Learning how to run easy... and fast

I have been running for many years, short distances, long distances, marathons and 5k’s and I have had my share of both good and mediocre performances that seemingly had no good explanation.  I knew how to run hard, how to suffer and how to feel like I had pushed myself.  And not surprisingly, being a Type A personality and aiming to live THPL, I did this over and over again.  Each day just as hard as the previous day and truth be told, I was just hanging on.  Sadly, while I was exercising every day, I was not improving and since I knew of no other approach I continued to run hard every time out.  And yes, along the way, I met many an experienced and accomplished runner and they would blather on about heart rate zones, thresholds, ATP and more references to physiology that I could even begin to remember.  I zoned out ( pun intended)  and so it went, pushing hard, thinking I was doing the right thing and not thinking about any alternative.
Then I met two people who change my view of running.  Karen Smyers, Kona Ironman champ in 1995 who let me in on the secret of great endurance performance – she taught me how to run slowly and efficiently.  And there was Nivaldo Batista-Viera, world-class Brazilian marathon runner whose best time of 2:08 had him as one of the best in his day.  In one of our first training sessions he told me “if you want to run fast you have to start fast” and from him I learned the value of interval training. 
And so it began the re-wiring of my brain and all pre-conceived notions I had about training.  I was now supposed to run 80% of the time in zone 2 (easy) and 15% in zone 4 (hard) and 5% zone 5+ (really, really hard).  How could I do this?  There was no way that running slowly could help me to get faster.  And boy was I proven wrong.  It started with a Ramp Test to find out my maximum heart rate and then we mapped my heart rate to zones 1-5.  I was told my heart rate for zone 2 was 135-144 bpm, and when I started running at this pace I thought I was going to die.  Why? There was no way I could not run this slowly and get anything out of it and it hurt (mentally) to run that slowly.  Seriously, there is no way this could be good.  Yup, call me a dope for doubting.  The only thing I can say is that I stuck with it – one year later at the same heart rate I had dropped my mile time from 8:56-7:40.  Same minimal effort and so much faster.  ( I will talk in another post about the fat burning that goes on in this zone but believe me it is crazy how well that works).  Along the way I had 1-2 interval days a week.  Warm-up, then run one minute at the top end of my capability – call it very fast and then one minute to recover and then repeat ten times.
  Yup, I did it and almost started to love the feeling in high Zone 4.  I was told you could hang in that space for an hour – and after a year I did so and was able to run a 10 mile race at a 6:46 pace (1:07 hours).  My best previously at this distance was 10 minutes longer. 
So,  it appears that to achieve THPL requires a bit of counter intuitive thinking.  Maybe our instinct, intuition, and confidence blind us to how to really achieve high performance.  It seems that we are not naturally tuned for high performance and that we need to first and foremost be open to new ideas, to challenging convention, to listening to experts (not just yourself) and using data to guide performance.  Seems to be a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to follow.  Now that I am converted and a believer in this approach I suggest that if you do want to reach for THPL you should give it a try, you might like what you find out.
 Dateline March 1 - Sally is still there waiting to dance with anyone who dares to try - tonight for me 3:26 + 20 seconds, then 191 pushups on 4:17 minutes. 
Weekend plans - try a double workout - morning and evening - just do it once - you will love it.
Loving life, yup!