Feb 21, 2011

On long runs and my lack thereof

My light(er)weight running friends seem to be able to go running at an easy (for them) 9 minute per mile pace and smile and laugh and enjoy the time like they're watching a good movie or reading a good book. Time just flies by for them and they can knock out significantly long runs in 3 or 4 hours. I, on the other hand, have a significantly different experience in the 5 or 6 hours the same distance takes me. This is due to my being obese. One friend in particular uses the word "disadvantage" to describe my size in running and I think that's a great word to describe it.

So my friends can run 9s all morning and feel good about it. Relatively speaking, I might feel the same way at 13 minutes per mile, but I'd feel like I was accomplishing little, and at that speed doing a 20-mile training run would take for-friggin' ever. As a result, my training runs tend to be fast (for me), but because I can't maintain even 11 minutes per mile for more than a half marathon or so, they also tend to be short. At a race, where I know I'll be out there all day anyway and I'm with people, I can mentally accept going 13 minutes per mile or slower. But I almost never run that speed in training alone, which is why most of my long runs tend to be races.

The effect of this is my training tends to lack very long runs. I do work hard in each and every one of my training runs, but because I work so hard they tend to be short. As a practical matter, I feel like I'm forcing adaptation. My body responds to daily hard work by making itself lighter, thus making the hard work easier. But that's little more than an educated guess. What probably is actually happening is that I'm an impatient fool who can't be bothered to run slow and get the benefits that I can only get by running long.

My last three weeks of training. The 10-miler was a race.
I do realize that there is nothing wrong with running slow and speed is not relevant or a point of doing a 25-mile training run. The issue for me is not rational, but neurotic. If it seems to you that I should probably be addressing my personal psychological issues, I'd probably agree. However, I'd rather leverage these issues now to get my cruising easy pace down to 9 minutes per mile or whatever I'm capable of when lean and worry then about the inevitable "not feeling like I'm accomplishing anything if I'm not running 7s" (sounds like one helluva problem to have.)

As my weight is dropping I'm starting to see the effects in my pace. The perceived effort I was putting into these runs used to net me 11 minutes per mile and now I'm doing 10. But I still have a long long way to go before I feel like I can run with my shirt off (which I guess is my goal.) As my weight continues to drop I expect a corresponding increase in speed, perhaps to the point where I can actually hang with my friends when they tick off a few dozen nine-minute miles. That would be nice.


  1. Just go out for time on your long days. Keep it relaxed and the duration will do what it needs to do. I use this method, no clue how fast I am going but run "easy" for 2,3 hours in prep for up to 50k. I am sure I am about 2-3 minutes slower than race pace.

    I do higher intensity on other days which really helps shed excess (fat) weight by increasing lean muscle mass.

    When I feel overwhelmed, I go easier than easy and let my body find its way.

  2. I agree with The Sean. Don't worry about your distance. Go for a time.

  3. I think you will see improvements in "speed" over time. Just have patience (I know easier said than done). I know recently you have been setting all sorts of PR's.

    There are lots of runners with natural talent/ability who are lucky enough to be super speedy, but then there are those of us who tend to be in the 12-15 min/mile pace (which I still consider myself). It takes lots of effort to go faster, but over time it will become easier...

    And I agree that going for time definitely is important, I think there are a bunch of studies that talk about getting into various thresholds based on time.

    You are out there running, so be proud of yourself and enjoy it!!

  4. Steve -- do you have an established training method that you're using, or is it less structured?

    If the former, what are yo using, out of curiosity?

    If the latter, have you considered finding one that's designed for whatever goals you have in min? E.g. I understand the FIRST method is supposed to be excellent for workingon marathon time without doing too many "long" runs (see: http://amzn.to/gT9q7X).

  5. Sorry the above was me, didn't mean to post anon.

  6. Oh, I don't know if I will *ever* do a dozen nine minute miles. I've been training faithfully since October and I'm juuuuust getting to the point where I can run 2 miles in a row at just under 10 minutes each. And I'm pushing to do it - it hurts. And I'm a fairly fit girl. I don't understand how my sister, who just "picked up running to help her overweight husband run a 5k" in late December, is claiming to be running 7 minute miles right now. Maybe I'm just not built for distance?

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Sean/Ajones: I could go for time. "four hours" is a lot less intimidating than "30 miles." That doesn't address the fact that cruising at 12-13 minutes per mile, which is about all I can do for 4 hours, is hard for me because of impatience.

    Tammy: I have seen speed improvements over the years and actually feel like I've maxed out my potential at 300lbs. I will see further improvements as I focus on weight loss. And - by the way - I've seen you run. The only time you're 12-15 MPM is in a 100.. but 100s are a different story. (:

    Rick: No program, goals are a 100-miler with a few thousand feet of climbing in april, a 100K with 10,000' of climbing in May, and a 100-miler with 20,000' of climbing in August. And my other goal is to run without a shirt on. There are programs, but remember that most are written in terms of miles, not hours - and, as I said above, my problem with long runs isn't the run itself, but the pace I must do them at.

    Erin: I have been watching your progress with interest because of the parallels to my own training. It took me years (many years) before I could run 2 in 20, like you can already do. You are indeed fit, which is why it's taking a lot less time for you. You're still starting out and I would definitely not rule out that you're built for distance; quite the contrary. It may be that your sister is genetically wired for speed while you got endurance. But you have to develop it.

  8. Steve, I struggle with "speed" as well. I've tried and tried to be faster. Short runs are improving but my long runs take all day. I have to force myself to do point to points or go really far on the "out" so I'm forced to do the "back." Often, after many hours and much frustration, I call my husband to come get me.

    I can relate!