Learning to run slowly


Earlier this year, I followed some friends in signing up for the SF Half Marathon in July. With my bank account $200 lighter, I was thus committed to running.

I’ve been an avid cyclist, but I have never been a runner. I think one of the things I love most about cycling is the sensation of speed. It’s easy to fly on a bike, and there’s not much like the thrill of exploring the limits of prudence and skill when the road turns twisty and downhill.

So in comparison, starting running was a slog. I appreciated the simplicity of running, but there was no rush of speed, just one foot after the other. Sometimes, I could feel a loftiness when I pushed my pace beyond tempo, but it wasn’t something I could hold for very long. If I started a run too fast, I’d feel exhausted soon afterwards.

Recently, I’ve been starting to figure it out. I think a few things contributed. I took a couple weeks off, because the ball of my right foot had been giving me a bit of pain; now I was wary of going too hard and causing the ache to return. In addition, I finally bought replacements for my decade-old Nikes. And I decided to try running along the waterfront after work, as a change from laps under the lights at Kezar.

Going easy for the sake of my foot, in new shoes, as daylight faded over Anza Lagoon, I found myself settling into a pleasant rhythm.

Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, I let myself settle into our decidedly slow pace as Sharlene and I headed down the Panhandle towards Golden Gate Park. By around mile 2 or 3, I was surprised to find that I still felt good, and so I kept going. Rain started falling, light at first, then a constant shower, but still I felt good, so I continued. My feet and the rain pattered down trails and paths and roads, regular and peaceful. I had only a vague idea of where I was, but I didn’t mind. I splashed through puddles and squinted through wet glasses, keeping the same easy pace. My feet turned and turned underneath me, and it felt like they could turn forever. When I finally tired and stopped, I had covered eight (!) miles. The rain had passed and the sun was starting to come out.

Run-time feels like a different sense of time from normal. It’s mostly quiet, with just the rhythm of feet and breathing as accompaniment. It never feels fast, but the landscape moves around you and distant landmarks draw closer in a surprising way. I think I can grow to love it—I just have to remember to run slow to find it.