As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to try to intentionally negative split my half marathon in April. To that end, I’ve started fast-finishing almost all of my runs, and so far it’s been going quite well! *knocks on all wood available* I’m enjoying it much more than I ever anticipated, though I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m turning in much faster final miles than I ever anticipated, which has been fabulous for my ego.
Those were my runs on March 3 and March 5, respectively. To be fair, I did have a pretty generous wind at my back for the last mile of my run on March 5. But still, I don’t see 8:xx times outside of a race setting very often, and it’s nice to know that I am capable of running that fast without the assistance of dozens/hundreds/thousands of people next to me running that fast as well, even if I rarely do run that fast without said assistance.
I feel like a pretty tried-and-true piece of running advice is that *insert-large-number-here* percent of your runs and/or miles should be easy miles. That’s all well and good, but as a person who only laces up her running shoes three times per week, I’ve started find that advice increasingly stressful. If 60-80 percent of my miles are supposed to be easy miles, and I’m only usually logging 15-20 miles per week (up in the 30s during marathon season, but never even up to 40, never mind more than that), when, exactly, am I supposed to do “real” training – you know, the hard running that presumably makes up the rest of those miles? Assuming 80 percent of my miles should be easy, in a 15 mile week, that gives me a whopping THREE miles that are allowed to be hard. Even under the highest of mileage circumstances, when I’m doing more like 35 miles per week in the darkest depths of marathon training, that still only gives me seven miles that can fall into the “hard” category. And since long runs that last more than 1.5 times longer than your usual weekday ran apparently count as hard miles…wtf man?! It’s literally impossible to hit that kind of target when your mileage is as low as I tend to keep mine.
After years of trial and error, I’ve realized that three days of running/week along with three days of cross training per week is my exercise happy place, and unless that stops being my happy place, I don’t have any intention or desire to up the number of times I run per week. While I do occasionally ponder what kind of things I could accomplish if I ran more than that, I know that when I have tried to run more than that, I was so stressed out about how I would get in all those “other things” that I’m either supposed to be doing to be a better runner (strength training, cross training, etc.) or the things that I want to do (dance) that it just wasn’t worth it.
Only running three times per week, though, limits both the number of weekly miles I can log (hitting 40 miles per week–a fairly modest number, in the grand scheme of non-first timer marathon training–would require TWO weekday 10 milers AND a weekend 20 miler. HARD. PASS.), and limits the available time I have to do various workouts. Assuming a long run is a given and that I should do at least one type of speedwork per week, that leaves me with exactly one “free” run. That free run, of course, could be my easy run, but it would be impossible for easy run to account for 80 percent of my weekly mileage–you can’t possibly do one single run that constitutes 80 percent of your weekly miles and not have that run be your long run.
So does any of this conventional wisdom apply? Should ANY of my runs be easy runs when there isn’t even flexibility to include “junk miles” in my training in the first place? If I’m starting all of my runs slow and finishing all of them fast (aside, right now, from my once-every-three-weeks tempo run, prescribed by Hal Higdon’s HM3 half marathon training program), what kind of run is that, anyway? Half easy/half hard? All hard? SHOULD I be doing all of my runs like that? Am I setting myself up for injury and/or burnout by doing all of my runs like that? These are the questions that keep rolling around in my head every time I’m pounding the pavement.
While part of me feels like I’m playing with fire by fast finishing nearly all of my runs, it’s also blown my mind what kind of impact this seems to have had on my overall fitness. After watching with frustration as my resting heart rate (according to my Fitbit) stubbornly hovered around 6-8 bpm higher than I “like” it to be (and by “like” I mean “what I’m used to it being when I’m regularly running”), it’s been within my normal-when-in-training range ever since–and this is true–the day after I started fast finishing my runs. Maybe that’s entirely a coincidence, and even if you want to argue that my Fitbit is questionable at best at measuring my fitness based on heart rate data–which I would, for the record, completely agree with: last week, I synced my Fitbit when it was OFF my wrist, and the app showed my “current” heart rate at 105 bpm *rolls eyes forever*–I can’t deny how WILDLY different my tempo run last Wednesday felt compared to every other Hal Higdon tempo run I’ve done in the past year.
Hal Higdon’s tempo runs ask you to start at a comfortable pace, gradually speeding up to 10Kish pace around the midpoint of your run, holding that pace for 5+ minutes, and then gradually slowing down to a comfortable pace at the end of your run. I do this in five minute increments, holding a hard-but-comfortable pace for 5-10 minutes of the middle of my run (five minutes if there are an odd number of five minute intervals in my run; 10 if there are an even number intervals). These runs have, without QUESTION, been my #1 love-to-hate workout since I started doing them in February 2017. They are hard. While I would ideally like my paces to look like a perfect pyramid, the second half of these runs were almost always much slower than the first half. Last Wednesday, though? For the first time ever, it felt…easy. Or, at the very least, it felt much easier than it’s ever felt in the past.
I kicked off this training cycle with miles much slower than I hoped to see and a flurry of adjusting my expectations for spring running. I’ve seen a lot of unexpected improvement since I started, you know, trying on the majority of my runs. I know I phone it in a lot in the name of not getting injured, and I wonder if I use my fear of injury as an excuse to not hurt (in the right way, not the injured way) during a lot of my training. Or am I being smart? I truly don’t know, and this is the question that’s vexed me to no end for the past few weeks. The one time I did really train back in 2014, I threw down four consecutive PRs on back-to-back-to-back-to-back weekends. I also spent the entire second half of the year in physical therapy. It really frustrated me to not even come close to setting a PR in anything last year, and I would like to not feel that way about running again…but at what cost?
All that being said, I’m glad to be glad to be running again (not a typo). I was so burnt out by the time I wrapped up my 2017 training in December (actually, I was burnt out by, like, September), and I wanted nothing more than to stop running for a long time. It’s nice to be happy to run again.