fitness · training

Is there really such a thing as a “forever pace”?

Some days, movement feels delicious. You get on your bike, lace up your running shoes, adjust your swim goggles over your cap (FYI– not all at the same time), and then…. Everything just hums. You’re in the zone. You’re grooving on the flow. You feel like you can go on all day. You’ve found your “forever pace”– a level of exertion where your effort feels almost as easy as breathing.

Or so says this article, citing cardiologist John Higgins about the importance of finding a forever pace in order to increase the number of minutes of exercise per week (to optimize heart health, he says). In order to do a lot-a-lot of endurance exercise (e.g. running, cycling, swimming), you do a variety of workouts. But, he adds, you also have to find the sweet spot where movement feels effortless.

“Its that easy pace where you feel like you are gliding in an effortless zone,” says Dr. Higgins. (Think of it as a two or three on an effort scale of one to 10.) 

I know the guy means well, but that quote rubs me the wrong way. Why? Because for several physical activities (hiking and running are my prime examples), I’ve never found an easy-enough pace to maintain for long periods of time. And the fact that I can’t seem to do them comfortably makes me feel self-conscious and crabby. Therefore, I’m blaming Dr. Higgins and his burbling on about this mythical “forever pace”. How about put a sock in it, Higgins… 🙂

Perhaps that was too abrupt. Okay, let’s look at an example: hiking. I’ve blogged about my conflicted relationship with it here. My experiences since then have been mixed, but mostly negative; that is, I’ve not found a pace at which I can hike up a mountain where it feels effortless, or easy, or even non-terrible. On the other hand, walking in nature where there’s some change in elevation is fun. Good to know.

Running is the same: I sort-of trained for some triathlons a looong time ago, and managed to make it through those 5k runs in the races, but neither the training nor the races were anything but laborious and painful. Yes, I know– the training should be slow slow slow, building up gradually. And no, I didn’t faithfully adhere to that principle. Rather, I just went out for slow runs, feeling bad about 1) how slow I was going, and 2) how awful it felt even though I was going slowly. A bad combo.

So what does this tell me about the notion of the “forever pace”? (I keep using the quotes because of my skepticism about its existence) Here are some quick thoughts.

One: Finding and maintaining a forever pace takes time, dedication, and confidence.

I do have a forever pace for cycling. But that’s because I’ve been cycling for a long time and love it dearly. My easy pace changes from season to season and year to year. Also, my notion of “forever” changes– these days I can do an easy ride for shorter durations than I could 5 years ago. It depends on a lot on bodily and environmental factors, and it’s important to acknowledge and respect them.

Two: The forever pace is extremely sport-specific and contextual.

Some activities (like hiking) have constraints (e.g. the effort you have to expend to move uphill) that make a forever pace not easily attainable for some people (e.g. me). Note, I don’t say impossible. If I loved hiking and wanted to become a hiker, I’d figure out a combo of physical and psychological adjustment to find that easy pace. I have done this with swimming. I used to do some lap swimming, but never liked it much; I’ve not (yet) mastered easy breathing techniques. But, I’ve found ways to swim that are easy for me and give me great joy. Yay!

Three: Not everyone is going to be able to access a forever pace for all physical activities, or at all times. Which is fine– it’s the way of bodies over time.

For me these days, it’s important to acknowledge that, for some sports and at some time, movement isn’t going to be easy or effortless, and I’m not going to be sailing or gliding or flying on gossamer wings. This knowledge minus the judgment will help me approach movement with more reasonable expectations and a greater chance of enjoyment.

Readers, what do you think about the idea of the “forever pace”? Do you have one for your favorite activity? Is it a happy place for you? Is it elusive sometimes? I’d love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “Is there really such a thing as a “forever pace”?

  1. I’m with you! Closest I’ve found would be 20-30 min/mile walking. For running and other endurance sports – not happening, at least not anymore. And what I used to be able to do in pace/distance more “easily” (less hard, not easy) is now a push. The old max pace/distance? Well, I think we’ve parted ways. Working on adjusting to that, and being grateful I did those once, and can do what I can do now.

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  2. Are we similar, or is it that cycling is more suited to this notion than running? I remember riding last fall and thinking, after 65 miles, that I should slow down to save energy. Someone rode up beside me, we started talking, and next thing I knew, we were at the 90 mile rest stop.

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