Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Slow Down; You’re Moving Too Fast

Sub-titled On Low Heart Rate-Training during Advent

When I crossed the finish line of the Flying Monkey Marathon on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my 2014 racing season unofficially came to an end. It had been a successful one – PRs in the 10K, half marathon, and marathon – along with my first season of triathlon. Despite my success with FIRST/Run Less, Run Faster training programs, I wanted to take things down a notch for a few months.

Following the guidelines of Dr. Phil Maffetone, I began training by heart rate. I won’t go into the science and physiology of low heart rate-training here, but famous adherents of Maffetone’s system include triathlete Mark Allen and others. I determined my Maximum Aerobic Function heart rate (MAF), set my watch to beep at me when I exceeded it, and headed out on my first run.

While I’m never in danger of breaking any land-speed records, running under my MAF rate can barely be called running. Even calling it jogging is generous. Try “slogging” or “shuffling.” My first run was nearly 2 minutes per mile slower than my normal training pace, and I could only make it halfway up a hill before my watch screeched at me to walk. The next run was slightly more successful, in part because treadmills are blissfully flat.

Shuffling along gave me lots of time to think. Here I am, deliberately slowing down during a time of year when everyone else is ramping up their preparations for the holiday season. As the darkness descends earlier and earlier, people rush to and fro with shopping and mailing packages, baking cookies, addressing Christmas cards, and planning travel. Talk at parties devolves into how everyone is “so busy” and “so stressed.” All while I plod around the greenway.

As a priest (and as a person without children), my holiday season is different. In some ways, I have the luxury of prioritizing the religious aspect. No one expects me to travel on Christmas Eve or show up with a plate with a dozen different types of cookies. I can submerse myself in the themes of Advent – waiting, preparing, watching. While life in the church this time of year is its own kind of busy, people’s expectations of me are different from those of their family or loved ones.

Waiting, preparing, and watching with great anticipation and great hope. Spiritually, I am preparing myself for the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God with us. Physically, I am building my aerobic base with hopes that it will pay off in later months. The cultural messages say go harder, go faster, do more in less time. If not for that beeping watch, it would be tempting.

Beginning MAF training has been humbling. There is not a whole lot of room for my ego, so often tied up in my pace or what others might think looking at my training log or blowing by me on the running path. As I slowly make my way on the sidewalk of a busy road, I start to wonder what the people in those cars are thinking about how slowly I am moving. Subconsciously, I pick up the pace until, once again, I hear the demanding beep of my watch.

“Slow down,” it says. “You’re doing just fine.”