Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Amazing Shuffle

I have been reading Jeff Galloway's book on running, called something very obvious and momentous, like, "Galloway's Book on Running." In the book, Mr. Galloway explains that on our easy jogging days, we should be keeping our heart rate around 65%. Definitely no more than 75% of our maximum heart rate. Now, my maximum heart rate is somewhere in the vicinity of 190 -- 195. When I run -- and I am using the term loosely -- my heart rate quickly exceeds the "easy" or "recovery" heart rate that I am supposed to be maintaining. On my last run, my training software told me that I was in the "zone four" most of the time. this means that my heart rate when I try to run is somewhere between 80 and 90% of my maximum. This is not good. Apparently, if I train too hard too often, one of three bad things will befall me:

  1. Massive injury.
  2. Susceptibility to nasty bugs and viruses.
  3. Something called a "slump," in which a sad looking pencil drawing of a man is slumping against a wall.
I routinely suffer minor injuries, such as calves that get extremely tight, legs that turn into numb blocks of ice, and a bruised pride whenever I tell somebody I ran 3 miles in 48 minutes, and they respond, "isn't that just like a brisk walk?"

Yes, asshole. It is. I'm learning.

I'm not sure if I have slumped yet, as I am neither drawn of pencil, nor have I had to lean up against the wall in lethargy anytime recently.

I am pretty sure, however, that several nasty bugs and viruses have set up camp in my throat, from which they have launched their weeklong invasion on the rest of my body, leading to fatigue, lethargy, and the desire to slump up against a wall. I can only imagine that the reason I have been so susceptible to viruses is because I have pushed myself on what are supposed to be "easy" days.

So today, I tried something different. I stepped out the door with no intention of keeping a particular pace, or finishing in a certain time, or wowing my friends with tales of 13 minute miles. No, ladies and gentlemen, my only goal was to keep my pulse around 150 beats per minute, which would put me at about 75% of my maximum heart rate, ensuring that the entire run would be "easy" and the nano invaders in my throat would soon be destroyed by virtue and good health.

The first few minutes started out like they always do: I walked for a bit to warm up, and then I started jogging at a too fast pace of 5 mph. My pulse was steadily rising, surpassing 120, 130, and hovering around 140. Great, I told myself, everything is going according to plan.

Soon, with my steady pace, my pulse continued to rise. As it was still below 150, however, I was still okay to go. Then, the hills. As most of you know, it is impossible to run up hills at the same pace while keeping your heart rate steady. My pulse quickly began to rise, and I quickly began to walk. The next half hour was an amusing journey, in which, every 30 seconds, I looked down at my watch to find out what my heart rate was, saw that it was over 150, and backed off. All told, my average pace -- not that I am worrying about these sorts of things -- was 3.5 mph. Yes, that is a brisk walk. Not even all that brisk, come to think of it. But that is also a rather slow shuffle. And that is what I did: shuffled over 2 1/2 miles. I kept my pulse at an average of around 150 the whole time, except on the very steep downhill in which I had to actually run at around 5 mph in order to keep my pulse high enough -- characterized as over 145.

So, here are my findings: I felt like kind of a jerk shuffling along at 3 1/2 mph under the guise of "running." But I managed to keep my pulse around 150 the whole time, I added almost 3 miles to my running base, and for once, I would actually characterize my run as "easy." Yes, I was running at a very slow rate, but I felt great. I felt like I was getting exercise, and I finally understood what an "easy run" is supposed to feel like.

I realize that I am very out of shape, that I have never run before, and that I am starting out as a pure beginner. But I also realize that, if I continue to do this by the book -- Jeff Galloway's book -- I will build endurance and cardiovascular fitness at a slow, steady, and maintainable rate. If I keep this up, jogging two or three "easy" days a week (including my long-run), and one harder day in which I push myself and keep my pulse higher for a brief time, I will quickly improve.

I'm not sure if I will improve quickly enough to beat a time of 45 minutes in the very upcoming cherry blossom 5K, or whether Granny Smith with her walker will walk the 5K more quickly than I will shuffle it, or whether my name will forever be inscribed in the annals of the cherry blossom website as "that guy who was beaten by several 80 and 90-year-olds," or --

Wait, where was I?

Anyway, the point is, even though my run was pathetically easy, it was just hard enough, and I feel great. And I look forward to feeling great on a regular basis.

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