Tips for Finding Your Running or Jogging Pace
It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint
If you're anything like me, you watch other walkers, power-walkers, joggers and runners and think, how do they do it? They look so relaxed. They seem so at peace. They are hardly even breaking a sweat. There's one person I watch (hate) in particular. I see him running almost daily at this leisurely, stride-covering pace. He barely sweats, he seems like he's in his own happy little world and he hardly seems to notice the 5, 8 or 10 miles he's jogging. It's like what he's really doing is enjoying the day - listening to the birds, breathing in the fresh air, admiring the trees - and the running is just a side benefit. I hate him - did I mention that? I'm usually on the other side of the road - sweating, agonizing and possibly suffering from heat stroke - but I finally decided to learn from him instead of despising him so much. And wouldn't you, too, like to be able to run or walk that easily?
As I watched people like him, I wondered, what does he know that I don't? I'd read all the running books, magazines and articles and, after years of running, it still wasn't easy. It was more like grueling-but-I-have-to-endure-this-so-that-I-can-fit-into-my-jeans-agony. Know what I mean? Until I figured it out. What those people knew that I didn't.
You know what it is? You really wanna know?
Okay, I'll tell you:
They've found their pace. They've found the speed that works well for them. They've used a little trial and error, endured a little pain and discipline and have entered the world of exercise ease (or, at least, easier). So how do you find your running or walking pace? First, a little bit about other methods.
Other Measures are External
You know how you read all these article and they give you a certain amount of miles you have to cover per day? And they may even tell you how high to set the treadmill if you're doing interval training? Well, the problem with all these articles and advice is that they usually advise you to use external measures to gauge where you should be. They want you to go one mile one day, two miles the next and maybe a mile and a half the third day. But they rarely tell you how you are supposed to feel. Should you be moving as fast as possible or should you be at a more leisurely pace? Is it okay if you're huffing and puffing or should you be able to talk? Through much, much, much trial and error and advice, I have discovered what actually works. It's not listening to all the advice, necessarily, and it is not sticking to a highly regimented program. It's the ability to be able to listen to yourself.
Paying attention to yourself
Once I stopped thinking about what everyone else told me and began to listen to my own body, it became much, much easier (some days I'm practically giddy with how much better things are now). See, I have a theory about most long-term runners or walkers. They've either been exercising a) since high school or b) long enough that they don't remember the pain, misery and agony involved in starting up a running or walking program. They've forgotten the muscle soreness, the lack of motivation and the crying and whining involved (or maybe that's just me). They happily get up at 4am in order to 'knock' out that run or walk (the only thing that would get knocked out if I got up at 4 am is myself) or come home from a long day at work to pleasantly contemplate that long session they're going to accomplish from 6 to 8pm - at night - when the rest of us are watching tv or kicking back with the kids.
The point is, they've been doing it so long, they've forgotten what it's like for the average Joe who is just trying to a) fit into her jeans or b) prevent themselves from suffering from dunlap's disease (when your stomach done lapped over your belt). So, I'll tell you what they have forgotten to pass on.
Your first, and most reliable gauge of your pace is yourself. Should you be huffing and puffing? No. Should you be moving at a leisurely stroll? No. You should be going fast enough to get your heart pumping, but slow enough that you could have some what of a conversation if you wanted to (if you are running or walking slow enough to talk on a cell phone, you are probably not going fast enough. And what are you doing on the cell phone anyway?).
Here is how you find your pace: Your pace is that place where you know you're working hard (as mentioned, your heart is pumping), but you are not huffing and puffing, gasping for air or about to pass out. Your pace is the level where you could go like that, you feel, for days if you had to (not that you would or could, but you feel like you could). Your pace is where running or walking becomes a sidebar for mentally balancing your checkbook, planning your dinner or wondering what's on the TIVO or DVR.
Your pace is just that: YOUR pace. It is your body's way of telling you that it can run or walk optimally at this pace and this pace alone. Your pace is not Lance Armstrong's pace or Jackie Joyner Kersee's pace. It is your pace at your current fitness and health level. Once you know this, you can get over ever comparing your pace to anyone else's, because it's only your pace that will work for you - not theirs. And you know the good thing about your pace? The more you walk or jog, the faster your pace becomes. Automatically. How, you ask, does this happen?
Well, your body is a wondrous thing. The more you (reasonably) challenge it, the more it will do for you. After you engage in an exercise program for two months, two years or two weeks, your body will change and grow stronger in response to the stressors you are placing on it. The more you run or walk, the more efficient your body becomes in utilizing the oxygen you give it. Your lungs become stronger and your muscles learn how to do the new things you require of them. When you increase your exercise at a regular, reasonable pace (most experts recommend you don't increase your distance by more than 10% a week), your body will regularly become stronger, faster and fitter. Just like the six million dollar man.
So, get out there and walk or run at a pace which is comfortable for you. If you decide to do a mile, just pay attention to your breathing, your heart rate and your perceived level of strain. Your perceived level of difficulty (on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hardest) should be about a 7. (Hint: if you are gasping, hacking or coughing, you are going way too fast.) More important than distance or quickness is staying healthy and being consistent over the long haul.
So spend some quality time with yourself and find your own personal pace. Give yourself time, don't rush things and find the place where you and your body both agree you are getting the optimal benefits from your exercise program.
And then people can hate you instead :)
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