Pace matters, until it doesn’t

Not exactly a blistering pace but I did get a blister.

Most of 2019 has gone by and we will soon start another new decade. The idea that we will begin our own Roaring Twenties (roaring good or roaring bad? Discuss.) is both exciting and scary. From a running perspective it’s an important milestone for this blog which began in the aughts (does anyone actually use that term?) and will, in 18 days, limp gracelessly into its third decade. That’s right haters, I’m still standing!

I started blogging in late 2008, around the time that I started running seriously. Seriously did not mean well or fast, but that’s when I started. Like most runners, I had simple objectives: run faster and longer. Something about health and piece of mind. But mostly run faster. That was a reasonable goal and I did make progress. Running also led to many great friendships and experiences, blah blah blah. You can read all about them in the almost 2,200 Emerging Runner posts. But let’s get back to pace..

No one is ever satisfied with the speed they run. Sure, in the short term, runners celebrate their PRs and PBs. Aside from that, we are always castigating ourselves for falling short of our perceived potential. Don’t agree? Tell me how many times you’ve told yourself that you are so satisfied with your current performance that you wouldn’t wish to change a thing. Speed matters, until it doesn’t.

When I first began running I had no benchmarks for speed, so I focused on increasing my distance. Running my first non-stop mile was a big deal. My pace at that time was almost inconsequential. I remember someone telling me, “If you run 8:59 a mile or faster you’re a runner and if you run 9:00 or more you’re a jogger.” I took that as gospel and was pleased when I recorded my first run after purchasing a Nike+ foot pod and confirmed I was a runner. I soon dismissed that definition when my results showed I ran in the 9’s as often as in the 8s.

I competed in a lot of races between 2009 – 2014 and probably hit my high water mark in 2012. Pace mattered then because PRs and age group podium-ing were both reasonable aspirations. A few things happened after that, including suffering a herniated disc and changing my work commute. This disrupted my workouts and hindered my performance. I watched my pace balloon to the point of near embarrassment. If 9:00 per mile was a jogger, what was I at this point?

I made the decision to stop working in early 2019 and since May I’ve had much more time to run. Five years ago I probably would have taken this opportunity to run at lots of different places and get back to 6+ mile runs on a regular basis. In reality, I’ve found it easier to commit to near daily runs by sticking close to home, running 3-4 mile routes in my neighborhood. I’m covering 70-80 miles a month, but my average pace has only improved 4.8% over the last seven months.

Hardly moving the bar on speed was disheartening, and I worried that I had a physical issue that was affecting my pace. My Garmin’s heart rate monitor reported some erratic data that was hard to dismiss. I tested its accuracy in a few different ways and moved to a chest strap that showed a more stable range. But still…

Without going through all the details, I had a full day of lab testing — cardio echo, carotid artery Doppler and even a nuclear stress test (super fun, here’s a post I wrote about a prior stress test I did in 2014). I even had a couple of neurological tests for blood flow, just for good measure. The results of all that were clear, I couldn’t blame my slow pace on my heart or arterial system.

I was happy to get confirmation from my doctors that I was physically fit, but I felt like I had no excuse for my slowness. I decided I had license to push harder on my runs and there has been a small improvement in my performance. However, it occurred to me that one of the reasons my test results came out so positively is due to the way I run.

I don’t look at my pace readout on my Garmin anymore. My objective is primarily to follow my route and enjoy the experience. This seems to be the right thing for me. If I have to choose between healthy, active meditation or a minute per mile improvement, it’s hardly a choice.

The Emerging Runner origin story

Perfect weather for running in circles today

I returned to running just about eleven years ago, mostly out of impatience. I didn’t make any great decision to run. I just started doing it during the walks I’d began taking to lose weight and reduce cholesterol. After a month or so, I grew restless walking and began to fold in short runs along my route. What started off as a sprint to the next corner quickly turned into quarter mile runs. One day I just stopped walking entirely.

Prior to 2009, I had a few brief episodes of running, but I never made it stick. When I lived in Manhattan in the early ’90s, I had a friend who encouraged me to run with her. I agreed and even went to Paragon in Union Square and bought a pair of yellow and blue Nike Cortez shoes. I’d dutifully rise, put on my running gear and go out for a few miles along Third Avenue, dodging people and stopping every block or so for lights.

