Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Mistakes, Massages and Miserable Weather (Part 3/3)

I want to run faster.

It’s not a new feeling, and is hopefully a natural reaction to what essentially becomes ‘plodding’ once the body gets used to regularly covering a few miles. Around October 2012, what little technique I possessed was nothing more than low-cadence, lumbering pace, absent of urgency.

Worse, boredom was starting to set in

Something Had To Be Done

I bought a book called The Art Of Running Faster and, to cut a long story short, completely changed that technique. Started all over again essentially, with the biggest change being to run on my toes rather than striking down with my heel. Then winter set in, restricting the time I could spend putting those exciting changes into practice.

That goes some way to explaining my eagerness once February arrived. I believed the changes in style could produce positive results. I wanted to see some evidence too, so I decided spring started on the 32nd day of the year and was the time to kick back in.

Low Pressure, Cold Easterly

No sooner had the visit to the physio got everything back on track (or tarmac, if you want to be pedantic) than the Gods visited upon us a great dumping of snow. Drifts taller than a tall man, ice-crusted pavements, and temperatures forgetting how to be positive – all enough to halt progress having only just got going again.

Although I spent some of the enforced lay-off metaphorically climbing the walls, it also offered an opportunity for reflection. This was not a Bad Thing by any stretch of the imagination, particularly where the advice of the book was concerned.

Wanting to run faster, it’s tempting to think the pace should be flat out all the time, aiming for tiny incremental improvements with each run. Of course, the body can’t sustain that. Unintentionally, however, most of my runs ended up along these lines. If I wanted to go quicker…

Time To Slow Things Down

As the snow has cleared, so I’ve been doing the miles again. And my focus has been on learning to run slower. Keeping my feet moving quickly but with shorter steps. It’s all very well being able to run two miles reasonably quickly, but I’m supposed to be running 13-and-a-bit in September and need to build stamina.

It seems to me that humans are very good at reading a piece of advice, recognising its potential usefulness, and then forgetting all about it. Why else is Twitter littered with motivational quotes?

And I’m every bit as guilty. I took a lot from The Art Of Running Faster, but I read it once and basically assumed that all the tools were suddenly available to me. Only when I forced myself to reflect on what I was actually doing compared to what I thought I was doing did I realise that certain suggestions weren’t being enacted.

With the benefit of that reflection, I set out this morning (7th April) to do a longer run without pushing myself to an unsustainable limit. The result was 5.8 miles in 54 minutes, which is a good step towards the 10K I’ll be running in just five weeks time.

All Areas Of Life

I want to run faster.

I also want to write more, read more books, travel to more places, and be the person I want to be for my family and friends. In the words of Queen: “I want it all … and I want it now.”

Hopefully I manage not to be selfish about it. Certainly, I try not to be.

I’m conscious of making the most of this one shot at life, but in trying to do that I ignore sensible advice every day. Impulse wins out far too often in the name of trying to do as much as possible. Now I’m writing this post because I’ve learnt something, even though there was nothing really to learn. I just curbed the impulse for a change.

Daily, I receive a podcast from the artist Michael Nobbs emphasising the importance of making one small step toward a creative project. It’s advice born of a particular circumstance, and every day I read blogs and tweets by other people – some who are part of Michael’s Sustainably Creative community, some who aren’t – who have learnt similar lessons.

Acknowledging Fortune

Like Michael, many have been diagnosed with illnesses such as CFS/ME; conditions that often leave them exhausted and in physical pain, consigned to hoping that tomorrow will provide sufficient energy to pursue their ambitions. But pursue them they do, even though there are frequent days when all they can do is rest.

In that context, what right do I have to get frustrated? Why feel like I haven’t achieved enough on days when I at least achieve something?

Life is about balance, and I’m fortunate to be in control of mine. I aim not to be selfish, but part of me feels like I am because I don’t acknowledge my fortune often enough. Which is why I offer the following advice, and hope you’ll be pleased with the results if you can enact it, or some version of it, in your own life:

If you want to run faster, start by learning to run slower.


  1. It's really hard to implement what we read in books isn't it, especially if you're an avid reader, and keep reading new things!

    My own focus for my first half-marathon is definitely not on speed - I don't expect to run it very fast, but will be delighted just to complete it at all. I'll let you know how it goes :)

  2. Thanks for commenting, Milo, glad it struck a chord!

    I've become oddly paranoid that the GNR might be my ONLY shot at doing something like a half-marathon, so I feel the need to see what it's possible for me to achieve.

    While having until September gives me plenty of time to train, it also gives me time to injure myself again! Clearly need to fill the time sensibly and in moderation, so a 10K in mid-May is a good starting point.

    Looking forward to hearing all about your experience!

  3. Paul, this is probably the major problem of humanity: "It seems to me that humans are very good at reading a piece of advice, recognising its potential usefulness, and then forgetting all about it."

    While I’m not a runner, this is of course just as true for any other area of our lives. And even when we know that, we normally don’t manage to *stay* aware of it.

    What to do about it? I’m not sure, but in my own experience, slowing down - like you did - is a *very* helpful first step. While there are so many temptations, to dos and distractions, focusing on that "one thing today" may indeed be the only way there is.

    1. Hi Fabian. What to do about it, indeed!

      We can keep reading advice, often in various guises, but clearly that does not guarantee progress of any sort. Unfortunately - and crucially - willingness to read advice is different from possessing the will to enact it.

      As you say, taking a small, slow step can be enough to demonstrate that the latter will is strong enough to overcome the former. If enough of those steps can be strung together... :-)

  4. Hi Paul - I can definitely identify with your frustrations, especially when time, weather and injury prevents us doing what we love.

    I think as well as slowing down to go faster, part of it is also 'slowing down until you can do something really well'. It's a bit like learning an instrument or a new language - the instinct is to burn through lots of stuff as quickly as possible - but by slowing down and becoming more 'fluent' in a skill, you often find it suddenly becomes easier and as a result 'faster'.

    Good post.

    Kelly's Eye - Writing, Music, Life

    1. Thanks for that Wayne, and you make a good point. I tried to learn some basic Japanese a few years ago, enough to get by on holiday.

      One website I came across was very stern about how best to learn the language. It insisted on starting from the beginning, learning the basic strokes of the written language and building up to more complicated symbols, syllables, and then full words.

      It was far more than required for a ten day trip, but it just goes to show what I could have achieved had I needed it!