A friend of mine posted a question on Facebook the other day, calling out to a couple of us who are runners, hoping we'd have an answer for him. He's just started running, did his very first run this past week. He posted how far he went - a combination of jogging and walking - and how fast he did it, what his heartrate was, expressed as a percentage of max, and then wanted to know if all of this sounded reasonable. Was he going too slow? Should he be able to go faster than that? Was the heartrate about right?
The other running friend and I both responded to his Facebook post within minutes of each other, with nearly the same answers. We told him to stop concentrating on speed, heart rate, time; to just concentrate on how he feels. I mentioned the "talk" test as the best gauge of effort. Could he hold up his end of a conversation in short sentences, without gasping? We both suggested to him that, as a brand new runner, he should work on gaining distance, not speed. Speed will come naturally with experience. Work up to running 3 miles without walking, even if this means slowing down his pace.
My friend's question reminded me of a fellow who, several years ago, joined our running club. It's a club whose primary purpose is to train runners for the next year's marathon. He was a middle-aged fellow, a big guy carrying more than a few extra pounds, and he'd signed up as a brand new runner. Our season started in late June, starting that first Saturday with a three mile run, and then progressing to longer distances every week as we got deeper into the marathon training season.
As we took off running on that first morning, I remember thinking, as I saw this big fellow lumber ahead of much of the pack, that he was starting out too fast. Sure enough, we all caught up with him within a quarter of a mile when he stopped to walk, face red as a beet, sweat already soaking the back of his t-shirt. Then just a few moments later, I heard what sounded like a steam engine huffing and puffing behind me. He caught up and then overtook us, continuing on ahead. This went on several times during the run; if he would just slow down his pace, he might not have to walk so much, if at all. Eventually we left him far behind, to the care and ministrations of our coaches who would fall back near the end of each run to pull up the rear.
If you're new to running, or if you've been running a bit here and there but are now getting into a serious race training program, don't get caught up with the numbers. Instead, let yourself get caught up with the "feel." Use the feeling of "effort," not a clock, to tell you how you're doing. Use the feeling of accomplishment to gauge your success. If it feels good to you, then that's all that matters. Stick to realistic training objectives, build a good mileage base, then run that race and cross the finish line. And feel good about yourself, no matter what that clock says.
Oh....and Bob, my Facebook friend and brand new runner? Rock on, my friend! See you at a starting line somewhere soon!