We all have a race that we use a gauge of where we are at in our running progression.
You know the race – the one that allows you to eliminate all the variables from race to race and analyze how the last year of running went, or how our training plan is progressing.
Having a race like this is really important for me and, I think, critical for runners over 40.
Our bodies recover a little more slowly, and break down a little more quickly, so it’s important to keep an eye on what our body is telling us. Not just from run to run or week to week, but from year to year.
For example, in 2016, when I ran the Little Rock Capital City 10k Classic, I realized I had been adding speed too quickly into my workouts. I felt a nagging pain in my right knee whenever I tried to run a little faster. The very next day, my right knee quit on me, and I was sidelined for a few weeks in physical therapy.
And, in 2018, when I set a PR for the 10k on this race, I ran it on a cold day, through sleet and freezing rain. I still managed to hold a steady 7:36/mile pace, throughout the race, I realized that I more speed and more power in my legs than I was letting loose throughout the year.
About the Little Rock Capital City 10k Classic.
The 2019 Capital City 10k Classic was the 40th anniversary of this Little Rock, Arkansas, race.
To recognize the passing of that milestone, the swag bag we all picked up registration had the same t-shirt we get every year, only in a different color. Even the t-shirt at this race is consistent and reliable.
The course is flat, with a few barely noticeable inclines and declines in the road. The last 1/4 mile has a noticeable, albeit gentle, rise into the finish. It’s a fast course, and I actually think it takes a little bit of focus if you plan on running it slow.
This year, the race started late in the day with a 5pm this year.
I’m sure there was a reason, but I don’t know why the race started so late.
Early evening is not my favorite time to run. The heat of the day is still hovering over the road, and there’s not a muscle in my body that feels fresh by 5pm on any day. The time of day just screams “running slow” to me.
It was really hot for an April run: the thermometer said it was 76 degrees, which means it felt more like 86 after starting running.
Even though the course cuts through a fairly secluded county park along the north bank of the Arkansas River, there is very little shade while you are running. It would be worse with the late-afternoon sun beating down. Running slow, again, seemed to be the order of the day.
Honestly, I should say “running consistent” or “running steady” instead of “running slow.” Why I don’t have any problem taking a slow and easy pace on any given day, my approach to a “slow run” is to take a comfortable pace that I can hold steady and consistent at the top edge of my Zone 3 heart rate. To keep from checking my watch more than I run, I set one of the display screens on my Garmin to show me only Cadence and Heart rate. If I hold the cadence at the top of zone 3, I don’t have to worry about my pace. Over a year of running slow, I learned to feel what that pace is.
Before the race, I ran into a friend of mine who had come up from Hot Springs. I was hoping he’d be running this year – the last time we’d run together was in Hot Springs Spa City 10k the past November, and he set a pace that forced me to race the run as a race instead of just running slow and easy and not pushing myself too hard. But, he wouldn’t be running this year – he was there to cheer on his daughter, a pretty damn talented young runner.
This year’s lesson: running slow made me a stronger runner.
I didn’t have a great finish time. I didn’t really even have a bad finish time. In fact, I felt great throughout the whole race.
Over the past year, I have been struggling to find the motivation to run. So I hadn’t put enough miles in to get anywhere near a PR. But what I had done for the past year was work on running slow and easy runs. By slowing down runs, I could turn my focus to form, and pay attention to what my body was and was not telling me.
When I did run over the last year, I worked hard to try to keep my heart rate in Zone 2 or 3. One of the ways I did this was by breathing only through my nose. If I had to breath through my mouth, I was not running slow.
I truly believe all that slow running was what boosted my cadence. It jumped from an average of 165 to 185. There were small sections of the race where I hit – and held – a cadence of 200, something I don’t think I’ve ever done before for more than a few hundred feet.
But it wasn’t those numbers I was happy about – it was how good I felt running a steady even pace. It didn’t even feel like I was running slow.
There’s a saying that says that to run fast, you have to run slow.
Today, I understand better what that means: by slowing down over the past year, I became a stronger runner, and may have a good enough foundation to see what kind of speed I can reach.
I felt like I was able to “stiff-arm” the painful times, for example, when I was hit by a side stitch, I used my nose breathing and commitment to holding a steady pace to push through it. Incidentally, these running cramps seem to plague me on afternoon and evening runs, and never any other time – another reason to dislike afternoon runs. Usually, I fight them by taking a couple of salt sticks ahead of the run. Being the first ‘hot’ run of the year, though, I forgot to bring them with me.
My form is cleaner, my steps lighter, and my head is focused on my body throughout the run.
And, I’m not some dwelling on some bullshit anxiety from or problem in the real world while I am trying to enjoy the feeling of run.
It’s that kind of run that I don’t really ever want to end.