One of the best things about running is feeling like I'm constantly learning something. Sometimes it's about relearning something. And sometimes it's about starting from scratch despite what's so ingrained in my mind.
One of those starting-from-scratch things is the definition of "easy."
For way too long, running "easy" has been about pace for me. Just like a tempo run or intervals, easy has had some sort of range.
It's changed over the years as I've focused on different races that I'm training for, injuries I've dealt with and where I am fitness wise. It's also changed based on articles I've read and advice I've sought along the way.
I've realized, though, in the past few months that I've been approaching easy runs completely wrong.
Running "easy" isn't always about pace; it's also a state of mind. It's also a physical state that my body needs to be in so I don't overtrain.
When I think back to last summer and my long runs for the Richmond Marathon, the worst long runs were ones in which I didn't hit a certain pace. While I know that race pace miles are needed, I think I was trying too hard to hit that pace too many times on long runs.
Simply put, I was running myself into the ground. It became a chore.
Last week I looked at my splits for the Richmond Marathon for the first time -- there was nothing wrong with the first 14 miles of the race. While my pace was slightly above my goal, I started to let things slip because I was overthinking what I was doing. When I tried to pick the pace up, I didn't go any faster.
It's taken me a long time to realize this, but I gave up that day. If I would have stuck with the pace I had set out on, I probably would have landed my best time, but for me it was hit my goal or go home.
And now I blame a lot of that on way too many non-easy miles over the summer.
I love being faster and setting big goals for races, but now I understand that if I'm going to put down more PRs, I need to run easy more often. Both in a physical sense and a mental sense.
Lately on days when I do speedwork, I'm back to a pace I was at a year ago. This week I did a 2-mile tempo in 15:15; a month ago I was at 16:09.
I think my easy days have helped give me a better experience on the days I've pushed it.
It's probably too little too late to see results for the Shamrock Half next week, but for the first time in several months I am confident about where things are headed. And I have easy runs to thank for that.