Last Saturday I had my first progression run since I stopped running to get my period back and start a family.
I am not gonna lie, I was a little nervous.
I knew I was nowhere close to the shape I was in the last time I did a progression run, but it was more about do I still have it?
Progression runs force you to confront those inner demons telling you that you can’t do this, they force you to notice the fatigue in your legs around halfway and say, yep, I hear you legs, but we have work to do, the second half needs to be faster than the first half.
I have always loved progression runs, always my favorite run of all…except they do come with a little pressure. In marathon build ups, they were one of the most important workouts I would do, and even now, this would really show where I am at.
This progression run was not to be as long as prior versions, I was “only” (ha!) going up to 1 hour 50 minutes, but when you have perspective, when you are not comparing it to a three-hour long run like you might be in marathon training, 1 hour and 50 minutes is a LONG time, certainly qualifying as a long run.
Up to this point, I had not felt particularly good on my long runs, my legs seemed to get quite sore and heavy early on in the runs. I was nervous this would be another of those, and I would progress too early like I have been in previous weeks, and struggle coming in.
I have also listened to music and podcasts on every long run so far, something I very rarely used to do before in any of my training, but recently, I have been often. When I run with Bailey, once she falls asleep, I allow myself to listen to podcasts, and on my long runs, I have been accompanied by upbeat or workout music every time.
I thought it would motivate me, stop me from thinking too much about how long I had left or how tired my legs were. When I was running as an elite, I would rarely listen to music, but now I can see why people do. It does help to distract yourself from those negative thoughts.
Last Saturday though, it was pouring with rain as I headed over to the trail where I was going to do my long run. The first time I had actually done a long run not from the house (or my parents house) since February 2017. As it was raining, despite having my koala clip, I didn’t want to take the risk with my phone (especially as I paid a lot of money for the iPhone X), so it was going to be a music and podcast free run.
In the first few minutes of the run, I thought about how it was going to be a really long time to be alone with my thoughts without the distraction, but a few minutes later, I looked to my right, and saw the most beautiful sunrise. The sky was filled with orange, yellow, and red, it was absolutely gorgeous. I wished I had my phone, not for the music I wanted it for originally, but just to show how beautiful it looked with the bright green fields of the bluegrass contrasted with those warm colors in the sky.
If I had been listening to music or a podcast, I probably would have noticed it, and thought “ahh, thats nice”, but then carried on with whatever I was listening to. Instead, I spent a good 5-10 minutes marveling in it, appreciating the opportunity to be here right now, to be seeing this view, only a few other runners and cyclists would enjoy this right now. Feeling ALIVE and grateful.
Then I got to thinking about exactly this, running without music and podcasts.
I know the temptation.
As I told you, I have been listening to a lot lately, and I am not gonna lie, it does make the time pass, and it can feel good, especially when you have upbeat music to help you stay on track, but have you ever thought about how you are not only missing out on what it around you, but you are missing out appreciating what a true honor it is to even be able to run. When we end up injured, sick, or unable to run for any reason, we would do anything to be able to run again. We vow that we will cherish the time, we wont take it for granted, and we certainly wont wish the time away again.
Once again though, it happens, and we do our best to distract ourselves from the motion of running and the discomfort it brings.
But here’s the deal:
The discomfort and feelings you experience are what you NEED and want.
We use running as our time to think, to process, but how can we do that when our ears are filled with something else?
We use running as our time to be alone, be away from the busy-ness of the rest of our life, so why do we fill it with more noise, in the one time of day we can have quiet?
We use running as a way to get the best out of ourselves, but if we are constantly listening to music or podcasts, we are not listening to the cues of our bodies, listening to how we feel to allow ourselves to do that.
How can we ever expect to fine tune our pacing skills, our ability to judge our effort, and run fast when we feel good if we are not listening.
Without my VI headphones, I could hear my breathing picking up going up the hills, so in the first half I would back off a little to recover once at the top. I could feel my feet landing on the ground, so I would be aware of my running form and trying to maintain a good cadence. I could see nature around me and smile because I was here right now.
I ended up running an almost perfect progression run, cutting down nicely throughout the 15.3 miles I ran, despite a very hilly course challenging me the whole way. I also ran much faster than I have for a long run and I felt strong, confident, and like myself. You can find out more about the run itself on my strava.
I am pretty sure I would not have had as great of a run if my thoughts had been blocked.
I am not saying not to listen to music or podcasts at all. I would be absolutely crazy to suggest that as a podcast host! All I am saying is that there is a time and a place for them, and important days are not the time.
Those runs where you feel exhausted; the days after races, after long runs, after hard runs are perfect for listening to something, as are easy days for most people.
If you are someone who struggles to understand running by feel, who tends to go too fast on easy days, whose paces during a run tend to sporadically go up and down. Or if you are someone who listens to pump up music every day, there is a good chance you are sabotaging yourself by not letting your body tell you what it is ready for and what it needs that day. You might be best off taking away your headphones for a week or two, see if it makes a difference.
If you keep ending up injured or sick, this is especially important for you.
The days that are important; your long runs, your hard workouts, and definitely your races, you really shouldn’t need the music. You should be tuning in to your body, paying attention to how it feels, and taking in what is around you. The beat of the music could easily force you into the same position staring at your watch does the entire run, forcing your body into a pace, a rhythm it is not ready for. #nowatchme
Whereas if you listened to what it was feeling, went with the ebbs and flows in the energy in your body and the strength in your mind, you will probably run a lot faster, when it matters, which is what helps you to avoid injuries and get to your potential.
Give it a try, you never know what you might notice and how it might help you do things you never thought you could.
15.3 miles at 7:06 per mile on a hilly course didn’t seem possible for me…until I embraced the challenge without my music, and did it.