Relearning How to Run Slowly

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Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

Most runners know that slow, easy runs are one of the keys to improvement. If you treat every run like a race, you’ll quickly end up burning out or even injuring yourself.

Unfortunately, running slowly is easier said than done. Running slowly can feel unnatural, and it’s hard not to let ego get in the way. It’s never fun to get passed by a pack of runners going twice your speed.

Last November, I wrote about my own struggles with learning to run slowly:

Over the course of last year, I had gotten much better about learning to slow down on my runs. I mostly kept the “fast” running to just one run every week or two.

Then, at the very end of last year, I hurt my leg and had to ease back on running. In January, I cut down to running just once a week, and by February, I realized that I had to take a break from running entirely.

My leg finally got better a couple of weeks ago. It’s been wonderful to be able to run again, but I find myself having to completely relearn how to run slowly.

Returning to Running After a Break

Even though I was only away from running for about a month and a half, my fitness level has absolutely decreased in that time. Simply put, I can’t run as fast or as far as I could last year.

It’s been a frustrating experience. I hope to get back to the fitness level that I had been at, but I know I need to gradually build back up to it. When I’m out on a run though, it’s hard to remember these new limitations.

I’ve been catching myself trying to run at my “normal” speed, which is no longer an easy pace for me. Instead, I wind up out of breath and cutting my runs shorter than planned.

The problem is that my body is used to a certain speed being “easy” for me, and that speed has now become hard. If I don’t pay careful attention though, my speed quickly creeps up over the course of each run.

My ego is definitely getting in the way as well. It feels disappointing to lose out on the progress that I made last year. I know I’m not starting over completely from scratch, but sometimes it feels like it.

How I’m Relearning Slow Running

Over the past week, I’ve been trying to make a strong effort to reign in my speed and stick to truly “easy” runs. It’s all the more important for me because I don’t want to end up hurting my leg again.

The thing that I’ve found most helpful so far is to wear a running watch and check it constantly. For the time being, I can’t rely simply on “feel,” because I’m too used to my old speed. Instead, I’ve got to stick to the pace on my watch until my body learns what my new easy pace feels like.

I’m also avoiding running on the popular trails, and sticking to neighborhood sidewalks where I’m less likely to encounter other runners. I know that I shouldn’t care what other runners think, but I also know that I find myself mindlessly speeding up when other runners are around.

I’m not sure whether I speed up because of ego-related issues, or if I’m just mindlessly matching their paces. Either way, I’ve found that the best way to avoid the issue is simply to avoid running around other people for now.

I’d like to get back to last year’s fitness level, and I think that in time I will. But, I know that if I try to rush the process, I’ll end up doing more harm than good. The path to running fast is spending a lot of time running slow.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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