This is a question I get a lot from beginning runners or those considering becoming runners. Will this get easier? Is every run always going to be this hard? As a former complete non-runner non-athlete turned very ssslllooowwwww marathoner trying to speed up, I think I'm in an excellent position to give my 2 cents. And even if I'm not, I'm going to anyway:) Isn't that why I have a blog?
I've been thinking about this post for a while when Adam over at I am Boring beat me to it. (BTW, he's hilarious so if you aren't following his blog, you should be.) But, you know what, us runner-bloggers basically talk about the same things over and over so why the heck shouldn't I discuss the same topic?
Up until the past 6 months, my answer to the question "Does Running Get Easier?" was 'no'. I still struggled to get my butt out the door to run almost every single time. Almost every single time I wanted to quit during the first mile (okay, let's face it, 1/2 mile). Almost every time I got uncomfortably short of breath. I had two speeds: out of breath and oh-my-god-I'm-so-out-of-breath-I-just-might-die.
That's not to say I didn't have some runs I enjoyed. I'd get in the zone around mile 6 or so of long runs, sometimes I'd even feel good for 20 or 30 minute stretches. But nothing was 'easy' about it. Pizza and the couch would have been preferable almost every time.
But in the past 6 months, I turned some sort of corner and now I do have runs that are 'easy'. Runs where I don't think about stopping every 5 seconds. Runs where I'm not short of breath EVER. Runs where I truly feel like I'm walking from an effort perspective, but I'm definitely running. Runs (like Monday night- GREAT long run) when there's almost nothing I'd rather do than keep running. Having runs that feel 'easy' is still a novelty to me and the previous sentence actually shocked me as I wrote it, but honestly it's true. I'm becoming one of those people who actually loves running.
This has been a very slow process for me- I've been running since 2006!- and only now can say that running can be easy for me. Previously, I enjoyed being a runner, I was happy after I completed runs, but only now is running sometimes "easy". I don't say this to demoralize beginning runners- quite the opposite. If you are struggling now, know that you won't be struggling forever. It will get better!
In the words of Caballo Blanco in "Born to Run":
"Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that's all you get, that's not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don't give a shit how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practiced that so long that you forget you're practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won't have to worry about the last one- you get those three, and you'll be fast."
The goal of beginning runners should be to get to "easy".
However, and here is where I completely agree w/ Adam at I am Boring, while I am now perfectly capable of having truly easy, comfortable runs, most of my runs are hard. Why? Because I want to get faster! So while a 10:00 min/mile used to kill me now I can run 8:30s before I feel like death is imminent. Honestly, I'm a pretty lazy person, but even I want to improve, so I keep pushing myself, training myself to tolerate suffering so that I can become faster. So, running is still hard. But now I'm choosing to make it hard and that makes all the difference in the world.
Now, when I am suffering, I think to myself "you want to be suffering, you want to be short of breath, this is the goal of this run".
Matt Fitzgerald talks a lot about this in his excellent (if you run you must go buy it!) book "Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel". He talks about "training to suffer" and designing your training schedule to include 2 work-outs a week in which you push yourself to suffer "race-level" discomfort, thus increasing your tolerance for suffering.
I like a quote I saw recently on Running is Flying (via Cool Running):
"You are a runner, this is what you do"
All runners suffer. Some suffer all the time (beginners), others have the luxury of suffering only sometimes. But that is what makes us runners- overcoming suffering....and even enjoying suffering sometimes.
And, really, when are you prouder? When you finish something that is easy or when you finish something that was hard as hell, that a former version of yourself would never think you could accomplish?
I really want my 4:15 marathon. Soon. And then sub-4:00, and then sub 3:40. Big jumps. Lots of suffering. I can do it.