Runners talk of the joy, albeit usually fleeting, of running in the zone. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that everyone knows what this is… That place where you’re cruising right along and you feel like you could run forever. At first, entering the zone had more to do with the rush of endorphins that I wasn’t used to, those days were awesome but they didn’t last very long. For quite a while after that the zone was rather fleeting, more like I fell into it from time to time.
This has changed quite a bit since I started working to define my aerobic zones (1-4). Running in the zone hits around aerobic zones 3 and 4. In my current level of fitness, taking the cold weather into account, we’re talking about a pace between 8:15 to 8:30 for 7 to 10 miles. If my run is shorter than that, I really don’t worry too much about the zone because I’m trying to stay down under an 8 minute pace so I’m steadily in zone 4 with moments in zone 5. In short, I’m working too hard to get there.
For me, getting into the zone is a very delicate balance that can be upset by not pushing hard enough or pushing too hard and this is why dropping into the zone was so illusive all those years. I have to get it just right. The beautiful thing is that I’ve been able to get there a lot more frequently lately with less effort – it isn’t so elusive anymore because I know where I have to be to get there. This process began with the additional cardiovascular gain realized from cycling and my performance in the Crim 10 mile race. I ran better than I can ever remember running at that race. In fact, I blew by the two guys that work at my local running shop for the first time and it was awesome. I could hear the owner say to Adam (the salesman) as I ran by, “Did he just sprint by us on Bradley Hills?” (that’s the second hardest part of the race).
There is a monkey wrench that changes everything with this though… If running happens to be your thing, it’s a lot easier to find the zone because everything will happen more naturally for you. Cycling works like this for me. I may not be the fastest 41-year-old on two wheels, but I’m one of the happiest and I can find the zone easily because I love the work. If you’ve had trouble finding the zone lately, give this a try – it works for me.
By the way:
I just read Embarrassing Dad’s post, here, and he reminded me of another neat little tip: Don’t slow down going up hill. This is where most people slow down to “conserve energy” – if you must, slow up just a touch before the hill and then push up it. You won’t slow down as much on the flat and you’ll still have energy to push the hill. When you start back down, lean down the hill by a degree or two and let gravity pull you down. If you do it right, you’ll feel the pull. Just make sure to adjust your stride to make up for the speed (I stretch mine out, others speed up the feet but keep their stride the same). If you get a chance click on his link and give him a pat on the back, he just had a personal best.