Shin splints. Stress fractures. Constant hunger. Legs that feel like lead. Tired and hungry all the time. Your PRs and the scale don’t reflect your hard work, and it isn’t fair. You think the answer is running more, running faster, doing yoga, lifting weights, doing something you’re not already doing. After all, you aren’t afraid to work hard!
What if I were to tell you that instead of more you needed to do less?
What if I were to tell you that instead of faster you needed to run slower?
You may be surprised to realize how scary that sounds to you. Because isn’t running about striving and grunting and pushing your limits?
Or maybe you’ve heard it before and are waiting for an opening so you can explain why ‘less’ wouldn’t work at all—much less for someone like you. Because you’ve run your share of miles and have a few running books lining your shelves.
Or maybe you’ve accepted that you weren’t meant to be a runner, that you got the short end of the genetic stick. Because your running and race experience have taught you that you need to accept that *this* is the best you can possibly hope for.
What if I were to tell you that you are completely wrong?
Would you part of you want to believe me?
If your answer is yes to the second question, then keep that part of your mind open as you keep reading.
If you want different results, you have to do things differently. The first thing I will ask you to do differently is accept the training plan as is, resisting the urge to think of it as a buffet and picking your favorite workouts and passing on the rest. Easy effort runs—what some people perceive of as junk miles—are there for a reason, and I’ll explain why shortly. More often than not, the person who thinks she can cut them for time or training reasons is the person who absolutely shouldn’t.
Ok, now we’re going to look at all those easy effort runs and make absolutely sure they are easy. Since we are doing things differently, instead of looking at your pace on easy days, we are going to focus on effort. But not just perceived effort, because that can be murky at times. We are going to use a heart rate monitor to keep you honest. Heart rate monitors are a direct line to what’s physiologically happening in your body; they can tell you and me that the pace you’ve thought of as your easy pace may not be an easy effort. (Yet.)
Your wearing a heart rate monitor will likely show me that you’ve been working way too hard to improve your running economy, which is the point of easy effort runs.
Head’s up: Here comes some basic #science:
Think of running economy like miles per gallon for a car: a gas-guzzling SUV may feel more powerful, but a compact hybrid will transport you more efficiently and farther to, say, a half-marathon, marathon or ultra finish line.
You improve your running economy when you run in an 100% aerobic state, or when your muscles have plenty of oxygen to perform their specific running tasks. What’s more, on these easy runs, you increase the both number and strength of mitochondria, the part of the cell that provides both energy and power. Like #motherrunners, mitochondria are multitaskers: they produce enzymes that help your body burn fuel.
Translation: After a purely aerobic run, you are not terribly sore or tired, but your body has done some vitally important work in helping you become a more efficient runner.
Also, if you’re frequently injured, improving your running economy is vital. Muscles have memory. Your aerobic system does not. Your muscles can easily get ahead of your aerobic capacity and give you a false sense of fitness. I cannot tell you how frequently this leads to injury. Your heart rate is a much better indicator of what your body is ready to do than your previous performances or real-time feeling. Same with ligaments and tendons, the supporting cast for muscles. They need time to get up to speed, which they do in the aerobic zone.
The opposite of an aerobic run is an anaerobic run, which means without oxygen: Think sprinting to the finish line, doing 800 repeats, or otherwise pushing out of your comfort zone. Your muscles have to burn glycogen (or sugar) to meet your energy needs. That works to a point, but a byproduct of burning sugar is the creation of lactic acid, which, through a series of steps, physiologically triggers the heavy-legs, can’t-perform response. By running in the anaerobic zone, you can improve your VO2 max—or the maximum amount of oxygen your body uses during exercise, which is a great thing—but time spent running anaerobically has a detrimental effect on your running economy.
Translation: Speed components and workouts need to be positioned thoughtfully and deliberately in a training cycle so you can gain the benefits without impacting your running economy too significantly and not risk injury.
The problem is that most runners do not stay in the aerobic zone, even on the “easy” runs. You may be trying to keep up with a faster friend; you may be racing against the clock for school pickup; you may let your ego and your GPS guide your effort, instead of your (fatigued) body.
The result is that every run you take is a version of the once-popular Paula Abdul song: Two steps forward, one step back.
With heart rate-based training, I will (gently and lovingly) force you to change this.
I will not let your ego interrupt this process—and I will gently and lovingly let you know if it is.
I will quote
in Pulp Fiction: “That voice in the back of your head? That’s pride f***ing with you. F*** PRIDE.” (I can even do that gently and lovingly. Truly.)
I will agree that you are a totally unique snowflake, but remind you that you are still a human snowflake and need to go through the aerobic conditioning process just like everyone else.
I’m not going to let you skip Chapter One of every training book ever written. We are going to live it together.
Over the course of the next 20 weeks, everything I am going to say may seem counterintuitive.
You will walk. A lot. Some days you may shuffle like my grandmother.
You will likely feel frustrated and confused.
You will say, “I have never heard this before” and I will say, “That’s because you buy training books and pull the training plans out but never actually read the book.”
You will say, “I’m going to lose my speed,” and I will say, “You sound like a drug addict in a nightclub.” (And you will not lose your speed, btw. I’ve got plenty of tricks up my sleeve, speed-wise, and you’ll actually love them.)
You will wonder when the red-faced grunting, gotta-slog-through-it workouts are going to appear. (They won’t. Ever.)
By the time we finish this 20-week Challenge cycle, your easy effort pace may surpass your previous marathon PR pace.
You will run a half-marathon, finish feeling stronger than you ever have, and you will have no trouble sitting or climbing stairs the next day.
Most importantly, you will fall in love with running again.
I’ve seen all three things happen regularly with my athletes.
But first, you are going to hate the process and likely also me. (I’ve, ahem, also seen that.) And that’s ok: we both can take it. You won’t hate me for long though. If you do exactly what I tell you to do, exactly how I tell you to do it, I will make you stronger and faster than you ever thought possible. You will wonder why you didn’t strap on a heart rate monitor years ago. (I’ll tell you why: aerobic conditioning and running economy is not sexy or exciting—and neither, really, is a heart rate monitor. I mean, it’s exciting to me, but definitely not sexy.)
Soon, you will tell all of your friends to wear a heart rate monitor and start swearing by the easy run. (They’ll just look like you called their mama fat and insists that they are beyond junk miles.)
Then you’ll connect with me in frustration.
I’ll remind you that once upon a time you too were a coachless, unloved runner who didn’t understand the easy run, but now knows how strong and fast she can be, thanks to plenty of easy runs.
It will be amazing.
I cannot wait to get started.