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  • Writer's pictureMark J. Keenan

Learning to Run Slow

Recently I discovered that I could input a planned event into my sports watch and it will make training suggestions for me. It makes a daily assessment based on where you are in the overall plan for the event, your recent activity, and your level of fatigue.

After putting in the details of the ultramarathon I am running in November, and my expected (rather long) time to complete it, I decided to give the first workout session go. It's recommendation was to run thirty minutes at a pace of 7 minutes 20 seconds per kilometre.

Now, I do run that slow, but usually only when I've already been going for quite some time. Still, coach knows best I thought, so I gave it a try.

Normally, for a short cruisy run like this I'd be at about 6 minutes flat. My body didn't want to do it, instead urging a faster pace, and my watch buzzed incessantly. 'Too fast. Too fast.' Clearly, it didn't know me. Too fast at running is something I've never been. But I tried hard and felt I had done a good job.

At the end of the training, my electronic coach gave me a score. 32 percent. That was all the micro-chipped dictator on my wrist gave me. Then it asked me what my perceived effort was. And then how I felt. There were no options for 'the run was easy but the pace you set was stupid' and 'you've got to be kidding me! 32 percent! I haven't had a result that low since Year 9 woodwork' and so I just chose random answers instead.

The next four runs were just as bad and the score was below forty percent for each and then somehow on the fifth, an early morning at Lake Goollelal it clicked. My mind and body miraculously working out it was okay and they could do it. Coach gave me 92 percent and thankfully didn't ask me what mark I had received for my lathe project in 1984. I couldn't believe it.

Slow running is great training for an endurance event. I knew that. Still, it wasn't easy. But that's often the way, isn't it? The things which are good for us are rarely easy to do, which is how we get the double-whammy impact. As we struggle through exercise, we get the physical rewards (disguised as 'damn that hurts') and mental benefits (disguised as 'why the hell am I doing this') while doing it. And afterwards we get the physical rewards ('I feel good today') and mental gratification ('How cool am I') after doing it.

Of course, one good result is not the end of it. I am going to be told to run at this pace again. And it will be hard. But it will start to become less difficult. And each of those small results will build my confidence. And I will get better at running slow.

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