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Running Fast, Long or Both

By Dan Van Veen

Let’s face it. Many things can negatively impact our ability to run – from commitments or injury to weather or age. Even if running is a priority in your life, there are simply some things that no matter how much we would like to control them . . . we can’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t run fast, long or both – it also doesn’t mean we HAVE to either.

Running fast is typically something tied into trying to beat a former PR. Yes, it’s relative as we all have our own definition of what fast is. But “fast” takes work and it’s definitely for those runners who are competitive. By competitive I’m not saying that you are always competing to place in your age group, though that could be true, but a person who pays pretty close attention to their pace, is always working to improve that pace, and comes across the finish line spent by their effort is “competitive.” It’s not necessarily about fun – it’s about accomplishment, being better/faster and for a competitive person, they’re typically willing to make the sacrifices to train in a way to make themselves faster. Nothing wrong with that – I was a “competitive” runner for years.

One of the things that really helped me achieve faster times when I was starting out (as I was pretty competitive) was an early morning Sunday running group – started at 6 a.m. and went 5 or so miles, depending on the group. Different paces were represented. I started out with a group that I knew I could keep up with (they said what pace they ran) and then I slowly attached myself to groups that were running faster paces.

Some keys for running with people better than you is that first, you let THEM talk so you conserve your energy and who knows, you may learn something about how they train that may help you get better or connect you with other runners/running groups. By being quiet, it also helps you learn the dynamics of the group and fit in more easily. Secondly, you enter their group KNOWING it’s going to be a challenge and running with a better group is an adrenaline rush of sorts. You’re probably a little fearful that you’ll not be able to keep up and you know it could result in you having to really dig deep (it’s gonna hurt) to run with them. Funny thing is, that fear is a source of adrenaline and it helps! : )

Of course, if you DO find a faster group, be realistic. First, if their pace is two minutes per mile faster, you’re likely taking too big of a jump..., but if it’s a minute or so faster and they’re doing a 5-mile run, even though it’s going to be at a pace that’s going to be pretty challenging, that’s not too big of a problem as even IF you do get dropped, by the time that happens, you’ll still likely be within a mile or two of finishing. HOWEVER, if it’s a 10-plus-mile run . . . okay, now you need to make sure you know the route being run and how to get back . . . get dropped at mile four and you have 6 or 11 or more miles left? On an out and back run, not a problem, but on a run that weaves in around neighborhoods that you’re unfamiliar with, it’s easy to get turned around. Yeah, I know, as a competitor, sometimes I bit off chunks too big for me, and ended up with a cold dose of reality slapping me upside the head . . ., but maybe we all need that from time to time. : )

In addition to running with faster groups, interval training on your own is probably one of the best ways to improve your speed and may be something you want to do before advancing to a faster group.

Now, over time, I realized that for my body, running and training to always be faster, seemed to lead to more and more injuries. So, I made the switch. Maybe I needed to run longer and at bit slower pace? I started with half marathons and moved up to marathons -- getting in more and more miles. At first, it seemed the answer. Of course, then, just like in shorter runs, I became a time watcher. Gotta keep a certain pace, gotta beat my last marathon time, gotta be faster. So, as you can guess, if running shorter distances and trying to always be faster led to injuries, running longer and trying to always be faster . . . well, guess what that led to? It wasn’t until I just decided to relax and run and let how I “feel” dictate my pace that the injuries reduced and I really started enjoying marathoning. Running became more of a therapeutic thing (social and stress-reducing) and less about finish lines and times. : )

One of the biggest keys to running long is to do what it takes to keep it from getting boring – so instead of thinking of every step or how long before you’re done, your mind is distracted. Some people run in groups, some people listen to music, some people use the longer miles for prayer or self-reflection – trust me, there’s a lot of truth to how much running is “mental.” However, you still need to be aware of your surroundings – for example, traffic and that you don’t run yourself into a potentially dangerous situation.

Now, for those who want to run fast and run long, remember the tempo runs for shorter races? Well, it’s really the same thing, only your tempo runs are longer. Once a week, you have a run that you’re running at your goal race pace or even a few seconds faster. The idea being to train your body to run at that pace . . . because here’s a secret: When you start a marathon, you SHOULD purposely start out slow. Why? Because, with all the build-up and adrenaline of the race, what FEELS slow and so easy is very likely race pace or faster already. Just settle into it. After the first mile marker, you likely find yourself right on target or within a few seconds. What you DON’T want to do is cross that first mile marker feeling like that was a pretty hard mile . . . as you likely ran WAY too fast and now you have 25.2 miles to go. IF that does happen, it might even be a good idea to move to the side and walk for a minute or, if it’s an aid station, take water and walk. Recover. And then start out again . . . easy and paced. You’ll be okay, you just don’t want to let an overzealous start gut your marathon. : )

Well, that’s it for now. The weather right now here is crazy and maybe for you too . . . 70s then snow followed by 40s and lows in the 20s, then rain and 80 all within three or four days -- tights one day and shorts the next – so much fun!

Have an awesome run today!


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