I started off with calves that still hurt from Sunday’s run. I started by going uphill instead of down. I only got about three blocks before I had to drop down to a walk to make the top of the hill I was on. By all indications at the start, this should have been a very short run — maybe two miles — with a declaration of victory just for getting out on the road and doing a little hillclimbing.
I didn’t have a preset route or target distance. I made decisions about whether to go farther or back based only on how I felt, and then at around the three mile mark based on prudence. I know that jumping into five mile runs after five months of not getting out on the road at all is overdoing it, but I don’t want to over-overdo it.
What I found — I don’t know why this surprises me anymore — is that short runs are no fun. It takes me two and a half miles to warm up, and that’s two and a half mostly miserable miles. Once those two and a half miles are behind me, I start to feel great. The log bears this out: for the first two and a half miles I mostly maintained a 13 – 14 minute/mile pace, even going downhill. But the last two miles were almost all more like 11 – 12 minutes/mile. The only walking I did was going up the hill at the beginning and a little to cool down for the last twentieth of a mile.
Even eleven minute miles seem like a snail’s pace but it’s the difference between struggling along and actually having a fun run. Those last two miles were better than the beginning of the run in every way, too: my cadence was up around 90rpm (right where it should be) instead of down around 70rpm. My heartrate was up to 170 for miles four and five, while it was more like 155 – 160 for miles two and three.
(There are those who would say that 170 is too high. 220 minus my age puts my theoretical max HR at 179 and almost no one recommends running two miles — or any distance — at 95% of max HR. However, seven years ago when my theoretical max HR would have been 186 I routinely ran at 195bpm and even saw it as high as 206bpm. That may not have been smart and my body is both older and in much poorer shape than it was in those days, but the point is that the 220 minus age formula is useless.)
Though I expected it to be a tougher and shorter run than Sunday’s, I ended up doing nearly the same mileage (5.04 miles versus 5.10 miles), including around 200 feet more climbing, averaging a better pace (13:10/mile versus 13:30/mile) with my average heartrate and max heartrate both slightly lower than on Sunday. That tightness in my calves? It hurt when I was walking before the run, but during and after my calves felt great. If I didn’t have so much work to do, I’d be tempted to go out for another five miles. I feel great.
Sure, this is incremental progress, but is there any other kind? Would I like to be back to running eight minute miles and wearing a 32 belt? Of course. The numbers don’t matter, though. How I feel and how much fun I have are what matter. The things I can’t count are the only things that count.
After all, the more I enjoy it, the easier it will be to get out the door and do it again. More importantly the more I enjoy it, the more I enjoy it. So what does this mean for the future? I think it means that if I want to do fewer than four miles, I ought to walk them, and when I run, always push through to the three mile mark before thinking about giving up.