I have read time and time again, that to get better as a long distance endurance athlete you need to run/cycle/swim more slowly.
The idea is that I should be exercising at an intensity that I could hold a conversation with somebody. That my heart rate is up, but not up too much. That I am in “Zone 2”, meaning that my heart rate is in that sweet spot for maximising aerobic capacity.
I usually run my training runs with a heart rate monitor, so keeping track of my heart rate is relatively easy. Using a calculation taken from the Don Fink book “Be Iron Fit’, and having achieved a maximum heart rate whilst running of 191bpm (just after crossing the line at the Great South Run following a sprint finish), I know that I need to keep my heart rate under 162bpm to stay in the magical “aerobic zone”.
Borrowing further from Rich Roll, who mentions in his excellent book “Finding Ultra” the need for him to slow down his training speed to get fitter for the mega endurance events, I have concentrated on keeping my heart rate at around the 140-145 mark. This feels about right to me. I am not out of breath, feel like I can run forever at this pace but am still getting a reasonable workout. At least I think I am. But there is one problem. I am getting slower.
Using good old Strava (click the link to follow me), I can keep an eye on my runs and track if I am getting quicker or not. Almost universally, I seem to be getting slower. Despite now running 5 days a week and concentrating on keeping in Zone 2, I am definitely getting slower.
I keep telling myself that perhaps this is not such a bad thing. Perhaps you have to get slower before you get quicker. After all, I am not trying to break any world records. That being said, it would be nice to at least feel that I am fitter and faster than I was two years ago. I simply must be fitter. There is no way you can do the amount of training I have done over the last two years and not get fitter. I have done an Ironman for God sakes. The problem is, the evidence just does not show this.
In April 2015 I was well over a stone (7kg) heavier than I am now, but I ran the Brighton Marathon in 2015 a full 4 minutes quicker than I ran it just a couple of weeks ago. I am lighter than I was in 2015 and am almost certainly fitter, but I am slower. All of my runs on Strava are tracking slower too.
If anybody out there is reading this and has experienced something similar, please get in touch and let me know. I am especially intrigued to know if you did eventually get faster, or if I am destined to be the slowest fit person in England.
I really hope it is not the latter.
3 thoughts on “Am I getting slower………….and is this a good thing?”
Well firstly, well done and good luck with your challenge! Sounds like you’re pretty pationate about your running, or why else would you put your body through that !? :-). I don’t think any of us ever fully understand the answer to that question other than once you complete one event and forget about the pain, signing up to another sounds like a fantastic idea!
I am replying to your post because I enjoyed reading your Brighton Marathon blog and that maybe a few words of my experience can help you find the answers you are looking for. I am 42 and came to running late. Mid 30’s. Never took it that serious, hated it at school, and having smoked for 17 years thought I’d better sort myself out when some friends were signing up, and completing the Great South run in just over 1hr 30 mins.
Well my running journey started at having to take a break after running 800metres, before I was then able to turn around and run back home to running a 54 mile Ultra Marathon and multiple other Marathons. Now I’m not quick, so the experience I have is all built around my own determination to get fitter and quicker with what works for you as an individual. To give you an idea I run a marathon in the 3hr 30’s now and something like a 10 mile around 1hr 12. I should point out that from never ever wanting to run a Marathon, once I decided I would my only goal was to run a sub 4hr and never run another again. Oh how stupid of me to think such a thing!! On each discipline I have taken in excess of 20 mins off of my times over the last couple of years. How!? Buy my book to find out! ……..Of course not.
The answer is not in a book or some training plan it’s within your ability to understand your body and its limits. Sounds like you are doing a cracking job of that already. Have realistic and achievable goals. Never over estimate your ability as that leads to disappointment. Work on small improvements over time and only expect to get a little out having put a lot in!
Now the basic fundamentals are if you want to get quicker, you need to run quicker. If you want to run a long way you need to spend time running decent distances. If you spend a lot of time training at a slower pace on the long runs you’ll never get quicker. All you are doing is training your body to run at that pace, and at best be able to maintain it come race day.
If you want to run a long way quicker then you need to mix it up.
A large percentage of my Marathon training was doing 5k’s! Can’t beat a good park run! Get out there and run your socks off! It’s only 3.1 miles, how hard can it be.? Very is the answer. It’s also good to run shorter distances to prevent injuries or overtraining issues.
So another top tip for improving marathon times is back to back training runs. Run 10 – 13miles in the evening and 10 – 13 miles in the morning. You’ll be able to simulate the long runs as your legs will be tired but you will be able to reduce the physical time spent on each run which is a good thing.
10 mile intervals is also a great one. Run 1 mile then on the beep sprint for 0.1 mile then use the rest of that mile to recover at your normal running pace until the next mile beep and repeat.
Most importantly have decent rest days and plenty of sleep. Quality not quantity.
I have never followed any training plan ever. They always assume that because you did a 15 mile training run the week before the natural progression is to now do a 17 mile the week after for example. Doesn’t always work like that.
I am not saying don’t do long runs because you will need to be doing an 18 – 20 mile training run each month but work on the quality runs and those long runs will become easier and quicker!
Throw away the books and up the tempo. Get some sprints going on the 10 – 13 mile runs and you’ll find yourself settling in to a quicker more comfortable steady pace throughout your marathon. Get out and hit the back to back runs and try and keep the morning run the same pace as the evening one! At least for the first mile ! 😉
Anyway, I’m sure there is nothing in there that you didn’t already know or have tried but either way, good luck and happy running!!
(P.S I’ve signed up to a 100 mile Ultra not stop!)
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Hi Chris. Thanks a million for your detailed reply. Some really good advice in there.
I am already doing the good old Back to Back runs as I have a 55 mile ultra in June so these are key to this training. What I am not doing is any speed work, so I have started to introduce this following on from your post (and a few others on Facebook).
Will see how it goes, but I am sure this is a key part of what is missing from my current training routine. I am also becoming a lot less of a slave to my plan, running more on feel and instinct rather than to set times, distances or heart rates.
I really like the idea of the evening followed by the morning and am definitely going to introduce this to my midweek efforts. Have a 10k interval session tomorrow night, so will follow this with 10k easy the next morning.
Thanks again for the detailed response. What 100 mile ultra are you doing? I have got half an eye on one of those in the future.
All the best mate.
Sounds like you are doing Race to the King!? Great run that. I did that last year and really enjoyed it. Was new territory for me so planned a sensible time for my ability. My actual finished time was just 3 mins different to my goal so I’d say that worked out pretty well over 54 miles! Plenty of stops, including coffee, porridge, soup and a change of clothes! You’ll love it. Now that really is a strategy and where knowing when to walk, and for how long is key. Some people walk the hills and attempt to run the rest where as I’d worked on a run walk strategy from the off. Run 1 mile, walk 0.5 and repeat. (Walk hills, always run down hills no matter where you are in your walk/run cycle) Feeling fresh, hydrated and full of energy will make it a memorable experience. Your mind tells you not to start walking after such a short distance and hard mentally seeing all these people overtaking you but you’ll be sure to see them again!
I am doing the Autumn 100. One of the Centurion running events so I am still in two minds whether to sign up and do the RTTK again as it makes sense to! Running 100 miles still seems like pure insanity and also something I’ll be sure never to do again!………. he says.
With the 3 Forts challenge. Hope all goes well. You’ll smash it!
All the best.