Running All Wrong

This is the year that I learned to run to maximize my aerobic function, not my pace.

Every year since my marathon in 2018, I have been failing at achieving my running goals. Usually these goals are a race or some total annual milage, but the last few years I keep getting injured mid-year. I think it's because in pursuing these goals, I would train to specific distances and paces and totally ignore the work my heart is doing to achieve them.

It usually goes like this. In the first few months of the year, I will get much fitter, much faster. Then around five months in, I will get injured and my fitness will plummet. I'll have to pick up the pieces in November and start everything over in January of the next year.

For example, last year my goal was simply to run more than 1000 km. That is only about 25 km per week. About six months in to the year, I tore some part of my left hamstring where it attaches to the glute during an interval training session. I didn't take it seriously and it stopped me from being able to run for more than three months.

When I analyzed my running just before this injury, I was doing three runs per week. One speed session (3-5K of intervals), One "tempo" run (7-9k) and one long run (9-21k). Many of these runs were being run for the majority of the time in a heart rate of Zone 4 or even Zone 5. I was spending less than 20% of my runs, on average, in low or moderate heart rate zones and I was doing almost no recovery miles. My consistency was also not great, mostly because I knew how painful my runs would be. This was a vicious cycle of not keeping up my fitness (skipping runs) and then having to run as if my fitness was much higher than it actually was when I did lace up.

I think this is why I would always get injured. I have learned now that when you do work at or near threshold heart rates for significant amounts of time your body yells at you to stop. Your heart is telling you "you're doing too much, too soon, you fool!". But I thought that a big part of growing my running capacity was just learning to overcome these thoughts and the pain. I now think that it's actually the opposite. I think we are meant to listen to our heart for 80% of our running and stick to mostly working in Zone 1 or Zone 2 which will give our heart and tissues a natural path to growing our fitness, without injury. The other benefit to this is running in these heart rates is much more enjoyable which sustains the practice more easily. It's the opposite of the vicious cycle I described above- It's a virtuous one.

To me, this is yet another beautiful example of "slowing down, to speed up". It seems that if we train much more often, for gradually increasing durations (not distances) at lower heart rate zones, our heart has a chance to grow and so do our bones and tissues. Our pace, and distances will naturally elongate, with time. If we ignore the heart, we ignore our current level of fitness and we risk doing work we're not ready for and injuring ourselves or making running generally too unpleasant to practice, which in the long run would be "speeding up, to slow down".

I have also learned that it's not all about training. I also am taking sleep, massage, and nutrition much more seriously.

Special thanks to my friend Nathan and my trainer Gabe for teaching this stubborn man the way.