The Art of Pacing

Exercise 150I strap on my heart monitor and put on my shirt — the one that is clearly athletic wear but doesn’t bunch around my “generous” stomach so much that it accentuates how out of shape I am. I put on my shorts, my performance socks, my baby-minimalist shoes. I grab my phone/running app, my keys, a stick of gum to chew when I’m racing down the block. I stretch, I walk out of the door, I imagine myself breezing down the sidewalk, breathing deep (but not panting). I open the app when I’m ready to go.

It tells me that my estimated time for my distance is 28 minutes. I know I’ll do it in 25. I’m going to OWN. THIS. RUN.

When I limp back home 30 minutes later, panting with shooting pains in my ankles and knees, I can only think one thing: that sucked. Usually, I do fine in the first mile or so, before my breath starts to fail me. I push through that, and then my muscles start to seize and cramp; before long, there’s persistent pain in my ankle, or my knee. Either my lungs or my legs give out soon after, and I come to a point where I need to stop. I walk the rest of the way home, and my legs are sore for days afterward.

A couple of days pass, and then it’s time for my next run. I try to find an excuse to put it off — the leg isn’t quite healed from last time, or I’m way too tired to get in a run today. Sometimes, those excuses actually work and I skip a run day. That just makes the next one harder, but since I’m rested I think I’m going to ace it. The cycle begins anew.

The problem here is that I’m a weak-lunged, sedentary office worker who thinks he’s going to be a rock-star athlete every time he laces up his running shoes. Pushing myself is a good thing, but maybe not to the point I’ve been doing. To even get close to the ten-minute mile (which is my personal nirvana), I have to push my heart rate towards maximum for a fairly sustained period. I’m just not fit enough to hang with the big dogs yet, even though I want to.

Recently, I’ve joined an online training program for runners, and my trainer is really, really big on pacing yourself. She says that making sure you want to run slow enough that you can hold a conversation while you do it, which…to me doesn’t sound like running. But she swears by it; going slow increases your endurance and fitness levels to the point where you can run faster, easier. I’m clocking 14-minute miles right now, and most days I’m chomping at the bit to do more. But I’m running more regularly than I have in a long time. And that’s the point.

Transferring this lesson to other areas of my life is a really great idea. Most days I’m chomping at the bit to get everything done — I want to cook in as much as possible, keep up with the Writing Desk here, bang out short stories, read more novels, exercise more, clean the burrow, spend more quality time with the husband, work harder with the day job, catch up to the system and story in my Pathfinder game…the list goes on. But the truth of the matter is I’m still a 98-pound weakling when it comes to productivity. If I try to do everything at once, I’m going to push my brain to a level of activity it just can’t sustain. It will break down and burn out.

That happened last week, which is why the first chapter of Sleepwalkers didn’t go up as planned. I’d like to make it up this week, but…we’ll see. The trick is to push myself, but not too much, and to go ridiculously slow until the habit is built — and THEN see about pushing myself a little more. I’m late getting to this game, and I feel like I should be doing so much. But there’s only so much I can handle at the moment. That’s OK.

It’s quite important to remember that the energy you have one day will not necessarily be there the next; it’s a lesson that has bitten me in the tail time and time again, and I think I’m finally learning it. Though I’m sure there’ll be a couple more crashes in the months to come. I’m leaving this semi-realization here for posterity.

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