Sometimes the fastest way to to walk!

A few nights ago, I ran the fastest three miles of my life.

I have been running on and off for the past five years. I started five Julys ago post-partum and determined to get down to a reasonable weight. One unexpected pregnancy and post-partum recovery, two major injuries and some stubborn baby weight (and yeah, weight from before the baby weight too) has made my "running career" a wild ride of ups and downs.

When I started running, I used the Couch to 5K program in cheap running shoes. I didn't know then that they were too small for distance running to allow for the swelling of my feet. I also didn't know that wearing 100% cotton t-shirts were not the best way to go about keeping my body cool. I knew nothing about proper running hydration and fueling. Nothing about using salt for cramping or recovery. Nothing about how the right kind of socks and stride can make all the difference in the world.

But I did learn fairly quickly about keeping track of my time. That came pretty naturally -- the need to measure my progress. Before the explosion of smartphone apps to track pace per mile, I was using a cheap watch that I hit before I started running and clicked off when I was done. I used that time to plug in that information online and kept an eye on it as my time got better and my runs got easier.

I can still remember that first Saturday out on the Eaton Trail at Woodward Park. I had followed my sister's encouragement to join her training team, M*A*S*H Runners to really help give some accountability and support eventually sign up to run a half-marathon.

At that point, I was running for about 20 minutes. I think I was up to a mile and some change. My pace that first Saturday was a 15 or 16 minute mile jog. I was S-L-O-W and I was super hot and sweaty in that cotton t-shirt. But I was out there. And I was out there with people of all shapes and sizes. I felt like I was a part of something amazing -- that there was an entire population of people in my city who were running, biking, walking and working hard for either health or a race...or both.

I was hooked. Somehow, this then 34 year-old non-runner was running. I enlisted my good friend, Robin, who was five-weeks post-partum to join me and we were off and running...literally.

And as she ran off her baby weight and got faster, I ended up pregnant and running slower (increased blood volume will do that). Nonetheless, pregnancy did not deter me. I finished that half-marathon in 2:38 and some change. I was pretty proud of myself.

Since then, I have run an additional four half-marathons, a 10k and a few 5ks. I have run that same race in my hometown and run races in a few other places. I have had great races and not-so-great races. I have crossed some finish lines with a fist-pump of victory and have limped across others.

My last half-marathon nearly killed me - injury, stomach/intestintal issue during the race, running alone through the streets of Las Vegas -- it soured my enjoyment of running.

I took some time off.

I got fitted for orthotics. I finally got fitted for decent and expensive running shoes. And then I did nothing.

Oh...I ran a 5K Color Run and I put a few miles on the treadmill at the gym. But that was it.

Sometimes I would pass runners and wax nostalgic. Many times I would sleep in on a Saturday and marvel that there was a time that I would willingly wake up early to go running with friends.

And that made me sad.

Then I thought about turning 40 and how I didn't want my last half-marathon experience to be the one that caused me to hang up my shoes. Because most runners have a shelf life. Unless you are "born to run," most people run some races and then injury and age become a factor and swimming and biking become more appealing.

That will probably happen with me at some point, but I didn't want it to happen quite yet. I had a vision of myself at 40 running strong and with joy -- fast and free. And I wanted that to become a reality.

Unfortunately, I came to this conclusion a bit on the late side this summer. I've always started my half-marathon training for the November Two Cities race in June/July. But this year, it was the middle of August before I laced up those fairly new shoes and woke up early on a Saturday morning.

It was a little pathetic. While part of me was proud of myself for finally getting out there again, I was sucking some major wind. My lungs were on fire and my feet feel like lead. My overall pace for three miles was a dismal 13:30 or something to that effect. A lot of stopping from exhaustion and non-conditioning happened that day as I attempted to catch my breath.

But I didn't want that to be my last attempt. So, I did what I did the first time around. I roped in Robin and then begged Gina and Jenny and Amy and Ninon and a few others whom I had run with over the years or who I knew were runners or maybe would want to try it out.

