A few years ago, the concept of running with a group (let alone another human being) was a foreign one to me. I viewed running as a primarily solo activity, mainly out of habit but perhaps (admittedly) out of fear that I would be too slow or not good enough. Plus, at the time I found it hard enough to just run – the idea of running with someone AND holding a semi-functional conversation seemed next to impossible.
These days, I find I often look forward to my runs with groups and friends more than my solo runs. I’ve come to embrace the idea that not every run has to be the best or the fastest (gasp!) and slower runs at conversational pace are really beneficial for runners.
When I started running, I figured that every run I did had to be fast. I pushed myself with every run to lower my average pace on tracking apps and GPS watches. I didn’t realize that there is a huge benefit – in fact it is encouraged – to run most training runs at an easy to moderate pace (one at which you can hold a light conversation, hence “conversational pace”). This does a few things: first, it prevents injury from overtraining, and second, it is great aerobic training which makes you faster, stronger and better in the long run.
Oh, and bonus: according to Psychology Today, “physical activity at conversational pace may improve efficiency of brain activity associated with memory.”
The faster we go, the more we have to narrow our focus. On race day, sometimes I find it hard to think of anything more complex than “right, left, right, left…” if I’m really pushing it. Slower runs help us to be contemplative and absorb the world around us. This is why a lot of distance runners consider running a form of therapy – slower long runs provide the perfect platform to take in and digest thoughts and feelings. Note that conversational pace doesn’t have to actually consist of an out-loud conversation – it can just be the one in your head!*
*We all have conversations with ourselves in our heads, right? Not just me?
That’s not to say every run should be at a conversational pace – there are places for fartlek training, speed training and tempo runs in nearly every training regime for a reason. However, a majority of training runs should be at conversational pace to help develop cardiovascular and muscular systems without putting too much strain on the body.
In our modern day society of a bajillion different types of fitness tracking apps, wristbands and watches it can be difficult to forget about time and concentrate on feel. I understand the desire to hit certain numbers (it’s what I do for a living, after all). But trust me, it’s okay to leave the fancy gadgets behind sometimes and just enjoy the run.
This past week, Kristen and I ran the Espirit de She 5k and committed to running it at a conversational pace for two reasons:
(1) We had a LOT of catching up to do about the Taylor Swift concert, our upcoming Hood to Coast relay race, how much we want to be in Taylor Swift’s girl gang, the fact that we blacked out and signed up for another marathon this fall … and duh, boys.
(2) As we are in the midst of marathon training, we both haven’t really been training to PR on a 5k, so taking a casual approach to the race instead of an in-it-to-win-it one just seemed right.
We ended up running a great race that we are both proud of, we got to catch up about #ALLTHETHINGS, we didn’t die in the humidity of Chicago summer nights and we don’t look like we are dying in our finish line photos.
Basically, it’s okay to slow down. It can be GOOD for you. We all might have running PR goals in mind, but sometimes it’s just as important to pause and remember why we enjoy running in the first place (and take the time to discuss TSwift… because yaaaas).
PS, anyone want to join our girl gang?