2019-01-08

Picking Up The Pace


Lately, I've increased my average running pace from a little under seven minutes per mile to somewhere around 6:25 per mile. That's a significantly faster pace, fast enough to warrant some 'splainin'.

The first question is why I would increase my average running pace, and the most basic answer is, why not? It sounds stupid, but so long as you're running every day -- or almost every day -- why not run faster rather than slower? Provided there is no significant cost to doing so, running faster is more fun than running slower, and as I've mentioned many times in the past, it's also safer. Ceteris paribus, fast is better than slow.

Of course, longtime readers will note that my running seven minutes per mile is already quite a bit slower than I used to run. So, the real question is, why did I ever slow down in the first place? The answer, if I'm being totally honest, is probably laziness. One day, a person feels a little more tired than usual, so he runs a little more slowly. Those tired days start to happen a little more frequently, and before he knows it, the fast days are the rarities. It takes a bit of work to shake all that off and get back to running fast again. It takes some deliberate effort. That's what I'm doing now.

There is also the matter of Texas weather. The summers here being what they are, it is almost impossible to run as far and as fast as I'm used to running when the weather starts climbing up above 80 degrees. The heat here is not the same as the desert heat in which I grew up. The air is much more humid and makes it more difficult to avoid over-heating. It's hard to run under 6:30/mile pace for six or more miles in heat like that. I haven't yet learned the secret, although perhaps I will, eventually.

There were a few other contributing factors, too. In late 2014, I started experimenting with heart rate zone training. It was an interesting process. Initially, training in HRZ 2 involved slowing way, way down. Over time, my pace came up while my heart rate did not increase by much. So in some ways, HR zone training was effective. But I don't think my pace ever really came back up to where it should have. A guy needs to push a bit to have that happen, and without the desire to push, it didn't happen. I also suffered a few injuries over the years that discouraged me from pushing overmuch. My back injury from 2017 was certainly a setback, but the fact that it happened just as I started to get more serious about running made it psychologically more impactful (negatively) than it probably otherwise would have been. Thus, there has been this fear in the back of my mind that, should I ever decide to try to run a little harder, a little faster, be a little better, I'd only injure myself.

I realize now, however, that these injuries were age-related. I've learned a lot from Tony Horton's Beachbody workout programs, and one of the most important things I've learned is that maintaining good flexibility and balance is more and more important as we age. In our twenties, we can run hard and heal quickly. Nothing ever seems to get in our way. As time wears on, all the times we skipped over the stretching routines and the foam rolling start to catch up with us. Getting an occasional massage can lull us into a false sense of security: why bother with daily muscle care when you can loosen everything up once a month on the massage table? But, no. We need to care for ourselves as we age, otherwise we're just priming ourselves for injury.

So: taking better care of myself and returning to my older style of training have inspired me to push a little harder during my daily run, and what I've discovered from all of that is, so far, it's no more difficult to run fast every day than it was to run slow. I'm a little more tired at night, and I sleep a little more soundly, but nothing else is really the same. I'm glad I made a choice to try to run faster. We'll see if it pays off.

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