I’ve been running by feel for over five weeks now. In that time, I’ve run two PRs and had some of my best track workouts ever. But I’ve also had one of my worst workouts ever. You see, I’m having a hard time figuring out what running hard is supposed to feel like.
Are your legs supposed to feel like jello?
Are your lungs supposed to be burning?
Are you supposed to feel dizzy after finishing a repeat?
Are you supposed to feel like a beast?
Are you supposed to feel relaxed and strong?
Are you supposed to feel like you’re working but in control?
I’ve been told by numerous people on numerous occasions that I’m not pushing myself hard enough if I want to get faster. My lifelong struggle with anxiety is probably one reason for the apprehension on my end. But I’ve also done my research on running fast. One approach that has stuck with me is from Letsrun.com co-creator Weldon Johnson and his coach, John Kellogg. Inspired by the training methods of Arthur Lydiard, Weldon says that the key to running fast is to relax. When I started using the running for time approach, I used this as my mantra. I took it to the track every Tuesday, although part of me believed that not every run was going to feel relaxed and that I would certainly have a day where things wouldn’t work so easily.
Take last Tuesday. The prescribed workout seemed like a giant to me: a glorified mile repeat workout with 1 x 1600, 4 x 400, 1 x 1600, and 8 x 200. Coach suggested paces that seemed out of reach for me. But wait, he believed in me. Would it be enough? This is where I’m too smart for my own damn good. Salty has told me on numerous occasions that I know too much about running. I didn’t understand what she meant by that until this workout. Knowing that I never hit a mile repeat workout at 7:00/mile pace or faster already put a mental limitation on my mind. Thus, the prescribed workout and paces seemed out of reach.
But wait! I just ran a 6:03 1600 the week before. And an easy feeling 6:21 the week prior to that one. Even looking at the McMillian Calculator I can see that hitting those prescribed paces shouldn’t be difficult. Too bad I didn’t have this knowledge prior to the workout. I ended up bombing the thing, running all over the place. And scratching the 200s. My workout featured a 6:50, 6:21 (4 x 400 with 30 seconds rest), and 7:25 mile. I started to feel lactic on the first mile. The second mile was faster but felt close to all out. That 7:25? Well, the good news is that a 7:25 never felt so slow!
The mindset of going all out in practice is such a turn off to me. It takes me back to my high school days where only the genetically blessed survived off of a low mileage program. But I do know that I’m not going to get faster if I just take things easy all the time, especially in practice. In an effort to research “What is Hard”, I took to the Letsrun boards. Just to show that Letsrun is not full of trolls, I thought I’d share two of my favorite responses to the question:
If you don’t have much experience with competitive sport, then I suggest that your problem may be as much with the mental aspect as the physical aspect. Those who had their competitive fire honed as youngsters in high school know how to compete and take advantage of their fitness.
You may be behind the curve a bit on this, simply because you didn’t go through the same experiences they did as young people. It sounds to me like what you need is to learn how to race. To put it on the line.
It’s kinda cheesy to talk about the mental aspects, and since many of the folks on these boards came out of competitive high school and college programs they will downplay the mental side of the sport.
But don’t let this fool you. Ours is a tough sport; those who excel in it have a capacity for concentration and brutal suffering that seems normal and natural to them because they have practiced it from a young age.
I don’t know if there are any tricks here, but it sounds like you started off slowly and did things right–you didn’t push too hard so you’ve been able to stay healthy. Good work. But now it’s time to push. It’s time to concentrate. It’s time to approach the sport as a chance to prove to yourself how much guts you really have. Can you sustain the effort? Can you relax when you are deep in the hurt? Can you drive into the pain? Can you draw up the sludge from the bottom of the well?
These are the questions that separate us out, and really, they are the questions that keep us competing.
And this one:
People are born with varying abilities to respond to training. Some get better faster, others more slowly. Some break down with injury with certain training stresses, others do not. These differences are wide among people.
Running more, or faster, helps get you in progressively better shape, barring injury that causes a break in training, so in that sense, the one who runs the most runs the best, but given the varying traits we have, today’s race is likely won by a very talented person, who had less improvement to make from where they started to where they are today.
Distance running training and striving for progressive improvement has many real life analogs for success in life that will come more quickly and more obviously to you because you learned how to fight for progress slowly and doggedly. Much of success in life is like taking 5 seconds off of your mile time. Very little of life is like winning a race with 10,000 people in it. Much of life is continuing to do a task you can already do, but now you have to do it a little better.
– A Philosophical Perspective
Salty readers, on my quest to become a faster runner I want to know what hard running is supposed to feel like. Can you tell me?