“Have you ever considered the FIRST training plan?” asked Dena. “I think you would really do well with it.”
We were eating Rice Krispy treats and drinking rummed-up eggnog, chit-chatting after the First Annual Inaugural Barefoot Josh Elevational Invitational. Me and three friends ran up and down a big hill a bunch of times. In other words, it was a huge success!
The FIRST marathon training program is, to the best of my understanding, basically this: three runs a week, two days of cross-training, all done at high-effort. That means no easy runs, or “junk miles.” It’s how Dena has been training for marathons for years, and has enjoyed great success. It’s very different from what I do, which is try to run as much as I can, mostly slow, sometimes fast. Would training a-la FIRST take me TOO THE NEXT LEVEL (Gruaaaarrrgh!)? Maybe. While that’s an interesting topic, one that can be discussed in the comments, it’s not what I’m writing about. So why bring it up? Because it got me thinking about the easy runs, and why I like them and think they’re important. To illustrate my perspective, I’m going to use art (see what I did there?).
Art, for me, works best when there’s no pressure. I need to feel throughout the process that I could mess the whole thing up and it wouldn’t be a big deal. If I think, okay, let’s draw a picture of this dog and do it well enough so that his person might want to purchase it, I freeze. Commission work is worse. However, if I just scribble, just sorta look at the blobs of dark and light scribble in what I see, not trying to draw a nose or ear or anything, just shapes and spacial relationships, not only will the picture turn out pretty nicely (most of the time), but the experience itself of drawing is very rewarding (most of the time).
Speedwork fills me with a little bit of dread (most of the time). Most of my running is very early in the morning, and it can be hard to know when I step out the door what I’ve got in the ol’ pins. I tell myself as I disembark like a ship deprived of a broken champagne bottle on a journey into the depths of my lungs (!!) that it’s alright if I need to take it easy instead. Running slowly to warm up, after about a half mile I’m convinced I don’t have any fast stuff in me. A mile in, I’m ready to fly (say it with me: most of the time).
Running easy is like scribbling. It creates an association of joy and ease with an experience that can, and will, at times also cause frustration, doubt, and agony. It strengthens the sense of self as a verb, where I am what I do, and I can’t stop doing unless I stop being. FIRST might get me at my fittest physically, but my cowardly brain needs to scribble.