I would occasionally trek up to Riverside Park to meet my running friend where I could run free of traffic, strollers and other obstructions. I put little thought into the way I ran and mostly went out full tilt every time. Part of that was due to my friend being faster than me and my fragile ego not allowing me to be left behind. I no longer have that issue, just ask any of the Runsketeers!

I continued to try and even entered my first race, the Manufacturer Hanover Corporate Challenge, in 1991. I have no memory of how I did, but ironically, it was probably the fastest 3.5 miles I ever ran. I have no records of my performance from those times and it was long before data tracking via GPS or foot pods, but I was 28 years younger. So probably.

Running hard without any conditioning plan or progress strategy led to a lack of motivation. I was tired of coming back from every run feeling terrible. When my running friend went on a two week business trip to LA, I had no daily accountability and started sleeping in. And that was that.

So in late summer 2008, as I walked up Underhill Avenue, I decided to run the 100 yards or so to Cheshire and that’s how it started. Or restarted. As time went on, these runs grew longer and more frequent. I thought about the circumstances that undermined my running in the ’90s and committed to a different tactic:

  • Run only at a pace that provides an enjoyable experience. 
  • Have a route plan.
  • Keep to sustainable distances.
I knew that if I struggled every time I ran I’d grow tired of the whole thing. The trick was finding a balance between comfort and effort that I could advance as my conditioning improved. As most runners know, it’s possible to make dramatic progress when you are just beginning. Discipline, structure and performance targets reinforce gains. By 2009, the internet provided tools like MapMyRun and the Nike+ system that gave runners a way to capture, record, visualize and analyze their workouts. I was hooked.
When I started Emerging Runner in November of 2008, I wondered if history would repeat itself and I’d find myself shutting it down after a couple of months. Somehow it stuck and, after 2,186 posts and counting, I’m still at it. I’ve had my ups and downs but I have never lost my love for the run. 
Sometimes I get tired of running my neighborhood (I am reasonably sure I have run down Lenore Street at least 2,500 times) so I’ll go out on the Bethpage trail or (like today) take 13 laps around the track of a nearby high school. But I never get tired of putting on my running shoes and heading out the door.

The only spring in my run is new construction

Springing up in spring

Today’s run (street): 3.75 miles
Yesterday’s run (street): 3.2 miles
Last Sunday’s run (street): 3.7 miles
Last Saturday’s run (treadmill): 3.3 miles
Last Friday’s run (street): 3.1 miles

I know it’s been a while since I last posted, but here I am again. You’re welcome. It’s been a combination of busy schedules and the acknowledgement that my running journal-cum-social criticism blog has become somewhat redundant. The exception to that being my write ups of activities involving the Runsketeers. On the plus side, I’ve still been doing my runs and today I realized that the journal really helps me with the get outside and do it part. So here I am again.

Last weekend’s runs were unremarkable, although I did have a good treadmill workout on Saturday. I don’t remember the other two runs, but I know I did them because they’re listed in my Garmin Connect log. Further, these runs even have my average stride length because I wrote to Garmin about that metric not showing up on Connect. Amazingly enough, Garmin responded that they’d corrected the issue. Apparently this was a problem for many. I was able to re-import my runs that lacked that data. and it showed up when I imported this weekend’s activities.

My running has been dismal. With a few rare exceptions, I’m back to where I was last September in terms of performance. Slow doesn’t begin to describe it. Yesterday morning I did an early run in light rain and just couldn’t get into gear. I averaged 72% max HR which pretty much guaranteed a poor pace.

Today’s route

Today’s weather was far better, but my performance was exactly the same. I varied my route. Since I was running slowly, I took the time to look around my neighborhood. I noticed many new homes had sprung up in the places where prior dwellings were razed during the winter. These humble ranches and Capes Cods are being replaced big contemporaries that rise like Olympus above the Serengeti. Toto-ly stole that phrase.

Despite my lack of speed, I was happy to be outside on a cool and quiet spring morning. I know I can run faster, but lately I haven’t been motivated to push too hard. SIOR is guilting encouraging me to re-enter the racing realm by running a 5K in July. She’s even picked one for me. Okay, let’s see what I can do.

