Can’t Slow Down!

crash and burn

Day #62: Why Runners Train Too Fast

It is a human trait – this constant need to put on a show. To present with a smile, to reply when asked “How are you?”: “Great! Thanks!”

Even if your world is falling apart around you, your emotions shambles, your sense of self-confidence teetering and your self-knowledge – and this may be the entire problem – shaky at best… We so often reply, “Great, thanks! And you?”

The same happens with our running. Our introduction is all stats: my PR is such and such — which measures out to 5:17 pace… — Truthfully, PR’s and PB’s — that’s all we have. All we runners seem to tout is our speed. And so we sit in a training jail of sorts, unable to improve in part because our reputation, and even our own sense of self-worth as runners, is based on “How fast can you go?” Sometimes, it is true, this also translates into “How far?” But speed is the real culprit — this is the stuff of the runner’s bravado. Or is it human bravado?

What I am really getting at today is our uncanny inability to slow down in our training. I have religiously wired up my heart rate monitor this week, and I have been surprised at what I have found out about myself. Here are my average heart rates for each of my last five runs: 148, 139, 146,153 and – during today’s up and down run in the mountainous terrain near my house – 144. According to Dr. Phil Maffetone’s 180 Formula (which I wrote about a few days ago) my MAT (Maximum Aerobic Threshold) is roughly 142bpm. This heart rate represents the cross-over point for my physiology where my body moves from burning essentially fats to burning essentially carbohydrates. It is also the point at which — if my heart exceeds the 142 bpm – I go into an anaerobic phase of training. According to Maffetone, it is crucial in acclimating the runner’s engine most efficiently, to train at or below this MAT in order to improve the body’s ability to run faster with equal effort. So, one would think that I could easily stick to this wise regimen of training – especially given the wondrous technology we now have which gives us in real time our stats on the go. I have my Polar H7 monitor and my iPhone4s linked up to give me my average heart rate and a bunch of other stats every .3 miles. (Yeah, I know, I am drowning in Stage 2 of my 4 Stages of Runners…:) Nevertheless, although .3 miles after .3 miles I get the same warning message piped in: “Too Fast!!! Slow Down!!!” I don’t. If you could see my detailed stats, they are all over the map — and consistently outside of my target heart rate.

So, what gives?? Is it the hard-headedness of humanity? Why won’t I slow down? Why can’t I slow down?

I am not sure of the answer. But I do know that I don’t want to train as slow as the Maffetone Method would have me do. I am used to running in the red, of agonizing through workout after workout. I am also used to being the object of onlookers’ – and fellow runners’ – favorable impressions about how “well” I am running as I cruise on by ‘looking good.’ In addition, it is etched into my DNA that Pain=Gain and that slow, nearly painless training is a waste of time.

How ironic it is that just the opposite is true. Would we slow down a great deal – this means me training at 10 minute average pace on my mountainous efforts and 8:20 pace on the flat roads – we would reap perhaps the greatest benefits we have seen in years in our training. Perhaps the greatest returns on our training investment in our careers.

So, all the while as I am trying to slam on the brakes in my workouts, yet with superficial-ism ever running me off of the road, I am met with those same two divergent roads in the woods: the Turtle’s way … or the Hare’s. Oh, that I would break through the facade, let the interested questioner in on my real heart, and let my legs, lungs and heart in on the real stuff of wise training.

Keep calm and slow down:)

~Coach Reed

image credit: crash and burn