Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 12 Jun 2005 08:18:28 -0400

At Ease


(rerun from June 2000 RW)

What do you run? This is the best question one runner can ask another. There are nicer questions that one runner can ask another, such as, "Can you give me advice on...?" or "Have you lost weight?"

But "What do you run?" is best because it demands the most honest answer. It doesn't ask what you once did or hope to do someday, but what you actually do now.

Thanks, fellow Oregonian Jerry Baker, for asking me recently, "How much do you run?" My answer won't impress him or you, but neither is it a shameful little secret.

My runs, measured by time instead of distance, average little more than a half-hour apiece. The pace seldom rises out of the comfort zone.

A race might lure me out of this zone, but that happens rarely nowadays. I've raced as far and as fast as my ability and ambition will ever take me, and have nothing left to prove on the outer limits of effort. Easy running is my home base, and I'm content to spend most of my days there.

"Easy" one of the least-used words in the runners' vocabulary, if not actually treated as a four-letter word. We talk the least about the runs we take most, the easy ones.

That's because all the accolades in this sport reward the big efforts. These words tend to end in "est" -- fastest, longest, toughest, best.

No prize is awarded for going easier. No one boasts, "I ran three miles today," or pats your back for miles that are two minutes off race pace.

No one writes books on how to run SSD -- short, slow distance. No one gives speeches praising runs that first-year runners can do in their sleep.

No, we don't talk much about runs that are neither long nor fast, or we call them by assumed names. One alternate definition is particularly distasteful -- "junk miles." What can be trashy about runs that a vital ingredient in the training mix?

The occasional long run must be long enough to prepare you for your longest race, and the infrequent fast run must be fast enough to train you for your shortest race. So too must the many easy runs be easy enough to heal the pains of the hard days.

Easy runs are the twine that binds together the hard runs. Without the easy days, the good health that supports all running can come unraveled.

Easy runs are accurately called "recovery" or "active rest." They're known as "filler" between hard days or "token runs." At various times I've called this them "gentle runs" or even "dog runs," both because my four-legged friend goes along and because I'm dogging the effort.

Putting numbers on the definition, I've long thought that if my slow runs last less than an hour, they qualify as easy. (By that standard, fewer than a dozen each year count as hard.) Nowadays these runs average closer to a HALF-hour, which brings me close to Kenneth Cooper range.

Dr. Cooper, of Aerobics fame, recommends easy runs of two to three miles. His research indicates that runners can gain and maintain basic aerobic fitness at this level while minimizing injury risk.

However you define these little runs, they must feel neither long nor fast. Whatever numbers you put on them, they must be short and slow enough to repeat day after day without running yourself down.

George Sheehan, the late running writer, defined his easy runs by what they weren't as well as what they were: "Not a test but a therapy, not a trial but a reward."

Easy runs reward you for running hard. Just as you can't appreciate a meal unless you're hungry or a shower unless you're dirty, you can't know how good an easy run can feel until you've gone hard.

If hard runs are the most you can endure, easy ones are the least you will accept. Easy is what you run while making plans for your next hard day. Easy is what you do when no one is watching or judging.

Getting on with these little runs is just as important as getting up for the big ones. I say MORE important because "hard" is a nice place to visit from time to time, but "easy" is where you live out most of your days.


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