A Running Practice

So this is cool.

I went for a run this afternoon along the Chicago River Walk. It’s just about exactly a mile and a half from the point where the River Walk begins, right across the Lake Street bridge from home, and the flagpole where the river meets Lake Michigan. So three miles, there and back: a little twisty, but mostly flat and at this time of year not much foot traffic. On a cool, sunny day, springtime in Chicago… oh yah.

I didn’t run much over the winter—because I’m a pussy, if you must know—so even after three or four good runs so far this year I feel out of practice. But if you think about it that’s a pretty odd thing to say about something we learned to do right about the time we learned how to talk, right? I mean how much practice do you need to run?

Well, today I found out.

The last few runs have been kind of a struggle. And it’s been disconcerting to me because I really feel like I’m in something close to peak condition. Last year I was regularly taking all three of those River Walk miles at a 7:15 pace—which is hella good for me, ya haters lol—yet so far this year I can barely manage an eight-minute mile. So what gives?

Today I hit the flagpole at the halfway point and I felt okay. A little out of breath, but that’s running. And I thought, maybe I should open my chest up a bit, which is odd because that’s a yoga thought, not a running thought. But I did it anyway: I lengthened my stride and inhaled three steps until my chest wanted to crack, then opened my mouth and exhaled three steps until my belly met my spine… and then I did it again…

… and again…

In the space of a minute, two things happened.

First, I remembered how to run. More specifically, I remembered how I run, my own idiosyncratic practice of running. My practice:

  • Link movement to breath. Count the pace on the inhale and exhale.
  • Focus on the breath. The count is my mantra. Use peripheral vision to track pedestrians and obstacles.
  • Expand the breath. Inhale and exhale to the stops, creating a bigger target for focus and maximizing oxygen intake.

I’d forgot the last bit over the winter—probably because I’ve never actually written this down until now, hmm—and so naturally I was finding my attention hard to focus and myself out of breath.

So the second thing that happened was that my pace improved, immediately and dramatically. And it improved without any apparent extra effort: either way I was running at about an 80% level of effort. Take a look (it’s a bit more than three miles because I ran to the starting line):

One-mile splits on a run down memory lane.

That last short split really tells the story… I figured it out with about a mile to go, so the third split shows some improvement as well. But the bottom line is that I was able to shave 30+ seconds off an eight-minute mile, with no apparent increase in effort, simply by reverting to a practice I already had.

So on the one hand, cool! Ready for summer!

On the other hand…

Think about that. Is there anything you aren’t doing that would give you a better result for your effort, that you already know how to do?

Time for a little personal inventory.

Tell me why I'm full of shit!