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Runner’s Therapy: the power of a tempo run

Posted Jan 23 2011 9:25pm

First of all, I loved reading all of your confessions . And I’m happy to discover that I’m not the only one who ignores the treadmill’s incline button and doesn’t always shower on days I don’t work out.  It’s the little things in life…


In the spirit of confessions , I should admit that I’m not the best about doing regular speedwork. In fact, that’s what first drew me to marathons — training that just involved running at a slow, steady pace and no track workouts? Sign me up!

But as I’m sure many of you know, if you want to get faster at any distance, eventually you’ve got to do some speedy runs. While I’ve done some sporadic speedwork in past training cycles, this is the first time I’ve been pretty diligent about doing it every week. Going in, my hope was that it would make me faster. What’s been surprising, however, is how therapeutic a tempo run can actually be.

A true example of this happened during my run on Friday. It was the end of a very tiring and frustrating week where I felt like I was in a constant battle with my body. All week long I had been fighting weird flu-like symptoms — extreme fatigue, headaches, nausea, and horrible muscle aches. And not “I’m feeling sore from a great workout” kind of aches, either. I wasn’t actually sick though, so I tried to just take it easy and slog through my workouts — doing the minimal amount just to get the training in. By the time Friday afternoon finally rolled around, I was ready to skip my workout altogether. My pup, my couch, and a warm drink were calling my name.

Somehow, I got my tired butt to the gym. And wouldn’t you know it — in spite of everything, I ended up having an amazing run. It’s funny how sometimes running (or whatever other activity we really enjoy) can give us exactly what we need when we least expect it.

So the next time you’re having a rough day, week, or even month, instead of curling up on the couch, try a little Running Therapy — in the form of a glorious tempo run.

1.) First of all, forget lifting, cross training, or yoga. It doesn’t matter what your schedule says — all you need right now is a little quality time on the treadmill (or roads if you’re outside).

2.) Put on your headphones, but skip over your usual running playlist filled with crappy pop music and hip hop songs. Those are great most days, but just aren’t gonna cut it tonight. Instead, turn on something that has a lot more emotion to it, and lyrics with actual meaning. Something like “Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons (yes, I am admittedly obsessed).

Click to watch on YouTube

3.) As you start your run, turn up that music so loud that you can feel it envelop you (this is why I’d recommend the treadmill). if you can still hear the treadmill or other gym goers around you, your music isn’t loud enough. Seriously — stop worrying about bursting your eardrums. Just turn that baby up until you can feel every beat of the drum and strum of the bass guitar in your bones.

4.) The first chords begin to play, and amazingly enough, you will feel your legs start loosening up. Suddenly all that anger and frustration you’ve been holding in all week will start to build up. As you focus on the crescendo of the song, channel that frustration into your legs. You’ll be filled by a surge of energy you didn’t know you had.

5.) But don’t get too excited yet. Let yourself warm up for a mile or so. Go back to the beginning of “Little Lion Man” and listen to it again. Finally, when you can’t stand going slow any longer, hit that speed button until you’re running at a fast tempo pace. Stop worrying about how tired you were feeling, how awful your runs have been all week, and how you had expected to just slog through this one. Just listen to your music and run.

6.) And run and run and run. Keep running and listening to that same song on repeat until

a.) the song starts losing it’s power to motivate. In which case, I’d suggest switching to “ The Cave, ” “ Roll Away Your Stone ,” “ Awake My Soul ,” or “ Winter Winds .” (Yes, they’re all Mumford & Sons songs. I told you I was obsessed.**)

b.) all the anger has melted away and instead you suddenly feel a strong urge to leap off the treadmil and dance a jig around the gym, or

c.) you want to throw up. Option C isn’t exactly recommended, but if you’re already feeling a little “off” your stomach may feel the need to remind you that you don’t actually have wings or superhuman running powers.

Yes, if others heard what you were doing, they may think you’re a bit crazy. But this is therapy. Don’t question it. Just trust in the process.

7.) Cool down, go home, clean up, eat a dinner packed with veggies, snack on some chocolate, and go to bed at 10:30, despite the fact that it’s a Friday night. You’ll be guaranteed to wake up the next morning feeling like a new (wo)man.

And that’s all there is too it! Obviously some days running is going to be tough no matter what. But sometimes, if you can just get yourself moving, you’ll be surprised by how much better a nice, hard run can make you feel.

**But really, although I might have an unnatural love for them, Mumford & Sons makes a great running soundtrack. The music is packed with emotion and pretty much every song has a great crescendo that’ll really get you moving! So download it. Now.

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