Sunday, November 17, 2013

The art of slow

Three weeks from today I'll be running the Tucson Marathon: my sixteenth marathon, in the fourteenth state as I continue my journey of running the country. I'm not anticipating too much from this race, other than a fun long weekend in the Arizona desert. I'm hopeful for a PR, but at best will shave off a minute or two. There are no expectations about qualifying for Boston this time around, and I've made my peace with that. Maybe next year I'll be ready to tackle it again, but for now I've been enjoying the break from the pressures of pace goals. After my last marathon in June, I spent the summer running for the pure joy of it (see: pack burro race and birthday adventure), and when I decided to do this December marathon, I chose an abbreviated 12-week training plan. It's a very different program from the one I've been using for the past few years, and integrates a concept I've never tried before: the short, slow recovery run.

"What is the point?" I thought when I saw these weekly 3-5 mile runs on the training schedule. At first it just seemed like a means to tacking on extra mileage, and as a big believer in the value of rest, I questioned it. But I decided to trust the professionals who wrote the plan I had paid for, and give it a try. [Note: I am a professional geriatric care manager, so I understand this tendency. Families frequently pay me for my advice, and then completely ignore it.]

You can learn a lot from a turtle.
Time will tell whether this will have been an effective strategy for me, but what I know for sure is that I've learned to love those little recovery runs. I very quickly learned how much easier it is to get out of bed for an early morning run (a major weakness of mine) when all you're doing is a few slow miles, compared to an intimidating 10-mile tempo run or 18-mile long run. Just as important as accomplishing the major projects on your to-do list, there is great value in ticking off easy tasks you can get done in a few minutes. Initially, I found it impossible to maintain good form while running slowly. I caught my reflection in a building and saw my slumped shoulders and shallow shuffle; it looked like my form in the final miles of a long, hard race, although I was only a couple of miles into a very easy, relaxed run. I picked my head up and straightened out my stride, and involuntarily sped up. It took a fair amount of adjustment, but I eventually figured out that you can run relaxed without running poorly, and that the benefits of a slow but mindful run are legion: you can think even more clearly than you can when you're physically taxed, and you'll catch even more of what's going on around you as you pass by. A great lesson in moderation. I became more effective at work when I no longer allowed myself to put in 12-hour days. I learned to keep my home clean without giving up precious weekend days spent scrubbing on hands and knees, and am more inclined to keep up with it if I pace myself. (Okay, I'm still working on that one, but I know the potential exists. I am even worse at keeping a clean house than I am at waking up early.) Slowing myself down doesn't have to mean doing or being "less than." And in fact sometimes doing less makes it possible to do even more.


  1. Great points here! I have big issues with easy runs and rest days, and my mind is not there yet (there as in actually slowing down and not equating "rest day" with ~4 miles). This post is an inspiration :)

    1. I just LOVE when a message hits home with someone who really needs to hear it like that! Thanks for letting me know, and good luck as you learn to take it slow. Keep me posted on your "progress!" =)