|
Easy days always followed the same process. I would dread the run a little bit. I would creep on my watch CONSTANTLY and get irritated with paces I saw. I would push harder. I did NOT listen to my body EVER. I did not allow myself to run on feel. I beat myself up over any pace that was above 8:30 for instance (yes, that was the number in my head that I HAD to be faster than). At every stop light on some runs, I would pray for a red so I could stop. I would take 'stretch breaks', to catch my breath from my 'easy run'. Are you seeing all the red flags? Because I sure didn't. Don't get me wrong, some days these faster paced easy runs felt amazing, but overall.. I was digging myself into a hole my body just couldn't recover from. I just kept digging. I could not swallow my pride and allow myself to try something new. I read tons of articles about easy days (there are a million out there, this is obviously scientifically legit) but I just kept pushing myself.
|Who would have thought I feared a pace over 9 minutes more than any other workout?|
Ironically, the quote "if you do what you've always done, you will get what you've always gotten" rings true for me, possibly in the opposite way that most would see it. At first I would read it as feeling I should push harder, dig deeper, run harder. But for me, that's what I've always done. Out of 17 half marathons, about 9-10 of them are in the same 1:43-46 range. To me that shows a pretty big plateau and was an indicator that doing what I've always done (pushing my easy pace) was getting me nowhere new.
It took Sarah's blog, and more specifically, her DailyMile account to push me into really challenging myself with this. She runs amazing races, and wicked fast speed work, but she is mindful of her easy day like few others. I've used the Hanson Marathon Method twice, and their book details the importance and value of the easy day. But I still couldn't quite commit until Sarah's blog came onto my radar. I've been focusing on this for I think about a month. I really like lists (hint: when you slow down more, you can make lists on the run) so here's the positives and negatives I've felt so far in this self-challenge.
The Good stuff!
- I look forward to my run! Knowing it's not going to hurt, cause discomfort, or feel like a suckfest makes me much happier to get out the door. It almost feels like cheating, how comfortable and easy these runs feel. Not all of them, there are days where even super slow my body lets me know how tired it is. But that brings me to my next point...
- I'm listening to my body! I don't stalk my watch. I wear it, and use it as a tool to control the pace and effort, not as something that I have to measure up to. I don't let the numbers discourage me, because I am tuning into my body. How my legs feel, head feels, breathing feels. I honestly miss half the splits, and don't usually check the feedback until the end.
- I feel like I am doing the right thing. More than ever with my medium hard paced 'easy days' I feel like this is the correct workout. I love finishing feeling effortless and strong the whole way through, and mentally it clicked for me that this is the correct practice. I don't know why it suddenly felt like it 'fit' for me but it did click.
- I treat it as a workout, the same as speedwork/tempo. Instead of feeling like I need to prove myself to have a faster easy pace on these days, I set slow goals. I celebrate and pat myself on the back and brag about these days as much, if not more than, my hard workouts. I am so proud of myself for sticking to this, and for taking the easy day as serious as every other part for once.
- I feel strong. I don't often visualize but I do now on these days. Slowing down and really sinking into the run allows me to think about form, breathing, effort, stride. I picture my body burning fat, running fluidly, and sure... I daydream about the breakthroughs and race goals I have in the future.
- Weather doesn't phase me. Windy day? No big deal. Rain? Meh. Sunny hot? I got this. Because I am not fighting the elements or my body or my watch I can just chill and enjoy the day.
- I can listen to slower music! I don't need pumped up jams to get through my run. I can listen to the cheesy love songs, or my Journey station on Pandora and not need something upbeat to survive.
- It's making me mentally tough. I firmly believe now that it takes a lot stronger mind to slow it down and do this right than it takes for me to do a hard workout. Those aren't easy either but this takes a lot of focus. I spend a lot of time talking to myself about control, relaxing, and reminding myself "just because you aren't running fast, doesn't mean you can't. You are making a choice. You are in control of the run. It isn't running you." And I feel like the mental stamina I am building is valuable.
The struggles I still face
- Where I might be proud of my focus on slowing it down, I'm definitely swallowing my pride. I sometimes hate accepting paces that I used to avoid/fear. It might be empowering, but it is also really scary for me. It's unnerving how easily my body has accepted slower paces and I fight the constant fear of "oh crap... I'm just going to be slow... I'm slow! Oh no!!"
- I still compare. To my past self training logs. To other runners on social media. To my boyfriend even! (uh... no contest). I try to seek out athletes on social media who truly abide by this (which has led to a lot of information on MAF-something I'm very curious about) but obviously comparison creeps in and induces a touch of panic every time.
- I run alone a lot. This might actually be a positive too, because I enjoy it... but it definitely means a lot of solo workouts so as to avoid my pace being pushed by others.
- ... okay, those few things are really all I struggle with during my easy days.
So obviously, the pros are outweighing the cons. Granted I don't have any race day evidence that this is working, but I feel like it will come. I feel stronger on my hard days. I've always been able to 'survive' those workouts, but now I feel like I am in control of it. Both hard and easy days I feel like I am in control, consistent, and smart. My coach and I have been increasing my weekly mileage a bit at a time, and the last few weeks have been my highest volume all year, and I feel fantastic. It makes me feel more well rounded as a runner, if that makes sense. It sure isn't an easy journey, but I'm proud of my commitment to it and hoping I will start reaping the benefits soon!
How do you feel about your easy paces? Would you say you run 'medium hard' all the time?
What is the easiest/hardest part of keeping your easy days easy enough?
And the big one: Who thinks the REAL easy day has made a positive impact in training?