Long is the New Fast

A long, long time ago (1999) in a land far, far away (Del Mar, CA) I ran a 5k with my roommate, Angela. It took us 43 minutes. Actually it took me 43 minutes. It took Angela 42:59. Way to leave me in the dust, Ang. We were 21 and 22 years old. Angela was older AND faster. We ran four or five 5k’s in that general time frame. We had become enthralled with the “free t-shirt and beer” that most of these events gave out. Plus it added some health benefits to our weekends, fitting nicely between Friday at the bar and $0.29 cheeseburgers at McDonald’s on Sundays. This particular 5k had attracted us because there was a mexican food lunch at the finish. After a month or so, Angela figured out that, if we kept up with this weekly habit, the “free t-shirts and beer” at these events would end up averaging us $100-125 a month in entry fees. Angela was getting a degree in accounting at the time. Thank god for her. Anyway, this directly threatened our bar clothing budget in an upsetting manner and our fitness craze ended at once.

The time I have record of is the only one listed on Athlinks but I can safely assume this was our typical pace at all the events in that time period. Before anyone forms a lynch mob and calls me a snotty ass brat, I’m not saying there is ANYTHING wrong with this time. Participating in a 5k at any speed is a worthwhile endeavor regardless of speed. Stay with me for a second. It gets less obnoxious, I swear. So my 5k’s were largely walking, occasionally jogging for a minute or two. We’d sometimes (I think it happened two or three times. In total.) run during the week with my boyfriend at the time. He could run for several minutes in a row without clutching his chest or threatening to vomit. Also he never cried and demanded we turn around and go home. This made him sort of our running mentor. He’d say encouraging things and lead us on a little jaunt around the neighborhood. I think he thought maybe he could train us to be less ridiculous. Poor guy.

So those 5k’s were the sum total of my fitness routine in my early 20’s and I quit them when I was 21. I didn’t like to sweat at all, being out of breath for even a second felt horrifying and miraculously I maintained a mostly acceptable weight despite the fast food and bar habit.

Fast forward a few years and a baby and that moment when I discover I am wearing the largest size that my favorite store carries. And that size? Its getting snug. Hmmm.

I joined Weight Watchers and the local YMCA. Tracked all my eating and went to spin class 4-5 days a week. Loved it.

Then I had another baby. I love being pregnant. All. That. Food. I floated around in the food for close to a year after baby #2 was born. Had a repeat of the whole “my fat clothes are tight” experience and back to spin class I went. This time I signed up for My Fitness Pal, an online diet/fitness tracking program.  Again, weight came off. Life was good. I love spin class.

In the summer of 2010, baby #2 was just over a year old, my sister-in-law suggested we join a half marathon training group that the Y was offering. I didn’t really want to run. I certainly didn’t want to run for that long. Spin class was working for me. I’m still really not entirely sure why I signed up for the running program.

We started in July or August and our goal was a half marathon in December. The first few runs were 3 miles each. I barely made it through them. I had no idea how I would get through all the longer runs on training schedule. Little by little, week by week, I muddled through those runs. For the most part they did not feel good. I recall an 8 mile run that randomly felt really, really strong and good. Otherwise it was just a slog and survive it mentality.

So why did I do it? And why did I go on for two more half marathons despite spending half of the first race swearing “never again”? And why, after silently laughing at the “poor suckers” who were running the full at each of my halfs, did I then decide to go for the marathon? For three marathons now?

Because you get to go slow and you get to eat.

I’m not even shitting you. I wouldn’t shit you. Ask anyone.

When that first half marathon training got to the point of long runs over an hour, the coaches brought up the concepts of long, slow distance and fueling. Say what? Fueling? Slow? Yeah, so it turns out that a favored training style for distance running is to do your long runs, actually the majority of your runs, at an easy pace to build endurance. And if you are going to be running more than 1/1.5 hours? Well you’re going to need to eat something. Eating? And running at a comfortable pace? Umm, yes please.

All my prior attempts at running had sucked so  badly because I just assumed the goal was to go all full speed. I could manage that for a few minutes and then the painful crash would leave me pissed off. To top that off I wasn’t even running long enough to earn a soothing snack while on the road. Phooey.

So I’ve been running for a year and a half now. I’ve been actually working at it diligently for about a year. I’m absolutely faster than I was but I’m still not particularly fast. According to the race results of almost all my recent events my finish times put me in the 50th percentile of my age group. So I’m average and I’m thrilled. And I have snacks while I run. Win. Win.

So, to bring this all back to my 5k’s over 10 years ago, I was barking up the wrong tree with short distance stuff. I’m not good at being fast. I’m not good at racing against other people.  I’m not good at feeling out of breath and winded. I’m good at tracing out a nice, meandering 18 mile tour of local suburbs. I’m good at plotting how many gel packs I need to bring and making sure there is a nice place to stop for a diet coke along the way. I’m good at recognizing the triumph in adding one extra mile this week.

Long is the new fast, my friends. I cannot wait to see where this might end up taking me and, yet I’m happy to cruise along til I get there.

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