Describing running in 419,000 words

 

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.2 miles

It’s amazing to me that, with today’s entry, I’ve posted on Emerging Runner 1,700 times. Based on my average word count, I’ve published the equivalent of Brave New World 6.5 times over. It’s interesting how quickly these posts have added up. Still, I’ll need to post 509 more times before I reach the word count of War and Peace.

The incredibly cold weather kept me inside today so once again I used the treadmill. The lack of humidity kept me comfortable and I found it fairly easy to distract myself by watching the news. I can’t remember the last time I ran outside, but it may be close to a week ago. I worry that using the treadmill all the time might change the way I run. On the other hand, it does force me to shorten my stride. That’s something I want to do on the road as I work to increase my cadence.

Light the candles and go for a run

 

Today’s run (street): 3.1 miles

Five years and one day ago, the Emerging Runner was launched with this post. 1,826 days and 1,663 posts later, I’m still running and writing. I don’t know what’s more amazing, that I’ve continued to blog and run, or the fact that I’ve managed to write so much about something as simple as running down the road. My goal for the blog was to keep a simple running journal, but it’s turned out to be much more than that.

I thought about all this on today’s run which was, by any definition, unremarkable. I was on auto-pilot for the most part, but I did manage to cover the distance slightly faster than expected. My time was limited due to my schedule, but I got my workout done. 3.1 miles in a little over 29 minutes isn’t really worth mentioning. But had I done that on November 18, 2008, you can bet everyone would have heard about it.

Running and blogging have been pathways to great friendships and experiences. The two disciplines drive each other. When I run, I think about what I’ll write about. When I blog, I think about my running life. I know people who have run for decades that still get excited to talk about their training and their hopes for another PR. Half a decade after declaring myself an emerging runner, I wish for the same.

Four years emerging and a trail run to celebrate

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4.2 miles

Four years ago today, I published my first post on the Emerging Runner. I had made some unsuccessful attempts to run in the past, but in 2008 I fully committed to running as a lifestyle. I’d also started a few blogs before that time but never managed to keep them going. My hope on that day that I published that post was to break that cycle. After four years, I think I can say that I did.

In the October issue of Runner’s World magazine, Captain “Sully” Sullenburger was featured in the section called “I’m a Runner.” The interview is short, but interesting. I especially liked this quote, “I’m not a good runner, but I’m better than someone who doesn’t do it at all.” That statement sums up everything I’ve written over the last four years.

Over the past four years I gone from being someone who faced every run as a difficult challenge, to a solidly mid-pack race competitor. I was talking to my brother yesterday about my four years as a runner, and how I struggled so hard on my first runs. I remembered hoping for the day when I’d be able to run and think of something besides discomfort and pain. Soon enough, my runs became my best process for thinking through any problem.

If not for Hurricane Sandy, I’d be spending most of this post recapping the Long Beach Turkey Trot that was scheduled for this morning. The hurricane devastated that city and destroyed the boardwalk that is almost half of the 10K course. I love racing in Long Beach for its ocean views and flat, runner friendly roads. I hope the community gets back to normal quickly, not for the runners, but for the sake of the residents. 

High visibility on the trails

Today called for a change from the neighborhood roads that I’ve run since returning home after our power was restored. Stillwell Woods was the perfect choice and I headed over with a plan to run my favorite two mile loop a couple of times. I’d recently bought a nice, high visibility running shirt at TJ Max for the bargain price of $7.99 and thought Stillwell would be the perfect place to use it.

The mountain bikers were out in force and most shared the trails very well, politely warning me when they were closing in. I’m sure the bright orange shirt helped them see me in plenty of time. I took it easy on the trail and was careful to avoid branches that had fallen on the path from Sandy. It was difficult at times to see the trail because the rising sun was hitting me head-on. I got whacked in the head a couple of times by overhanging branches but my hat protected me from any damage.

It’s been a nice fourth anniversary of my running/blogging life so far today. Later on, the Emerging Runner family is heading to East Northport to assist in an effort to get food to elderly and housebound people whose lives were disrupted by Sandy. Next week is Thanksgiving but I am thankful often, especially today when I am able to help myself and help others. The decision I made to run in 2008 has much to do with that.