Training – the Energy Game

Successful runners succeed because they prepare themselves to channel large amounts of energy.

They do everything possible to remove obstacles to the free flow of energy.

They’re careful to get enough sleep, eat good food, and train wisely (not too hard, not too easy). They focus their minds, and cultivate positive thoughts and feelings.

Training is all about energy. And energy works in surprising ways.

Aside from the physical, mental, and emotional basics, I’ve noticed that when I put out energy, I get energy back. I’m not advocating overtraining, but I do find that putting out intense energy, in small doses, in a controlled way, pays big dividends.

Because I sit all day at a desk, I value anything that keeps my energy high. One reliable way I’ve discovered to avoid the after-lunch blahs is to throw in some fast running toward the end of my morning jog.

(At the Runner’s World offices in the early 1970s, we had an ongoing argument about the borderline between “jogging” and “running.” Does running begin at 7:30, 8:00, or 8:30 pace? How times change! — I reckon today we’d be arguing whether “runninging” starts at 10:00 or 9:00 pace.)

At any rate, my weekday runs are slow. I’m definitely jogging.

I’ve grown to love those slow recovery runs. As I shuffle around the campus, I mentally repeat a short phrase that harmonizes my heart, and by the end I’m usually feeling quite mellow.

Mellow is fine, but turning into a marshmallow isn’t, because my income depends on the energy I put out.

That’s why I like those fast bursts at the end of the slow run. Back at the gym, I’ll jog for a few minutes on the treadmill, then crank it up to 8:00, 7:30, 7:00, or 6:40 pace, and hold that speed for about a minute. I find it takes just one fast spurt to keep me awake and energized all day.

Jack Daniels, the world-renowned running physiologist, says that a person’s heart rate at 6:00 pace is a reliable indicator of his running talent (considered as a percent of maximum heart rate). A one-minute burst at 7:00 pace raises my heart rate to 91% of maximum. It’s clear that the only trophies I’ll ever win will be for slow running.

Nevertheless, flooring the pedal on my little Briggs & Stratton heart gives me energy all day. I don’t know what’s going on in my cells, but it feels like my metabolism is zipping along.

That said, speed demands care, because too much speed on weekdays takes a bite out of the weekend long run.

Last Saturday, for example, when I tried speeding up near the end of a 2-hour, 45-minute run, my heart felt like rocks rattling in a tin can. During the week, I’d done three or four hard repeats on the easy days instead of just one, and my heart was tired.

The heart is as honest as a baby’s eyes. On Saturday, my legs were ready for the long run, but my heart was shot, and it let me know it. Ordinarily, at the end of a long run I can speed up to 7:30 pace effortlessly. But on Saturday, my heart hurt — it felt bruised and abused. When I backed off and finished the long run slowly, my heart felt fine.

Training is about managing our energy. By doing all the right things, we develop the ability to channel more and more energy. How can we know what to do? The heart is the guide. In so many ways, the heart tells us about our training. It tells us what the body is capable of doing on a given day. It tells us if our emotions need harmonizing. It even helps us concentrate our minds (mental focus is little more than intense interest). The heart is the Grand Central Station of training. It’s an important regulator for every aspect of our lives, from the body to the soul. For managing our energy, there’s no better aid than the heart. Follow the heart’s higher wisdom, and you’ll realize the best of your abilities as a runner — because you’ll be able to channel ever-greater energy.

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