I only overcame my childhood antipathy to running by starting out slowly—so slowly that the stitches in my side that had been the bane of my childhood didn’t even wake up from their slumber, so slowly that I’m not sure I broke a sweat, so slowly that people didn’t think a thing about asking me for directions, as if I weren’t going any faster than they were walking.
After I got the hang of it, though, I turned my back coldly on the slow runs that had allowed me to become a runner. Now I wanted to go fast, and I went out for every run as though it were a test, not worth doing at all if I weren’t doing it all-out. That was fine, until the day I felt a bone in my foot crack and had to spend the next couple of months wearing a boot, not running at all. The stress fracture was the most acute of my problems, but I realized, as I spent the next 4 months recovering from it, that running all-out all-the-time had created all kinds of problems for my body: I had plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinosis, a twitchy hamstring. Any one of them might have spelled the end of my running life if I hadn’t been both stubborn and well-insured, so that I could go see a great physical therapist.
In PT, I learned a lot about how the body holds together, and came to realize that my foot broke and my plantar fascia was wrecked and my achilles throbbed not because of anything in my foot, but because my calves were tight, which meant that my feet required to do all the flexing for themselves and my lower legs as well. And my calves were tight because my hips were tight. And so I had to start from scratch with my running, in a sense.
The first runs back from my broken foot were excruciating—not because of the pain, but because I couldn’t stand being passed—pityingly, I was sure—by everyone else on the road. I exaggerated the motion of looking at my watch, and looked at it more than normal, and let out big sighs when I did, as though to make it clear that though I running like my batteries were dying, it was all part of my VERY SERIOUS TRAINING.
But the more I did these slow runs, or run-walks, the stronger I felt. My PT encouraged me to keep taking it slow, and suggested I look into the coaching ideas of Jack Daniels, who argues that running slowly—almost excruciatingly slowly—is not only good at keeping you from getting injured, but also increases your endurance capacity in a way that running fast simply can’t do. He prescribes speedwork as well, of course—but when you’re not going specifically for speed, he suggests, you should be taking your runs extremely easy. Have a conversation. Sing a song. Eat a sandwich. That kind of pace.