As my years as a long-distance runner continue to accrue, I find myself settling into an annual rhythm. This rhythm, more or less consistent, tends to follow a predictable pattern that allows me to grind myself into shape as the days here in the Northern Hemisphere become warmer and longer. After dragging myself out of the darkness of winter, by the time March rolls around, my attention is drawn inexorably toward the summer when, for 16 out of the last 17 years, I have run at least one 100-mile race.
In my annual preparation for my summer 100 milers, I do all the typical ultrarunner things; long runs, tempo runs, track sessions, hill sessions, heat training, and more. Along the way I attempt to reconcile myself to the experience. For it is indeed the truth that the process of training for a 100-mile race tends to be far more enjoyable than actually running one. It is in this process that I find some of life’s most purposeful moments.
One of the compelling challenges of each season’s build-up is to dial in what I call my ‘all-day pace.’ Put simply, all-day pace is the pace at which I think and feel I can run all day. Each year this pace varies slightly and, of course, it is always subject to what the day brings, but in my weekly training during the springtime, I pay special attention to this pace and attempt to get as comfortable and as confident as I can with it. Some of the characteristics of all-day pace are obvious: I am comfortable enough to carry on a conversation, controlled enough to chew and digest solid food, and quick enough to not get complacent. Some of this pace’s more capricious elements are less clear: I must become steady enough to adapt to the vicissitudes of the terrain and surface, fast enough to maintain momentum, and measured enough to feel a sense of purpose. Like with many aspects of ultrarunning, dialing in all-day pace is both an art and a science.
Last Saturday on an all-day pace run on the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park, I reflected on these last 17 years and what all-day pace has meant to me. As the miles and hours drifted by on that chilly mountain traverse, I couldn’t help but draw the inevitable comparison between all-day pace in running and all -day pace in life. For me, as a middle-aged guy, I admit that I struggle with life pace way more than I do with running pace. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from my experiences with running all-day pace and extend it to the rest of my life?
Diving in a bit more deeply, the metaphor seemed obvious. Could I live my life at a pace in which I had meaningful conversations, nourished myself, remained focused, took in my surroundings, gained momentum, and was grounded in a sense of purpose? If my search for all-day pace in running gives me all these things, at what pace should I live life to also enjoy such things? Just like in the midst of a 100-mile race, it seems to me that in the searching I might find balance and in that balance I might find peace.
Certainly, dialing in all-day pace in running and in life is not always easy or straightforward. Sometimes things just aren’t as simple or as rhythmical as a weekly or monthly training cycle, or even a weekend long run. Sometimes the grind is just that, a grind. And in that grinding it is not always apparent that there are lessons to be learned. But, I believe, even in those tortured moments, the lessons of all-day pace are made clear. If you can capture it, embody it, embrace it, and believe it, then you can become it. The pace at which you live can be as much a part of you as the pace at which you run and from there a sense of equilibrium can emerge, opening up so much more than we thought it could, or even that we felt it ever would.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
Over the past several months, three well-known West Coast breweries have opened up shop here in Virginia, Green Flash Brewing Company in Virginia Beach, Deschutes Brewery in Roanoke, and Stone Brewing in Richmond. In the case of Stone, to celebrate the occasion, they collaborated with two outstanding Richmond Breweries, Ardent Craft Ales and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, to produce a commemorative IPA appropriately named Give Me IPA Or Give Me Death. Brewed with local raspberries and blackberries from the Old Dominion, this Imperial IPA is slightly sweet, gently hopped and, for an 8% ABV beer, eminently drinkable. Well worth a trip to your beer specialty store if you’re looking for something a little different.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What does an all-day pace in running look and feel like to you? As in, what data points (like heart rate or pace) and feelings (effort or leg sensations) do you seek on a long run?
- And, what about AJW’s thoughts on all-day pace in life? Do you intentionally add elements of sustainability to your actions in life? And what are the ‘data points’ of life that you look for to know you are living at a sustainable pace?