After a month of running with Mu, we’re going to step up the pace a little bit – literally. It’s time to sprint, or at least go faster, with Mu, for one day a week. Yes, we’re going to discuss a speed workout. But since it’s a speed workout with Mu, it’s a little different from the typical anxious race against the stopwatch you may be used to.
One of the main goals of running with Mu is to reconnect you with your running, and reconnecting your running to your life. One of the main objectives to reach that goal is to increase your body awareness. Through a steady practice of daily zazen, combined with yoga and some kinhin, you’re hopefully starting to become more aware of your body-mind, your running, and how they interact and impact each other.
Now we’re going to take mind-body awareness to another level and try using it to adjust our speed up and down. You should wear your stopwatch for this one, but do not (repeat, do not) time any distances in your run – only the time you will spend in each “gear.”
Finding your gears
Begin your run as usual, and run at your most relaxed pace for 10 minutes. We’ll call this First Gear. This is slightly above a jog, but very, very comfortable: talking is no problem at all. Pay attention to the rhythm of your breathing in first gear and other body signals. In first gear, you’re feeling no pain, no stress at all. If anything, you might be feeling a little reined because you want to go faster and know you can.
Now, check out what happens when you pass a car or another runner going faster than you – do you feel a sudden sense of embarrassment at being seen plodding along in first gear? Feeling a need to pick up the pace and show that runner or car you’re a lot faster than that? That can be a healthy innate competitive drive – so long as you don’t act on it every single time you feel it. Sometimes, first gear is the right gear, especially at the beginning of your run. If you’re a budding Type A and act on all your competitive urges and adrenaline surges, you’re going to exhaust yourself pretty quickly. Part of Running with Mu is learning to recognize that urge and just watch it carefully, nurturing it at the right time without stamping it out completely.
Okay, after a few minutes take it up just a notch to Second Gear. You can still talk, although it’s a bit more of an effort. Feel the changes in your body-mind when you switch to second. Become intimate with what second gear feels like.
A few minutes more, and now to Third. Talking is still possible, but pretty difficult. You’re not reciting the Gettysburg Address in third gear. Again, feel the change from second to third and be aware of what happens.
Fourth Gear: talking is mostly one-syllable words. Feel the change from third to fourth; gain an understanding of what “fourth” is to you and how it feels.
Finally, Fifth. No holding back, as fast as you can go. You can’t talk, you can barely think – it’s all you can do to focus on your breath, your legs churning, your arms pumping. Depending on how you’re feeling, it might feel exhilarating, or it might feel impossible.
Now, shift back down to fourth, then third and so on until you’re back in first. Feel your heart and breath pumping hard, all of the varied sensations running all up and down your body-mind.
You’ve spent only a few minutes in each gear. Shift back and forth between them for a total of 20-30 minutes or so – get used to how each gear change feels as you go up and down. Learn to recognize the distinct differences in each gear: how you feel, the pace and effort required. For some Gear Change workout sessions, it might be more helpful not to shift all the way up to fifth — you might find it hard to recognize what first through fourth feel like again after running in fifth for awhile. You might also find recognizing just four gears works better for you than trying to recognize five, which is fine too.
Shifting down, going home
Understand that today’s third gear might be tomorrow’s fourth, or next week’s second. You’re learning to run by feel, adjusting your gears for how you’re feeling on any particular day. Very often we try to fit a 7:30/mile pace in what is, realistically, an 8:30/mile pace day – just because it’s what’s on the schedule and what the charts and tables say we need to do. It’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole: frustrating and exhausting.
On other days, we feel like running 7:00 pace when the schedule says 7:30. Should we run in a higher gear than what we think we’re supposed to? So long as you’re not too close to a scheduled race (and you shouldn’t be if you’re just starting to run with Mu), I say absolutely. Running with Mu is about listening to your body: sometimes it complains; sometimes it’s shouting for joy. Make peace with it and go along for the ride.
To finish the gear workout, shift back down to first for 5-10 minutes, then do kinhin for another 5-10 when you’re back home. What you’ve done is a somewhat free-form version of a fartlek workout, the main difference being you are mainly practicing becoming intimate with your body-mind at different speeds on different days.
So beginning the first week of the second month of Running with Mu, we’ve now added what I’ll call a “Gear Change” workout, a sort of accelerated body awareness workout, for 1-2 days a week. You’re still only running for 5-6 days/week, going no faster than third gear for the rest of those days. You’re still not wearing a cell phone, Garmin, iPod, or any other electronic device, and you’re only wearing the watch now to time how long you’ve been running. I would still leave the watch at home most days except Gear Change day. We’re still learning to listen to our body-mind, rather than a hunk of electronics strapped to our wrist.
I’ll try to post more on running with Mu next week.