Saturday, October 12, 2013

3 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Running: Part I Running is Not Masochism, or Run Slow

Running is not masochism, but it might seem that way. Running does not come naturally to most people that I know. Even the once-serious college and high school athletes I rub shoulders on a daily basis with don’t like to run. Maybe it’s because running was punishment in practice, or maybe it’s because the determined athlete in them will only stop once vomiting occurs. No matter the contextual reason it really boils down to one simple and unsophisticated truth: running is hard.

With the above in mind, I am setting out to write a series of short posts for the newbie runner. Why? Because I was (and still am in most ways) the newbie. I was the non-athlete, the sedentary wannabe with a piqued interest in the sport as more and more people were walking around in their toe-shoes. I started reading about these so-called “minimalist” shoes which led inevitably to reading about running. For reasons unknown to my 260 lb. self, reading about running made me want to run. The only problem was that I was already well aware of the aforementioned simple and unsophisticated truth.

I ordered a pair of minimalist shoes anyway thinking that even if I didn’t undergo a life transformation at least I would probably enjoy the sensation of being near-barefoot. When my shoes came in, I walked around in them for a few hours and then did what any self-respecting shoe n00b would do: I went for a run. Eight-tenths of a mile and three walking breaks later I was a minimalists runner...a hunched, gasping minimalist runner. (As a side note for anyone who has gone for a run in minimalist shoes, yes, my achilles and calves were very tired and sore.) This video should give you glimpse


I was too excited by the shoes themselves to quit there, but I knew from my reading that I wasn’t supposed to run every day in barely-there footwear, not at first. So I paced myself. I paced myself right into an injury.  More on that story in another post, but it was during those first several weeks that another simple and unsophisticated truth became apparent to me: the vague but noble desire to “get fit” and/or “lose weight” is short lived and will almost certainly be overwhelmed by the desire to sleep in/eat seconds/stop hurting. 

The first two will always be a battle. Hopefully we will win more than we lose, but it’s the third that this post is about. Other attempts I made to “get fit” were more quickly doused by how much running hurt than anything else. When I’m sitting on the couch enjoying myself, it’s hard to lace up a couple bricks on my feet and go suffer for 10+ minutes just because I’m hoping that in a year my clothes will fit better. The solution is also simple and unsophisticated, but it eluded me my entire life: running should not be suffering. In an overall scope running should be free, it should be fun. What did that mean for me? It meant that I took some of the best advice I ever got: run slow.

This will mean different things to different people, and that’s OK. The 12 minutes I spent killing myself trying to run a mile were obviously failing me on multiple levels. I was not having fun and I was not losing weight. I knew I needed to workout for more than 12 minutes if I was going to see any results and I also knew that I wanted to be able to run for more than 12 minutes at a time someday. For me it meant that I had to stop killing myself to try to run a full mile without stopping and instead start running two miles with plenty of breaks.

I started taking a watch with me. At my then-current fitness level I would run for 2 minutes and walk for 2 minutes for a total of twenty minutes. My experience of running drastically changed. I no longer felt like I was going to vomit my lungs and I was running a longer distance than I had previously conceived of running. Furthermore, I was getting in a longer running workout which kept my heart rate elevated for a longer period of time resulting in more calories burned. Running was fun, but more than that, it was possible.

After two weeks of that regimen, I bumped my running time up to 3 minutes. A few weeks later I bumped it up to 4 minutes. Around the 5-minute mark (about 3 months into it) something clicked and I found I could run for 10-15 minutes at a time, and then 20 and then 30. The click might be different for you, but I’ve found that in speaking with other runners that 3 months is about how long it takes for your body to really adapt to running. 

Some folks might need to start even more slowly or more quickly than what I’ve described. It’s really of no consequence. What matters is that the lie that our parents told us about success coming from how hard we tried and wether or not we had fun becomes temporarily true for running.

Almost one year after that eight-tenths mile run, I’m a different person and runner. I run 4-6 miles a few times per week with a 9-11 mile long run on the weekends and plenty of cross training in between. I’ve got my sights set on a half marathon this spring and have several 5K’s and few 10K’s in my rear view. I could not have gotten here if every experience running was misery. Running can not be about killing yourself. It is about living.

1 comment:

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