Running vs. Training (and Maintaining!)

I keep a small book by John Jerome at my bedside entitled “The Elements of Effort.” Published in 1997, it’s 150 snippets from one paragraph to several pages of his musings on running.  You may recall the running log he authored for many years after Jim Fixx’s death — the cover was a replica from Fixx’s Book of Running and the log was dedicated to him.  Each month included an essay, similar to some of these entries.

Last night I picked it up and turned to one entitled Running vs. Training. Here’s a quote from it: 

“There is running to run and there is running to train, and the difference can best be summed up by a single word: increase.  Training is about trying to get more ….  In the running sports, what we’re trying to get more of is speed ….. You might say that those of us who run to train see life as a kind of graph, and concern ourselves primarily with the angle of its line.  Running just to run, on the other hand, is about sustaining. Those of us who are not trying to improve are running for the experience itself, and the only pressure we place on ourselves is to be able to continue.  We see life as a block of time, and concern ourselves with how best to fill it. The motivation is entirely different.”

Jerome goes on to clarify there’s no judgement involved and notes many runners blend these two approaches in the course of a week or during a longer training cycle. However, in light of Covid-19 constraints, I’m thinking about this in the context of a masters runner, and conclude I’d update the title to include “maintain.”  Here’s my thinking. 

Part of the graph Jerome refers to are races, track workouts, tempo runs, etc.  Right now we have none, or very little of that.  While a 30-year old can do baseline running and bounce back pretty fast, it’s not so easy for a 60-year old. Our systems wear out, become less efficient, and even just maintaining requires constantly pushing the pedal down towards the metal, if not to it.  Run at the same level of effort over weeks. months, and years, and a pretty steep drop-off is inevitable.  No judgement. It’s just the way it is.

As to Covid-19, we all expect a return to normalcy.  And when that happens we want to be ready.  Hence, while during the pause we may not have been looking to increase our speed, we have been motivated  to maintain it.  Afterall, we have spent a LOT of time over many years developing it.  Granted, Covid has colored a lot of things and some days maintenance seems a tall order. 

I’ve heard some suggest the pandemic is a chance to give our bodies rest. To reign in aggressive training, keep a low base.  Again, that may work for the younger set and for masters runners for a week or so.  After that, we older runners are subject to the dreaded use-it-or-lose-it syndrome.  We don’t lose ground incrementally, it goes in spurts!  So for us to maintain during Covid really requires a different approach involving, in some respects, even more discipline and forethought than pre-Covid.  Maybe we do drop down a bit on mileage, but we need to plumb into our psyche and find resolve to throw in some hills, up-tempo, and striders each week.  As, or even more important, is finding creative ways to do strength work.  The gym wasn’t an option until just recently.  I already had a small set of weights, Bosu ball, physio ball, and weight bench.  To supplement that, I ordered some heavy duty bands, a back extension bench, and a chinning and dip bar I installed in the garage.  I sorely missed the camaraderie of the gym and relied on podcasts and music to stay motivated, but felt I was covering the basics.

However, even with all of this, when I finally hit the track, I had lead feet and low-octane drive (see prior post The Road Back.).  I had been doing too much slow running, same pace, easy terrain.  I knew I needed to mix it up but just couldn’t get excited about doing it.  We need to live these things to know them.  And then act.  Lately, I’ve started adding hills, speed, distance, tempo, etc.  Have a ways to go!  The hard truth is during Covid Phase I did not maintain; I just ran.  Lesson learned I trust.

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