the ongoing evolution of being a runner


September 16, 2015 by scratchtype1

I ran 8.2 miles today, which put me up over 20 already for the week and thus gave me the first-ever stretch of 52 weeks of running at least 20 miles. The closest I came to not making that weekly goal was the week after the half-marathon in late November, when I ran 8.3 miles on a Sunday to push me to 20.2 miles. The other difficult period was in late March and early April when fatigue stemming from an unknown cause (although I suspected a reflare of the latent mono virus that exists in me since catching mono back in 2004) when I ran in the low 20s for 3 weeks.

I imagine that every runner has their preferences. Some runners like the hard stuff, the intervals, the fast miles, the 5K races. I’m towards the other end. I really don’t like 5K races and the last I ran was back in April 2014. Maybe I’ll do one sometime this fall or early winter. Maybe not.

Still, if you’re runner and have spent any decent amount of time googling and net-researching ideas about training, you’ve likely at some point come across stuff about low heartrate training. Maffetone. Hadd. John Parker. Stu Mittleman. Each of those have some differences in how they set the training zones, but in most cases, for most runners starting a program styled off their ideas, they’ll find themselves running slow. Real slow. Embarrassingly slow. Did I just get passed by a turtle? But I think there is an important idea underlying things, that there is a zone of aerobic function that many runners never fully develop and it is the lowest one. It’s a zone where often many people can’t exclusively run, they will have to take walk breaks, especially on uphills, to keep the heart rate down. Although with time training in that zone, those walk breaks can diminish and even disappear.

From what I’ve recently read, there might be a deflection point. Below a certain heart rate for an individual, the fuel being burned is predominately fat. Above that point, each successive increase of heart rate increases how much glucose is being burned. You can do that and for many of us, we’ll still consider the run to be easy-feeling. But when you do so, you’re not developing that part of the aerobic engine which uses fat for fuel.

So that’s the idea that Maffetone and others try to exploit. It’s an area that’s often underdeveloped in runners. And sometimes, for some, developing that can give a boost to speed for races from 5K and greater in distance. But there is a good chance that if someone only runs slowly, their top end sprint speed will decrease.

But for me, I suppose, the big thing since I began running again a little over 2 years ago was trying to find what I enjoyed about running, what I could love about it, what might give me a sense of happiness, however fleeting and ephemeral that might be. As a result, I haven’t really done any sort of rigorous training plan. Mostly I’ve just tried to go out as often as possible, as often as is safe based upon the situation, and run some. Usually easy, because I like easy running and hate intervals. Although sometimes I end up tossing in some faster stuff and I’ve had some runs that started off easy but cranked up some as the run went on because the legs just felt so damned good.

But late August and early September, I was struggling some. The running streak that had started on April 13 was still alive, but more and more I was often feeling a sense of dread before running. I wasn’t running hard, but things just kept getting worse. Then one evening I looked at my log and saw how many runs I had labeled as recovery in the prior days. What the hell? I thought I was okay. I had even recently noticed that it seemed like my heart had gotten bigger and resting heart rate had dropped some.

But then something tickled at the back of my head about how sometimes a depressed heart rate could indicate overtraining. And I thought about how I had been doing this running streak and for 6 weeks during it, I had taken antibiotics for Lyme disease. Maybe I was running out of gas. Maybe I had been outrunning my fitness and running too much, too hard, even if it felt easy to me.

So I went to the heart rate strap and began using it to keep me under my maf-number. The first week of it was weird. I ran super super easy and and it was almost impossible to reach the maf-number. I came back from the first few runs with a heart rate average about 7 beats below the maf-number. But then came a run where the heart seemed more responsive to stress and I had to walk more often and run real slow. After 5 days, I was wondering what the hell was going on.

But then I thought: what if overtraining can also depress heart rates too? Maybe those early runs with the strap again showed that my heart simply couldn’t rise up the way it could because my parasympathetic nervous system was clamping it down.

Finally this last weekend the big thing happened. No, it wasn’t that I began cranking out quick-paced miles on a maf-paced run, but that I began to feel good again while running. Actually pace did begin improving again, but mostly the emotional aspect of the runs were pleasant again. Especially the barefoot runs. Some people say that low heartrate running is boring, but for me it’s not boring when my feet are reading the ground below me. Of course the cooler late summer weather helps with it some too, but for me at the time, about 6 days of strict maf-running had given me back the joy that had been missing lately. Running had become a chore. But not now.

I have no idea what this means now with a little over 2 months until the half-marathon, but for now, I’m not too concerned about that. I just hope to keep running and enjoying that experience. Right now, with where I am and who I am, that means running really easy, really slow. If I’m doing it that way, then it’s right, no matter what the race results may bring.


3 thoughts on “the ongoing evolution of being a runner

  1. I can’t believe you can run with treatment. Go you! You’re doing an awesome job and you’ve got a great perspective. This is really encouraging for me. I set goals for myself, but when I can’t keep with my schedule to meet those goals I get really down and discouraged. But you helped me see that the pace isn’t the issue, it’s the result that the end of the day. I needed to hear that, so thanks.

    • scratchtype1 says:

      Well I’m past antibiotic treatment for Lyme now, although the running streak I’ve got going now began before the tick bite and diagnosis. Of course, there’s individual variance probably as to how much Lyme can affect someone and there’s likely some people out there who are immune to the disease. If those people get bitten, their immune systems are able to wipe out the bacteria on their own. You just try to do what you can and when I was talking with my doctor, he encouraged me to try to continue to run, but just do what I felt able to do. So if I got to a point where I didn’t feel like running anymore, I just started walking and went home from there.

      So just do what you can and consider those goals in the context of what’s going on. For me, the important thing to remember when I run is that because I like how it makes me feel, that I’m outside and moving and sometimes it’s able to tame my thoughts into a comfortable rhythm. That happens most often when I just run easy or really easy, so I don’t need to be fast or sweating or experiencing a pounding heart.

      Hope you get to feeling better and back to all that you want to do.

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