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Sunday morning I just finished a 5 miles morning run. Perfect weather for a run (temperature was around 45F), but still sweating like if I would have finished a Marathon at 2PM on a hot day in July.

This Sunday’s run was way shorter than the 15 miles I used to run on Sundays. Since I finished the last long race of this year and no race in sight (I have not signed up for another race yet), I have been running less miles per week. My weekly total has dropped from 35 miles to 15-20 miles. My new, very sad norm is usually skipping a short one through the week and replacing the Sunday morning long run with a much shorter one.


Not surprisingly I could come up with very creative explanations why I just do not feel strong when I am running and why I feel exhausted after running much less than I used to two months ago.

Here is a short list of my shameful excuses:

    • Too much work makes me tired, not much energy left for running strong;
    • Busy schedule recently (business trip, taking care of various things for the family, etc.) distracted my well established routine;
    • Too much stress about all kinds of things exhausted my body, not much energy left for running strong;
    • I must have a unique heart condition, I must have an exotic heart related problem that has been going undetected for years now;
    • Thanksgiving meals were too heavy…

I am sure we could all keep adding even more creative excuses. I am sure if I keep looking for excuses, soon enough I could find a reason why it would be Santa’s fault.

Probably we could make some argument about some of them, but in reality all the reasons I have listed above are the wrong reasons. At least I really hope since I have the “exotic heart related problem” also on the list…

When I started running and kept continuously improving, that was the busiest and most challenging times for us this year.

Having our family 300 miles apart, commuting 300 miles on every Friday afternoon right after work and driving another 300 miles back on Monday morning (to arrive to the office by 9AM) was enough distraction in itself already. Then trying to find a new home, then dealing with all the paperwork that surrounds a mortgage application, working out all the details, selling our old home, moving everybody to our new home, the emotional challenge to leave a place behind where we loved to live, leaving behind all the friends and great people we got to know. At the same time while being apart from the family, mysterious illnesses going through the girls. Every week seemed to have its own illness with its own weird symptom. At the same time I was trying to establish myself in my new job, proving to my new colleagues that they really made the right decision hiring me.

If I could fit running into this family mess, then why would it be a problem now, when everything is settled and the family is already back together? There must be something else. And I think the answer is simpler than I originally thought.

It came down to the following: lack of proper training plan. At least that is what I think is the real reason.

For three and half months I gave up already completely any speed training. I was just simply running’… I was just following a routine that I thought will take me to the next level. I realized that my weekly runs were completely missing any speed related training and my body is sending me warning signals. I can run at a slower pace (8:45/mile) for a long time now. Endurance is not an issue. But I want to have more PRs. I want to get through a Half Marathon in less than 1:50. Then I want to finish a Half Marathon in less than 1:40. I want to finish a Marathon in less than 4:00. Then I want to finish a Marathon in less than 3:45. Then in less than…

I was improving for a long time, but in the last almost two months any improvement basically stopped. At least I do not feel that strong anymore while I am out there running. That is not good.

Finally I was also able to get a heart rate monitor for my Sports Tracker App, so I can continue over-analyzing my runs.

At first, I was reading carefully the Sports Tracker description of how to determine my maximum Heart Rate (HR). There is a simple formula and there is the experimental way. The simple formula put my maximum heart rate at 190. The way I felt lately, as much exhausted as I felt lately, I thought my maximum heart rate was 290… So let’s see the measurements. Too bad that I do not have comparison data from three months ago when I felt really strong. Anyways, I will have one when I will feel strong again: soon. (positive thinking…)

I am not a speedster - with 0.8 mile long sprints

I am not a speedster – with 0.8 mile long sprints

I am definitely not a speedster - 0.5 mile long sprints

I am definitely not a speedster – 0.5 mile long sprints

My first attempt to following the experimental way to determine the maximum heart rate was a bit botched: instead of 800 meters (0.8km) intervals, I followed 0.8 miles intervals. The ratio is 1.6, so that wasn’t very smart of me. Still it gave me a max heart rate number: 194. Then I repeated the run with the originally intended 800 meters intervals, which gave me a max heart rate number: 192. Close enough, so I decided not to have a third attempt.

Now let’s check Sunday’s chart:

Continuously pushing the limit - Heart Rate in the red zone

Continuously pushing the limit – Heart Rate in the red zone

Sunday's run: slowing down

Sunday’s run: slowing down

What is clearly visible besides the sad reality that it took more than 44 minutes to finish 5 miles (more than 4 minutes behind my personal best on this distance) is the fact that my heart worked at around 90%-95% of its maximum capacity almost the entire time. I am not an expert in this area, but it just does not sound like a good thing.

That would explain why I felt I could almost die at the end of a 5 mile run. Something I have not struggled with in a very long time. Keep pushing, Laszlo! Keep pushing!

So what is the solution?

Since I am no expert by any means here, there is only one significant thing I can think of right now: I have to make sure I have a focused training plan includes plenty of strengthening and speed training. Since I never included any Fartlek type of sessions in the training plan, I think it takes its toll now. One significant change I realized during the past three months: ever since we moved, my running did not have too much hills to climb. Actually it has none. Zero. No hills. The training route I have run before our move had a short very steep hill to climb a short steep decline, a longer continuously steeper hill to climb with a long decline afterwards. All this within 1.4 miles. Since I run 2-3 laps 4 times a week and 10 laps on Sunday mornings, that pretty much took care of the cardiovascular strengthening. I remember the very first time I run this 1.4 mile loop. I almost died at the top of the first hill: short, but very steep climb. So I will try to find now a solution to simulate that. In the meantime, I will try to implement some Fartlek type of exercise.

How funny it is: running is just like everything else in life. You always have to keep improving. You always have to tweak things to get better. Otherwise you get used to things, you will start expecting that improvement and good things just show up at your doorstep automatically, without any special effort. Or even you might think that you have done already your share, so now it is fair to expect that good things will just start happening. Unfortunately that is not entirely true and running seems to be proving just that.

Of course there is still a chance that I might have a serious, previously undiagnosed heart condition, but I keep that option for later consideration: if my most recent effort with the speed training will not show the result that I expect. Until then, please share what training plan you follow to keep improving.