I mash my foot to the floorboard. My RPMs rise higher and higher, yet I can’t shift up. If my body is a running machine, then I’m missing crucial running gears.
I learned how to drive with on a stick shift, a 1989 Ford Bronco II. The gears were butter, barely any need for the clutch at all.
My next two vehicles were also manual, a Chevy Tracker and a Hyundai Accent. The gears on the Accent were not butter. They were some combination of gravel and chalkboard. The slightest misstep produced a screeching noise, as grinding gears attempted a shift.
During my run at high noon Tuesday, I remembered how difficult shifting was in that Accent. I settled into my easy run pace, but when I tried to pick it up slightly, I couldn’t find the next gear. I was grinding. My heart rate (RPMs) skyrocketed with no tangible resulting surge.
When I’m running my best, I have clear pace delineations. For me, the easiest way to qualify them is using race distances. I know my marathon pace, half marathon pace, 10k pace and 5k pace, as well as my threshold pace, which floats somewhere between half marathon and 10k. More importantly, I know how my body should feel and react at each pace.
Right now, however, I can’t even get to marathon pace feel, which I can only describe as settling into a hard effort that I know I can hold. When I try to find that pace, I jump straight from easy effort level to heart rate above 200 and engine ready to blow up.
I’m on a quest to add back my running gears. Thankfully I have many factors in my favor.
First, I know the summer heat has combined with a lot of time off to strip those running gears away from me. I took a scheduled 12-day break after my last marathon (at the end of May). Then I missed 10 out of 11 days leading up to Tuesday because of sickness. While rest is good, too much of it is not helpful in my quest.
Second, I don’t have to go back very far in my running log to find a block of training runs where I locked in for specific pace-based workouts. Through March and into early April I ran some of my best training runs ever.
But even though I ran really well a few months ago, I know I was still missing a few running gears. I was focused on upcoming races, so I rarely dropped down to anything more than 15 seconds faster than goal marathon pace. I didn’t race a 5K from July 4 of 2015 all the way until the Pankcake run 5K on March 19th of this year. That race immediately made me realize I needed to make some training adjustments.
So how do I reclaim my running gears?
My plan is to adjust my training to do more speedwork and add a whole lot of patience. Nothing will change this week. I probably won’t see a difference into late August. But if I’m consistent and methodical, when September rolls around, I’ll start feeling those running gears again.
This running setback could be a good thing. Struggling is never good. But I can turn it into a positive by recognizing what is wrong.
I have been on my current course for a long time. I spent so much energy focused on the marathon. Qualifying for Boston (and then doing it again with more cushion) became my sole focus for four years. I lost my faster running gears along the way. All I need to do is look at my race finish times. While I knocked off five and 10-minute chunks from my marathon, I rarely achieved PRs in shorter distances. And when I did PR, it was by a few seconds. When I raced half marathons, they were barely faster than the first half splits I ran in my full races.
From here, I must make a commitment to getting back on the track. From 200-meter to mile-repeats, I need to relearn how to run all-out and just-past-threshold-pace intervals. And the more I do, the more I will settle in to the different pace levels.
That’s the best way to regain my lost gears.
The marathon will always be my favorite distance. But I know my past approach leads to an eventual plateau.
So if you seen me huffing and puffing along here in the next few months, you will know what I’m doing.
I’ve created a mountainous goal, and I’m setting out to climb it.