Mark Armstrong: Whoever said a run could be easy?

Mark Armstrong training run Wacton

Mark Armstrong on a training run - Credit: Alison Armstrong

How ‘easy’ should an easy run be? 

It’s something that I’ve struggled with since learning that to make any real progress as a runner then you need to mix your paces up in training. 

Easy runs are all relative, of course. 

Whilst a nine-minute mile will be maxing out for one person, another runner will find that slow. 

I don’t always enjoy my easy runs but when I don’t it’s normally a mental thing. Whilst my heart rate is telling me that I’m not exerting myself too hard, my head is telling me to stop… I never do but the internal monologue can get a bit adversarial. 

I’ve been able to do a few runs with my wife, Alison, recently whose easy pace is always faster than mine. My coach Neil Featherby has been goading me whilst I have been injured that Alison is ‘now the runner in the family’ and I can’t really argue seeing as she is now accumulating her own trophy collection at home. 

But we did a long run together recently where we decided to do four miles easy, four miles steady, four miles easy. 

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For anyone thinking we might be able to have a nice chat where we moan about how untidy our children are then you’re mistaken (although my kids are messy). 

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On this day Alison’s easy pace was a lot quicker than mine but by the time the steady section came around I felt able to flick a switch in my head and get them done at a decent lick, which felt more enjoyable. 

Then we reverted to type in the last four miles and Alison’s easy pace saw her well off in the distance once again. 

It indicates that I have too much time to overthink during those easy sections but when I have to concentrate, I’m able to step up the pace. 

Whilst training is essential to make physical gains, it also helps enable you to understand what you need to work on mentally. 

I find it easy runs difficult… as ridiculous as that sounds. I would always prefer to do a session where I have to hit certain paces but of course you can’t do that all the time. 

I’m still learning to run easy and understand that pace will differ over time as fitness levels ebb and flow. 

I’m starting to gain a bit more confidence back in my legs over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been combining some decent mileage with a fair amount of strength work, which I’ve had to make my peace with that I’m going to have to do for the foreseeable future if I want to run. 

I’m still yet to find a happy balance between the strength work and running and I think this is one of the main reasons why those easy runs feel quite so difficult at times. 

But with the help of my physio, we have struck upon a programme that is keeping those hamstring/knee issues at bay. Dead lifts and hip hitches have been the order of the day whilst the wall sit has definitely got my quads burning. It works but it’s an exercise I’d be happy to never do again - a minute has never felt so long! 

I can tentatively start making a few plans but the priority is to stay clear of injuries and hopefully set up a more consistent 2022. 

I should have been on the countdown for the Manchester Marathon but I’ve sensed a fair bit of ‘maranoia’ going on around social media as the some of the real big marathons get closer. 

I totally understand it. When you’ve put so much hard work in you don’t want anything to interrupt your rhythm but it’s worth bearing in mind now that the work should be pretty much done by now, certainly for London. 

It’s too late to gain any more fitness so it’s about sharpening up and getting some life back into those old legs of yours. 

Oh, and run a mile if one of your friends or family members so much as clears their throat near you… 

RNR

The Round Norfolk Relay sounds like it was another cracker last weekend with social media buzzing from all the excitement. Congratulations to anyone that took part in an event which shows that despite the individual element to running, nothing brings out the best in people than being part of a team. 

Thanks

Thank you for all the kind comments last week about my column - it’s good to know that a lot of people are still getting a lot out of mine and Neil’s weekly columns.