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(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

The days and nights have been mostly lovely for running: warm sunny days and cool but not cold nights. Even the ground of late has not been treacherous, which is a particular blessing in February. So I’m getting faster, right?

No. Still listening to my body and it’s still not telling me to go farther and faster. So I watch my shadow and try to sense whether or not my form is proper for good health and healing and work on keeping my footsteps fairly quiet. I breathe in the blue skies or cool night breezes.

I try to stay with the fitness I have now and keep each moment as it is. I remind myself that the numbers are not the point. They should not be the main point even when my body is stronger but they are especially not the point when my biggest goal is just to do the running and keep that form of movement part of my life still.

These are hard goals to accept for someone who ran track for eight years and who was running alone on the roads long before that was a common activity for young girls in high school. I have been doing this running thing off and on for more than 35 years, but there were definitely some years when I was sure I had run my last mile—and that felt just awful to me.

So often it is just me and my head and my feet on some road or trail. I never have been one of those people who had to surround myself with people in order to run, even though I did enjoy running workouts with others during my track and cross country seasons. It’s just the social aspects of running aren’t the main reasons I run and sometimes I even find myself feeling a bit off-kilter from running with others.

Last week my husband and I planned to run a club race where I knew—by doing the math from the numbers I do observe—that I was going to have to accept being one of the last runners in the pack. The distance was longer than my normal run and most of the other people run many more miles and more often than I do.

The day dawned warm, but windy in the way that was the norm where I grew up running. But I’m many years and many miles away from that first running space—I no longer have to have the mental toughness to run daily in such conditions. Still, I showed up.

Because I do pay attention somewhat to the numbers, I realized I was running too fast, lulled by that wind at my back that was going to confront me with full-frontal force when I turned to face the back of the out-and-back course. Suffice it to say the run got a whole lot harder and I got a whole lot slower the longer I was out running against the wind.

I was doing the best I could just to finish, even if my finish time was going to be faster than I had expected. I figured that maybe I really shouldn’t worry too much about kicking it in as I usually do—I may run a race slow but I am that former competitor who knows how to finish strong. Nonetheless, my sleeping body still complains too loudly of its aches most nights and I weigh too much—my ego needs to stay in check with reality. Hey, I was running, and that was good enough, right?

But my ego hates that some people think I am new to this thing I have been doing for about 70% of my years on this earth—as you can probably tell, my ego is the part that keeps up with the math and the statistics and what used to be. I ran the race I should for the body I have right now—and was working on being good with finishing two and half minutes earlier than expected when this woman jumped out to try to hold my hand to help me finish.

I hope I didn’t seem too rude but—even with my end-of-the-race labored breathing—I told her I didn’t want to hold hands. I know what I’m doing—and right now it’s listening to my body just as it was all those years ago. I’m guessing she wanted to be helpful, but she insulted the girl I was who ran mile after mile alone and who was willing to be the only female in a race. I am in this life for the long run and if that means I have to take a slower, shorter run than I’d prefer, then that’s what I’ll do.

Besides, the days and nights have been just lovely for all those slower and shorter runs I’ve taken. I focus on breathing in and out and letting it all be enough, one footfall at a time. Slow and steady wins the race I’m running these days, even when I finish at the back of the pack.

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

What I’d really like is to hear from someone who started out hating using a heart rate monitor watch, stuck with it, and found out that he or she did improve over time by following the program. Everyone I speak with—of a certain age, of course—seems either to disagree with what information the watch gives out or not want to pursue what it suggests. My biggest question is whether or not the data really says what it purports to say. In other words, if I slow down as it tells me to do now, over time will I be able to speed up again?

A fitness instructor yesterday told me she tried hers for a couple months, but didn’t like having to think so much while running. She says she goes running to let her mind be free, not to be told constantly to run at a much slower pace. I hear her on that.

But what if jump-starting my heart rate so quickly really is a sign it’s not ready for the pace I want to run? Might a heart build its endurance quicker by not facing the stress caused by extreme intensity?

I’m new to all this, but can tell that the fitness community is divided by the validity of the whys behind this kind of self-monitoring and whether or not it helps—in the long run and/or the short run.

So often I feel personally affronted that this watch—a watch for goodness’ sake—is telling me how fast I should go. Yesterday I was reading the ending of some running book where the author described a runner he observed and concluded that she was just starting out. That person could have been me right now and I’ve been doing this off and on for over thirty-five years! I still want to put a sign on my back that reads, “I can run faster but the watch won’t let me!”

Then I take a deep breath—which usually reduces my heart rate, right?—and celebrate the small victories. I thought that small computer brain came up with the threshold heart rate between fat-burning and fitness-burning based upon my age, weight, and height only and that it would remain static if those numbers remained constant. Turns out somehow it “knows” how well I’m doing and has decided to move up the threshold by 4 beats. Ha!

And back to the results in yoga that I mentioned in an earlier post. My heart rate is often lower in yoga—while moving—than it is just sitting here thinking and typing. It drops to 57 and 58 several times during class. I realize that to verify that the results show a statistically normal distribution (i.e. the traditional bell curve), one has to get to N=30, but my early results are suggesting to me that my mindfulness and breathing have a lot of power over my heart and however much it ticks.

Which also tells me that if I just stop fighting this thing, then maybe it will do for me exactly what it should—which is improve my endurance safely over time so that I can improve my performance and speed.

Which could bring me full circle back to how I have run when I was in shape for running.

Over time I tend to develop an internal clock based on how I feel. I was that person in track who usually hit the interval targets, not overshooting or undershooting them, even when we did as many as 20 200 meter runs. I’m also the person who once won a contest based upon guessing my finishing time against several women who timed everything they did to the last second—without their watches they were lost, but I just ran as I always did.

By giving into the (artificially-intelligent) wisdom of the watch now, I hope that down the road (with all those miles to go before I sleep) I will have re-developed the accuracy of my inner watch so that it runs in sync with the monitor and vice versa. This seemingly rigid tool I have been fighting really does have the potential to set both my body and mind free—if I just let it do so.

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