I inevitably measure my fitness against the peaks and valleys of my past experiences. How fit am I now, compared to the fittest I've ever been? How poorly am I performing now compared to the worst I've ever felt? If I'm injured, how does this injury compare to noteworthy injuries of the past? Those kinds of comparisons bubble up any time I am focused on my health and fitness.
For running, the best period of comparison for me was the year immediately following my "retirement." Sick of competing for other people, I stopped timing my runs and just started doing stuff that seemed fun to me. I'd try to get lost in the suburbs. I'd run deep into the mountains until the trails stopped. I'd go thirty miles at a time, in -10 degree temperatures or worse, wearing shorts, to see if I could make it the whole way without freezing my tail off. The joy of experimentation and freedom, combined with my tendency to run harder than I needed to, helped me reach a level of fitness I've remembered ever since.
I remember one day during that time period, when I went home to visit my parents, and my father asked me to go running with him. Or, perhaps I asked if I could come along with him. Whichever the case, we headed out. For his age and his commitment to running, my father was a good runner at the time. He regularly placed in his age division at road races, and ran strongly and consistently almost every day. Still, he was of course no match for me, so when we went out running together, it wasn't a race. I spent most of my time concentrating on holding way back, so that I could match his pace rather than induce him to run faster than he otherwise would have. It was tough going that day because my natural pace was so much faster than his. By the end of the run, he had commented many times that we were going much faster than he usually ran, and meanwhile I felt almost as though I could walk as fast as we were running. When we finally finished, my father checked his watch and reported that we had run at about seven minutes per mile pace.
This is a mental benchmark for me, because it signifies a period in my life when running as slowly as I possibly could resulted in 7:00/mile.
A couple of weeks back, I started committing to running a little faster during my daily runs. There was really no reason not to. I didn't understand why I was suddenly running my daily runs as slow as 7:30/mile pace. I wanted to reclaim some of my old speed. So, I started running much faster. What I discovered, as previously reported, was that it wasn't all that more difficult to run fast as opposed to running slowly. So why not run fast?
Well, I'm pleased to report that I took an easy run yesterday -- I was tired, and didn't feel much like running at all, but I convinced myself that I could go for at least a three-mile easy run -- and that easy run clocked in at 6:45/mile pace. I'm pleased with my progress. If my easy runs are coming in at 6:45, then it means my average pace really is getting faster, and that's progress.
It just goes to show you that sometimes, if you give yourself a little push, you can do much better than you think you can.
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