The Run Less Run Faster Experiment – Complete!

The short story:

5k
Straight from the print-out calendar for the RLRF plan.

 

result
Straight from the race results.

The long story:

Toward the end of the experiment, I was begging for it to be done. I had become bored with the long runs, the same workouts on repeat, and somehow the increasing mileage. If it wasn’t for a long slow run with my boyfriend the Sunday before my race, I am not sure I would have produced the above result. He encouraged me to not let a few crappy days bring me down, for if I brought the negative energy to the race, I would’ve continued with my streak of giving up in races.

Truth be told, I am not sure if I could say it was all the Run Less Run Faster program that led to my new 5k PR. There were things I liked about the program- low mileage, workouts with paces that were attainable, and consistency. But there were also a few things I disagreed with- Five 13 mile long runs at the same pace, the same pace on easy days, and no time trials. That’s the basic summary of this experiment, an experiment that proved to be much more than I ever imagined.

medal
This just might be my favorite race medal.

The Aurora Fun Run 5k on July 4th was my first race since my Akron Marathon DNF. Following that DNF, I went on medical leave from my former job and entered a 10 week intensive outpatient psychiatry program for anxiety and depression. My recovery will always be ongoing, complete with reading a daily devotional, journaling, taking a low dose antidepressant, and seeing an individual counselor. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that the $20,000 worth of therapy and medication contributed more to my finally breaking 22 on the roads than the RLRF plan.

You see, for so long my depression and anxiety left me paralyzed, even during an activity as calming as running. The more I tried to fight it, the deeper it got. It continued to eat away at my core self such that during races, I would often tell myself that I wasn’t good enough. That I didn’t deserve success or happiness. Guilt, yuck. That’s a tough one to leave behind. I’m not quite sure it ever leaves but all of the work I’ve done in the last 9 months has armed me with enough defenses to let the bright side of things win. And now shine.

One of the greatest feelings in the world is crossing a finish line in a PR time. It’s even sweeter when you’ve been trying to break that time for over 12 years. Yes, 12 years in the making. The night before the race, I could sense that the following day was going to be a good one. For the first time ever before a race, I easily went to bed. On the morning of race day, I noticed some anxiety but it was manageable. ย I could actually eat my breakfast! During my warm up and strides, I took it all in. I heard the National Anthem being played from a house nearby and then said house shot off a firework after the song. I smiled at all of the people gathered for a morning race in the sun, the heat off set with a nice breeze. I lined up with James in front of me, ready to be my rabbit and an extra source of encouragement. I was relaxed.

Throughout the race, I focused on one straight away at a time. I knew every twist and turn as I had run the course many times during the experiment. I controlled my pace for the first 1.5 miles as if I was driving a car- shifting gears when I could feel myself pushing the edge. I knew the second mile was going to be the toughest so I made my best efforts to stay focused on that mile only, not an, “Oh my God, this is so hard and I have another mile to go!” mindset. I was as present as I could be during this race.

During the final mile, I started to get excited. I knew I was on a good pace without knowing my pace. I could just feel it. At this point I wasn’t going to let discomfort defeat me. Nor would I let my mind go to a negative place. I was finally good enough. Finishing with a downhill kick (after a tough incline) I saw the clock read 21 and some change and I smiled. I felt no pain. And even if I did, I wasn’t surrendering this time. I crossed the finish line and shouted, “Yes!”. A smile stayed on my face all day. Actually, it’s still there.

whit
There’s that smile.

I knew I was fit for this race. In fact, I’ve been fit for the last 5 years. But I continued to let my anxiety get in the way of success. The following entry for July 4th from my devotional sums things up well:

“Celebrate you and who you are. For too long you have been too hard on yourself. When you have success, when you accomplish something, enjoy it. To enjoy and celebrate the good does not mean that it will be taken from you.”

-Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

Thank you to everyone who supported my training with words of encouragement. Oh yeah, in case you were wondering, I went ahead and created another RLRF plan from SmartCoach when I got home. 20:54, I’ll see you on Labor Day!

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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20 comments

  1. Congrats on a great race and a new PR! I’m a little confused on the plan you used – was it from the book Run Less Run Faster, or was it another plan built around 3 runs per week?

    1. Thanks, Allspice! The plan was from Runner’s World Smart Coach training program online. It had many of the RLRF principles but featured 4 runs a week, sometimes 5.

  2. Congratulations on your 5k PR but even more congratulations on your courage and openness on your daily battle against depression and anxiety. You are helping people.

  3. I knew you could do it! I was rooting for you! I had post partum depression and anxiety. I wrote about it on my blog. Writing helped a ton, but still I’m not ready to touch some of the deepest issues. I’m glad you are fighting your depression and anxiety. It takes work. I think you just proved that you can do it. Maybe it will be a lifelong thing, but it doesn’t have to be you.

    1. Erin, I will check that out on your blog. Thank you so much for your virtual support along the way! I wish you the best in your running and recovery from post partum.

  4. Woohoo! Congrats on a HUGE breakthrough PR! I appreciate your honesty about the struggle with depression and anxiety and agree with commenter above that your story is helping/ will help others who are struggling with similar hurdles. Way to overcome the mental (and physical!) barriers and crush that sub-22 goal!

    1. Thanks, Garlic! Wish I could run the Boston race but I send my well wishes for a successful event!

  5. I’m pretty amazed the time prediction was right on. I am not amazed you made it though. You are a strong runner with a lot of will (and a lot of potential). It is awesome to see you channeling your strength despite (alongside?) your hardships. I also commend you for discussing your battle with depression along with your victory. It does all work together and I know you are helping others by sharing your story. Keep it up on all accounts girl. I’m a fan of yours.

  6. Did you run by the watch or was the 21:35 a total accident? That is so amazing that you were spot on! Congrats on the well deserved and hard fought PR! It’s been a long time coming and I’m so glad all your hard work (training and otherwise) paid off. You’re kicking life’s ass right now and it’s soooooooooooo freakin’ exciting and inspiring!!!!

    1. James ran in front of me with the GPS but I didn’t know my splits, which were pretty even surprisingly (6:50, 7:10, 6:56ish). When I saw the clock approaching the finish line I thought there might be a chance I would be around the goal time. Thank you for all of your support from the very beginning. I keep thinking back to how you told me that this experience was like starting all over and the future was actually exciting. You were so right! Hope to run with you soon….one of my goals is to do a 7:45er long run someday with you all.