What I write about when I write about running
Ok, the title is a lie¹, I don’t usually write about running. There’s not much there to say – I’m an uninspired runner at best, partly because I don’t do habits. But for once I have something to talk about, and if you squint just right, there are a few life lessons in there, too.
Content note: I’m talking about exercise and I’m bragging like a professional braggart. My blog, my rules, bragging is totally allowed today.
I usually go running twice per week – and by usually I mean “since the beginning of this month”. I went running for a grand total of eight times this year, and nearly all of that was within the last month. I always run a 5 km round out in the fields, typically at night when there are no other people around and I can just listen to music and zone out.
This is where the first idiocy comes in: I always go fast. I don’t always go to the edge of collapse, but my heart rate is reliably high and I’m definitely very exhausted afterwards. I do this because fast is Exciting and Good and slow is Boring and Bad. Sadly, it’s generally recommended that you do about 80% of your running at an easy pace, and only 20% at a fast pace. I know that, but I usually only manage to start out slow, and then increase my pace because, well, fun.
Last night, I decided to be serious about running slowly, because my previous run had been particularly fast (for me), and I didn’t want to risk injury. (Little did I know …) I have a fitness watch that can show my heart rate, and I decided to stay at or below 160bpm for once, instead of averaging 170 or 180 like usually.
And I actually managed to keep to the plan! I ran my 5k round, at an atrociously slow pace, more than a minute slower per km than usually – but towards the end I still felt fresh and energised. Well, I said to myself, why not go for a full hour of running – or maybe even 10km, if I still feel like it towards the end? Sure, why not!
Towards the end of the second round, I snapped out of my mindless shuffling, which was only broken up by my heart rate checks and making sure that I returned to 160bpm. I was still feeling pretty okay, and started thinking – while it’s true that I only ever run 5km rounds, and 10km was already doubling that – how awesome would it be to finish all of the 80% slow running in one go? (This is where you sigh and shake your head. I’ll wait.)
So I just did that. My pace got slower and slower, I’m sure I saw some snails passing me on the dark floor, but my heart rate remained down. My left knee hurt a bit on the uphills, my right food was a bit uncomfortable on the downhill stretches, but things weren’t really as bad as expected. I wasn’t really tied to the 20km goal – while it sounded nice, I made sure to detach from it as much as possible, and to make sure that I had a good way of stopping when I felt like it. But apart from some tightness in my legs I felt really good.
And, you know, 20km is criminally close to the 21.1km of a half marathon, so why not finish that, too? It took me a total time of 2 hours and 41 minutes, but I even had enough energy towards the end to speed up below my best 5k pace.
I then hobbled home, because once I stopped running, my legs stopped cooperating entirely. I drank, I ate, I iced my poor feet, I painfully collected all relevant things from around the house to my bed to make sure I could work in the morning without walking around if I had to. (Which was not necessary, but it was a close thing.) I slept, I woke, and found that I felt, in this order, embarrassment for my terrible life choices, pain, pride and a need to tell people about the last night, and an urgent desire to never move again.
Things that stood out to me:
- Going to extremes teaches you things that you will not get to know in other ways. (Now I know strengths and weaknesses of my legs and which parts of my body seem to give out first.)
- This goes especially for limits: Your limits are probably way further out than you think. (I would have guessed that I could run 10k, but that I’d need walking breaks in a half marathon).
- That doesn’t mean you should try to reach your limits all the time, because that way lies pain and injury. (Here’s to hoping that I’m getting away with sore muscles, but the recommended increase in run length is 10% per week for a good reason.)
- But knowing what you’re capable of if you really have to be will show you exciting possibilities.
- I can count on myself to find ways to incorporate stupid behaviour in everything.
I’m an idiot, and sometimes I’m an idiot to great effect, and it’s a lot of fun.²
¹ To avoid walking it in like the Romans, an explanation: The title is a riff on What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami, which in turn (as a kind friend informs me) is a possibly indirect riff on What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
² But please don’t try this at home.