This, my friends, is a story about running but it’s so much more. It’s an allegory for the ages. Book mark this for your young children.
I’ve been running since December 1994 and through the years I’ve maintained a respectable, if not blazing, 10-minute per mile pace. Not bad for a somewhat top heavy, non-natural athlete with a super long second toe and miniscule threshold for physical pain.
This past summer, for the first time ever, all of my runs felt awful. I slogged 4.5 miles a few times a week, each time convinced that there had to be a good reason– El Nino, reality TV, lack of women in CEO positions– why it was so NOT FUN. I upgraded my music and that helped a little bit. By August, I still hated almost every step, but kept with it because running is a cheaper stress reliever than felony murder and also, I like ice cream.
In September, I started running on the lake front path where there are mile markers. Fiddling with my stop watch and timing my laps seemed like a good distraction from the agonizing feeling in my body while I was running. The first run I timed showed me running an 8-minute mile. I assumed that I didn’t know how to work my stop watch. The next time: same thing. I passed each half mile marker at four minutes. This time, I figured that the mile markers were spaced incorrectly.
I embarked on a research project to determine whether the official half-mile markers on the Chicago lakefront are accurate. Turns out, they are, and just like that I am now an 8-minute miler, which is all good and badass, except, the runs were still sucking. Hard. And it wasn’t because of the dearth of women in positions of power in corporate American or because I was peri-menopausal.
It’s because I was running too fast.
Whew. That’s a good problem. That’s an easy-to-fix problem. I mean, how hard is it to just run slower? There would be more air for my deprived lungs, more joy in my lumbering legs, more mental space to dream up my next invention instead of cursing the pavement like a drunk pirate.
I set my stop watch and prepared for my first “slow” run. As I approached the first mile marker, I was sure I had mastered the art of slowing down. I was the picture of Zen running. I was shocked to see that I’d actually picked up the pace, clocking that first half mile at 3:56.
Slowing down was harder than I thought. For the second half mile, I played a slow Willie Nelson song (Always On My Mind) and ruminated about lost loves and missed opportunities. I shed a tear and clocked in at 4:01.
All that effort to slow down and I added 1 measly second to my time.
Thing is, I want the joy and the ease of running a pace that makes my body happy. The other thing is, I’m quite possibly am incapable of slowing down. My mind and body conspire to keep me moving at a pace I can’t sustain, the cost of which is to rob me of the sublime high that comes from an enjoyable run.
I’ve been at it for several months now. I’ve managed to add almost 22 seconds onto each half mile. By spring, I’ll be up to a 9-minute mile.
Not many people I know are trying to add time to their pace. But I am, and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve tried to do in a long time.