The fundamental principle of The Art of Running Slowly is to embrace the concept that you do not need to run your fastest possible speed, or always be chasing better times or longer distances. Once you grasp this, you can protect your body, prolong your running, and ultimately enjoy it more.
Here are 10 Tips as a guide. Olympic medal-hopefuls this is probably not for you. For the rest of us, most of what follows is not new, but alongside TARS it becomes liberating and puts a whole new life into your running. The joy of running just for its own sake.
- Listen to your body. This has always been golden-rule-number-one. Your body will tell you whether to take it easy today… and if it’s not up for it, then relax, keep your body safe and there’s always tomorrow. Equally, it will let you know if it is feeling strong and then you can have a bit of a blast. Whatever: let the decision be made by your body, and not some list or hypothetical target, or even what you had in mind the day-before-yesterday. Listen to your body as it feels today, respect it, and you will earn a dividend many times over.
- Pace and workrate. Run at a pace which is steady, comfortable, where you can maintain the breathing and your style is not laboured. Some days this will be fast, but don’t force it when it’s not one of those days.
- Times & Targets. Keep your map, the GPS (or bit of string), your list of routes and distances. And your stopwatch with the times and splits. Keep your log and notes and totals. Compare what you are doing now with how you did before; have an idea of where you want to be in a few weeks or months. Pick that event, plan for it and manage your progress; challenge yourself and feel the buzz when you pin that race-number on your vest. But remember that you are doing it for you, and don’t be a slave to the stopwatch. Be pleased if you’re a bit quicker today, but don’t let it spoil your run if you didn’t beat that time. The stopwatch is a guide, one of many signposts to how you are doing. Nothing more than that.
- Keep on racing. TARS doesn’t mean giving up races and events, in fact it can make them more enjoyable and have more dimensions, because beating that time isn’t the ONLY measure of success (and a few lost seconds lose the power to ruin a great run and undo months of satisfying work). You don’t have to win; you don’t have to be the fastest; you don’t even have to be faster than you were last time. You may find that there is just as much satisfaction in managing your pace to hit a target window, as there is in managing to go as fast as you can. “Pace not race”, and arrive happy and intact, instead of in pain and disappointment.
- Improvise. I call one of my favourite routes Meanderwood. It isn’t a route, it’s an area, a whole set of linked woods and paths. It has no length, no time, no measures and no PB. It just goes where it feels like going.
- Whatever you do, do it gently. Try to run as regularly as life and work and family allow, rather than burst-nothing-burst. If you’ve had a break, don’t go out first time and try to make up for the lost days with a lung-bursting speed session or adding extra miles to catch up your totals. Plan for where you want to be, but allow for reasonable intermediate stages. Definitely have goals, but enjoy working towards them in small steps, not one giant leap.
- Don’t be OCD. You know that staple run of yours, that clockwise route which is a must-do and a benchmark for how you are performing? Well, do it anticlockwise. You will be amazed how different it all looks, and feels. The distance and height loss/gain will of course be the same, but the profile and experience and feel of it may surprise you.
- Get off-road. Yes it’s more tiring to begin with, and yes you risk a trip over a tree root or rock. But the variation in surface and stride action is kinder to your joints, and gradually you will feel it strengthen you. Plus there is a very real pleasure in being out in the grass and mud and amongst the trees and seeing the seasons turn, much better value than roads as an escape from the motorway or being tied to a computer or juggling gadgets.
- Be flexible. Set off for a 40-minute run, but stay out for an hour if it feels good; another day, be prepared to cut it short if it’s an off-day. Have a time in mind, and make the route up as you go along; or, decide on a route you fancy, without bothering what the time is. When you get to that stile or junction, turn right instead of left; try that track or street you’ve spotted but never been down, you will find it joins up with others and gives you all sorts of new options. You can still have a plan and targets, and keep a log of what you have done, and you can manage it over time, just don’t beat yourself up if the numbers don’t match exactly, so long as they are in the right direction.
- Stop. Look around. Take a breather. 30 secs or a minute on the watch isn’t going to ruin your life, but it will give you time to take in a full-360 of where you are, admire your route, to enjoy the quiet, to take in that special favourite place, maybe say a prayer if you are moved that way. After all, it’s why you run.