31. Running slow

river-wey-near-stoke-lock-guildford.jpgRunning without a watch can be very helpful for many runners. The once or twice that I have done it, it did feel great, honest….

I’ve been intrigued about the idea of base training, and read up about it recently on Greg McMillan’s running site which, incidentally, also has a fantastic race prediction calculator.

As a dedicatedly one-pace runner, I hardly ever train at slower pace, but perhaps I really should try practising what I’ve preached to others in the past.

So two days ago, I ran my lunchtime circuit pretty darn hard. It took me 47 minutes, and guessing the distance at 5.5 miles, that made 8:33 miles. Yesterday I took a rest day, purely in the interests of science you understand, then today as an experiment, I ran the same route but more slowly. I really tried to run very easily, making an effort to stay relaxed and to keep the speed down whenever I was tempted to speed up. The conditions were similar, and my time: 48:15 or 8:46 miles.

As an exercise in slowing down, it was pathetic. I ran slower than this over the same route for most of the summer (admittedly, it was much warmer then). But the other, more important result, was that it felt terrible. Just terrible. For a start, it seemed much more boring. The time dragged all the way round. And after just two miles, my legs felt like lead, with my shoes seemingly glued to the tarmac. The glue persisted right to the end of the run. It’s a sensation I’ve only previously experienced in the last six miles of a marathon, or on one of the nightmarish 20 milers preceding one. Possibly because this is the pace you run at that stage of a marathon when you begin to burn fat rather than muscle glycogen for the first time.

All this has set me seriously thinking. I’m going to try to introduce a regular slower run into my routine. Obviously, to play it safe, I’ll limit this to just one a week for the moment, since clearly I’m not yet fit enough to manage more. But perhaps eventually I’ll be able slow it down another 15 seconds a mile. Another minute a mile slower seems an unlikely prospect right now, but with luck I might get there in a few months, if I really work at it hard enough.

It’s much harder to run slower. Try it out. It’s certainly given me food for thought, and it might even make me a better runner at the end of it.

Second attempt and managed to slow down to 9:00 miles. Felt much better on the way round. It was tough out there, but I even managed to put in an extra slow bit towards the end and ensure a record slow time.

10:00 miling here we come !

Base training, speedwork, and long runs – each of these approaches can help you run better.

Base training aims to improve your aerobic threshold. This improves your overall fitness and running economy, and this will in turn improve your endurance and ultimately your potential for speed. However, this is training to be carried out during a period when you are not specifically preparing for a marathon.

Speedwork aims to improve your running efficiency. Running fast helps to improve your running gait and stride. This training may also help your breathing capacity (VO2). This type of training is good for 10 km and 5 km speed (allegedly). Nevertheless, the improvements in running efficiency can work through to benefit all of your running.

Tempo runs (those with a sustained burst of moderate speed) will make you more comfortable when racing, by improving your lactate threshold. This really helps your half marathon times, and will also build into your marathon performance.

To some extent, long runs mimic the effects of base training, and by doing them slowly you can not only reduce the negative effects of long distance on your body, but also accustom your body to running for a very long time, something it will have to do on marathon day. You may find, like Paula, that marathon training improves your performance at shorter distances as well, but maybe this improvement comes from the increased tolerance to harder training which ultimately goes with this particular territory.

If your comfortable training pace is 8:30, the same as your Half Marathon race pace, then your likely marathon pace is probably somewhere in the 9:00 to 9:30 range, provided you are adequately trained for the event. This means that you have to be trained for running very long distances.

The period of marathon training is all about building endurance. Long runs are everything, and you will feel like all your runs are slow during marathon training, in part because you are fitter and it gets easier. You need discipline not to train too fast all of the time. Instead, you can do some limited speedwork, especially in the early weeks of a marathon training programme, and maybe add occasional tempo runs and a half marathon race up to about four or six weeks out. Your half marathon time will likely improve, too.

But whilst the other stuff helps your general fitness and confidence, and helps to keep you sane, endurance is absolutely 100 % of running the marathon. The simple problem is that the race only really begins at 20 miles.

Perhaps the biggest, and easiest, mistake to make in a marathon is to train just a bit too fast, and then to run an ambitious pace, too near to your half marathon pace. It will feel just fantastic for 20 miles, and you’ll think you can keep it up all the way. But you’ll probably end up walking quite a bit of those last 6.2. And it will hurt. A lot. My friend Rick puts it perfectly when he says that those fast first 20 miles mean little when you lose more time, possibly much more time, than if you’d started off just 15 seconds per mile slower in the first place.

It’s very tempting to run just that 3 % faster. It’s easy. But trust me, it’s a very long way from the Tower of London to the Mall, or from Southside Chicago to Downtown when you’re crawling …

Related articles:
24. Things I have learned… #267
88. The Perfect Race – Sebastian Coe, Florence 1981
32. The bad run
111. The plan
45. T-I-R-E-D

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