However, time was short and we needed to be as ready to do that 13.1 miles as well as we were able. So, I considered our options. And I decided that the Galloway method was our best option.

For those who aren't familiar with this method, it's based off a training theory by Jeff Galloway. His intriguing idea was that rather than doing the traditional non-stop running, the body would actual perform better if you did interval training, combining both running and walking -- thereby making you faster.

So, depending on your target pace, you would run for a certain amount of time and then do a brisk walk for a shorter duration for recovery. For me, it's a 4:15 minute run and then a 1 minute walk.

Let me tell you that initially it's very hard for a runner to wrap their head around the idea that walking can make you a faster runner. In fact, there is a part of us that feels like walking at all makes us "not a runner" and is a "cheat," when in fact, it's actually an amazing training method as I would come to find.

Having suffered my fair share of injuries and bad seasons of training and knowing that we didn't have adequate time to "seriously train," I was much more open to the idea. I had named this training season the "fun edition," because in years passed, it seemed like our drive to be better, faster, stronger led to injury, and an overall feeling of dissatisfaction.

So Galloway method it was.

Let me tell you, that first time out on the trail when I called out the first interval and we had to slow to a walk, we all had a hard time putting on the brakes. It felt counter-intuitive. It felt wrong. But, we did it. I think most of us were halfway to running by the time the signal went off to start running again. We were raring to go. However, something happened as we stayed faithful to the interval training. We got faster. We weren't hurting as much afterwards. 

Within a few weeks, we were posting overall pace times that were very close to our best "non-stop" running paces. And all that with a WHOLE MINUTE OF WALKING every 4:15 minutes.

It was astounding.

Yes, we had to become confident in our training method and its results so that when we saw a group of hardcore runners coming our way and our interval signal went off, we were okay with slowing to our walk then, rather than being vain and waiting until we passed them. We had nothing to prove. We knew we were well-conditioned.

And yes, we had to smile and wave at the training team coaches out there on the trails that would encourage us to "not give up and keep on running" as we briskly walked by them. Their perception was that we were tired and needed to walk and that they needed to encourage us.

Our stats were encouraging enough actually. 

And so flash-forward to a few nights ago when I was out on the trail in the early twilight. I was pushing myself. I knew that. I was sorta paying attention to my audio cues of current pace and overall pace. But at the end, it was just me and my shoes and the trail. 

And I was strong and I was free.

And...I was fast!

I finished that three miles only to look down and be astounded by the number on my Runkeeper app.

9:49 minute mile pace overall.


My eyes could hardly believe what they were seeing. In all of my seasons of running, I have never, ever come close to sustaining a pace like that for more than a quarter of a mile. But for three miles?? With all that walking in between??

To say I was stunned was an understatement. And then it hit me....

This lesson in interval training goes beyond running. It's applicable to Life!

How often do I get out there to "do life" with all the appropriate gear (I hope!) and then just try to book it to the bitter end, trying to muscle through injuries and ignoring the intrinsic need for fuel and sustenance -- too winded to even talk to my fellow runners. I just want to "finish this thing" already!

But, the race of life is not designed to be run that way. 

We desperately need those intervals for slowing down and regaining our breath. We need to take a minute to feed our souls, to convey important information to friends and family that often goes uncommunicated due to our frantic pace throughout our days and week. In short, we need some variety.

We need rest.

Life is not a sprint or even a sustained jog.

And so many times, we feel like slowing down is "cheating" or "being a quitter," when the truth is that it makes us faster, stronger and yes, freer!

And we need to be confident enough in this life-sustaining method that the encouragement of others to "get in the game" and do more/be more/volunteer more does not goad us into more than we can handle.

So, take it from this almost-40-year-old fair-weather runner!

It's okay to walk. 

And more than that, it's vital and necessary to finishing this great race called Life.

Give yourself permission to bring down your frantic life pace to a brisk walk -- even for just a minute, or five, or a full day...even a week. The race will still be there waiting for you as you pick it back up...I promise!

And you'll be all the better for it.

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