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The perfect run

Is the perfect run 30, 40, 50 minutes? What works best for you will change - and that's fine.

I've always felt that 40 minutes was the perfect length of time for a run. Even at the very beginning of my running days, 20 to 30 minutes felt like not quite enough and an hour was, well, simply impossible.

Of course, in the early days I couldn't walk two miles in 40 minutes, but all that mattered was that I moved my body for that long. Eventually I did cover two miles in 40 minutes. In just a matter of months I was able to go three miles in 40 minutes. Then I started to wonder how far I could go in that length of time, so I pushed a little bit harder every run, trying to get to one more telephone pole before turning around.

Then one morning everything came together. The weather was just right. I felt good. My head and body were in the same place. And just like that, I ran four miles in 40 minutes. Anyone seeing me finish that run would have thought I had set a world record. I was bent over, gasping for air, but with a smile that went from ear to ear. I thought I had accomplished all I could ever hope for as a runner. I also believed that I had done everything I could do, or needed to do, to run as fast as I could.

It was also about this time that I began to have the annoying running aches and pains we all seem to get. My knees hurt. My IT band hurt. I was struggling with plantar fasciitis. Then I read that to avoid injury, I should walk for five minutes before I run. Now my 40-minute run took 45 minutes, and the pain went away. Then I read that I should walk for five minutes after my run, so my 40-minute run took 50 minutes. Later, I became a believer in the run/walk program, which was easier on my middle-aged body. I'd run for 10 minutes and walk for one. Now my 40-minute run took 54 minutes.

What I came to realize during those 40-minute-plus workouts is that running is an individual pursuit. There aren't teammates. Or coaches. Or managers. That means we have the opportunity and the obligation to find what works best for us. There are plenty of great books and training programs out there, but the truth of being a runner comes in finding out for yourself, by yourself, who you are as a runner. It also means understanding that the runner you were yesterday is not the runner you are today. And most of us can barely imagine the runner we'll be tomorrow.

The joy for me at the beginning was searching for the limit, the edge on every run. I wanted more and more and more. I had to go farther. I had to go faster. If I didn't, I was disappointed.

The joy for me in the middle years was in knowing that I had achieved my goals. Where I once couldn't imagine running two miles, I was now running 26.2 (which took 40 minutes - plus four hours or so). But I no longer wondered if I could finish marathons without medical help; instead, I actually thought about how to get better at them. I rode on the crest of my ability and enjoyed every minute of it.

These days I run mostly because I can. My absolute PRs are behind me. I'm now looking at modern-era personal bests. These days my 40-minute workout can take more than an hour. And I could care less. In fact, some days the longer it takes, the better it seems. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other still delights me. I'm overjoyed that I can still have a perfect run.

Waddle on, friends.

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