Dare to go slower
“How should I run?”
“Where should I start?”
“What’s the secret to sticking with it?”
As a new year arrives the same question comes pouring in again: “How do I run?”
THIS will be the year that new runners solve the puzzle, turn that stubborn page and discover the secret path to the “Runner’s High.”
But people never want to hear the simple truth: run slower.
I get it, being told to go slower feels pedantic.
It sounds exclusive.
As if jogging was like operating a forklift: a dangerous activity reserved for those with training.
Those of us offering guidance are keeping the best part of the sport, running fast, for ourselves!
After all, jogging is the most human of movements, shouldn’t it be open to all? The answer is Yes, most of us can move daily in some form, but our ego often isn’t prepared for the low rate at which our body can stride after time off.
The new runner knows it may have been a while, but they hope running will still be there for them like it once was. Maybe they remember what it felt like as a child, dashing full of exasperation, inspiration, and freedom.
And here we are telling them to shuffle? Asking them to look past the tempting dream of striding out, suspended in space. Instead, encouraging them to barely break a sweat?
It sounds preposterous. It also sounds dull.
After all, if even easy running is gonna feel hard, might as well push it right? There’s nothing to lose.
If only joints, muscles, and tendons responded kindly to such urgency. Sadly, the most likely result from igniting all that inspiration at once is exhaustion and injury.
I mean I get it, the desire to push beyond the zone of comfort feels synonymous with running, to begin with. The simple intent of the exercise is the effort. So no one, after months or years of not running, wants to be told to take it “easy.” That’s what they’ve been doing! Their very question of how to successfully get started is an intent to break free from such lethargy. The harsh truth, if stated more fully would be, “Even easy running is hard, so start there. If you do that repeatedly, eventually your slow running will get quicker.”
It sounds like an insult, but it’s simply the truth and the inevitable path to consistent running. But it feels almost absurd.
“Very slow running is not running at all but walking,” is how Matt Fitzgerald put it in his seminal book for beginners titled 80/20 Running, about how the best runners get better by running easy. “The average person naturally transitions from walking to running at a pace of thirteen minutes per mile.”
“The problem is that many runners, especially new and overweight runners, are already near the ventilatory threshold [where it gets difficult] as soon as they transition from walking to running. These runners don’t have much room to work with within the low-intensity zone.”
So the advice often given to beginners is reasonable, but tricky to follow, which is why it so rarely results in success. Why it leads to quitting again altogether.
The harsh truth is that running is never entirely easy. And the desire to push too hard, too early, entices us all.
So if the inquiring beginner will listen I reassure them that daring to go slowly is not simply their current plight, but is actually part of the sport’s lifelong pursuit. As my friend Tommy Rivers Puzey described easy running in one interview,
“What I’ve found, from the research that I’ve done, if I [run easy], then there’s always going to be stress, but emotional stress is not one of the components that contributes to that total level of stress. Our bodies have a hard time differentiating different types of stresses. Whether it’s physical stress, or work stress, or family stress.
Or all the other angst that comes from being a human being.
If there’s not emotional stress contributing to that total pool of stress, from my training, if it’s not something that I dread, if it’s not something that it’s like, ‘I have to do go out and push this pace at this zone and this heart rate today,” then my total overall level of stress is lower, which means my cortisol levels are lower, which means my testosterone stays higher, which means that my body recovers better, and my mood is better.”
He chuckled as he described this simple insight, dumbfounded by the simple benefits of not beating himself up emotionally while also pacing himself physically.
The beginner can be forgiven for falling into traps that even ensnare professionals. Each January I wonder if this will be the year that others accept the simple advice to go slower not as a rebuke, but an invitation. A welcoming instruction intended to ease the misconception that strain leads to success.
But again, I get it, it’s a recipe that sounds much too simple.
It demands audacity to shuffle while your ego screams to surge. It requires patience to progress from a speed that at first feels absurdly slow. But with practice, and potentially a friend for support, beginners can discover the truth that so many of us veterans remind ourselves daily: there’s no need to rush, cause we’ve got a long way to go…