Posted by: thehungryrunner | August 18, 2010

Back from vacation: The unexpected joy of “micro-mini” morning runs

I seem to be in a contented and contemplative mood lately; it doesn’t take much to get me to wax philosophical of all the life lessons derived through my running, and to tangent mercilessly on that subject.  Knowing this, I’ll do my best to stay on course, and spare you the stream-of-consciousness that’s so close I can hear it in the distance, like a babbling brook of Alpha-Bits (do they still make that cereal?).

But I do want to share about one recent lesson:  that of breaking out of black-and-white thinking, and actually ENJOYING the gray I find in the middle.  We just recently returned from a vacation to Florida, and the trip presented a wonderful opportunity to experience just that.

When possible, I like to keep my normal running and workout schedule intact even when on vacation.  At the very least, I try to maintain something that bears close enough resemblence to my regular routine so as to help me keep my sanity amidst the happy confusion and merry discombobulation brought by new surroundings, different schedules, crowds of fellow tourists, and roller coasters of the culinary kind.  These workouts, often taken in the morning so as not to interfere too much with the rest of the itinerary, are my sanctuary, setting a relaxed yet energetic tone for the rest of the day, and giving me the opportunity to experience the lay of a “new” land (in this case, the labyrinth of roads, winding loops and trails of Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground) from the magical perspective of a quiet, solo, foot tour.

That said, on this particular trip, it quickly became apparent that the plans I had in my head….and the workouts I ended up doing….would not match up in the least.  But what ended up happening was way better.  Between the realities of central Florida weather in August and my pecular inability to cease and decist with hitting the snooze button, I was forced to confine most of my runs to quick morning jaunts of just a fraction of my normal distances.  Knowing that we’d be doing our fair share of walking, I wasn’t worried about hitting my minimum in terms of exercise, but I was still concerned that these micro-mini excursions wouldn’t feel like enough, that I wouldn’t have achieved a sense of rhythm and full momentum before the “quickie” was over.  I needn’t have worried.  Funny what happens, when you take off the ipod and turn your senses to the unfamiliar surroundings, how much your mind slows down and your senses amplify, enough to soak in a 5-miler’s worth of stimuli in a 2-mile out-and-back.  If anything, I found the condensed nature of my runs an incentive to extract more out of them; knowing I didn’t have a leisurely hour to fall into a relaxed trance, I set my curiosity dial on “high” and challenged myself to cover as much — not miles, but sensory experiences — in as short a time as possible.  Plus, I discovered a happy bonus:  going short meant I could be more aggressive with my speed, and challenge myself both to sustain an ambitious pace from start to finish AND have a negative split in my second half of the run, to boot.  This in itself was very stimulating; it’s as though certain parts of my body and metabolism, ones that aren’t called upon as much in my regular runs, were themselves set free and able to run wildly along with me on these morning jaunts.  I became sold on this “alternative” very quickly, and began to look forward to these “done before you know it” outings!

Which also meant that my first run upon our return, a 5-miler around my neighborhood, felt rather ultra in duration, at least to my shortened-attention-span mind.  But to my delight, I ran those five miles quite easily in under 50 minutes, for a sub-10:00 pace.  Not speedy by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely faster than my normal “maintenance run” pace of about 11 minutes per mile.  I credit my week of “vacation speed work” as the reason behind it.  Which annoys me — darn it, that means speed work WORKS, bleh.

How will this experience of “run ‘n go” runs affect my regular, quotidian training schedule?  Not sure.  It’s possible I’ll just leave it go as my new tried-and-true vacation run routine.  Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually apply the lesson more fully and use these runs as gateway to speed work.  Just shhhhhh….don’t tell my body that’s what it is!

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