Slow and Steady

One of the most common responses when folks hear you’ve run an event, is “wow, I couldn’t run a mile! (or a 5K, or a 10k, or whatever distance is on the table…).”

Now part of that is certainly just being polite and supportive (to which I say “Thank you supportive non-runners, every one”), but many times I get the feeling folks would really like to feel differently about themselves, and based on my own experience, I think a lot of reasonably healthy people would be surprised at how they could run – if they’d just slow down.  Here’s what I would say to one of those folks:

Running is not defined by how fast you go (despite the snooty comments you may read or hear, to the effect that anything slower than such-and-such a pace is just ‘jogging’ – a word which qualifies as slander among runners).  The truth is, any time you transport yourself by picking one foot off the ground before the other one touches down, you are running. It’s that simple.

The mistake I’ve seen ‘I’m-not-a-runner’ folks make is trying to go too fast, too soon.  They blast off like Usain Bolt for a few yards, then the lungs begin to heave, the heart to pound, the legs to burn and next thing you know, a runner is a walker, or maybe even a curb-sitter.

This MPR’s advice to anyone who wants to try running – or has taken a stab and feels defeated – is first to warm up by moderate walking.  Only after five minute of that has gotten your body into gear should you start running, and when you do, focus on running as slow as you can.  Really.  Instead of the way you think it should be done – the way you feel you cannot do – shorten your strides so one foot is landing barely in front of the other, and slow them down till one foot just barely comes up before the other touches down.  The object is to cover the least bit of ground you can with each stride, while still lifting one foot before the other hits.  See how long you can keep that up, then walk a while to cool down, and get some good rest.

A day or two later, try it again, and see if you can keep it up for 5% or 10% longer.  Only when you can keep up that barely-running pace for a moderate work out – something over twenty minutes – should you start thinking about going faster.   When you do, the goal is to speed up only as much as you can sustain for the length of workout you’re ready to do ( twenty to twenty-five minutes is what I’ve seen described as the providing the basic aerobic and health benefits, longer than that is really about attaining some other specific goal).

I know that some authorities recommend run-walking – run a set period of time (could be a number of minutes, could be seconds) then walk a set period (again, minutes or seconds), repeat for the length of your workout, or event.  I’ve never done that so have no recommendation one way or the other, except to listen to your own body, and do what feels helpful to it.  My guess is even if you’re a run/walk person, you’ll be able to make your run intervals longer and your walk intervals shorter – and maybe get to continuous running sooner, if that’ s your goal – by making the effort to slow it down.

It all boils down to this: go as slow as you need to, in order to maintain a running stride, and you may well be surprised by what you can achieve.  Like the old fable of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady is the key to finding out whether you too may have a runner hidden inside!

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