Friday, July 5, 2013

Fitness Friday -or- Learning to Run

I am not a runner. I don't enjoy running. It's true. And yet, I try to make myself run on a semi-regular basis. I started learning to run to prove to myself that I could if I tried hard enough. I ran my first 5K back in 2007, when I was about 5 or 6 weeks pregnant with my son. I "ran" that race in about 45 minutes. If you're doing the math, that is a 15 minute mile, which is how fast most people walk, I think. Not terribly impressive.

Then I was busy being pregnant, having babies, and getting fat. That took up a lot of time and didn't leave much time for doing excruciating things like running. After my daughter was born, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression, which sucks. Luckily, I was quickly put on anti-depressants, which, unluckily, made me gain weight at an unprecedented (for me) rate.

At this same time, my hubby was steadily losing weight. I joke that he just thought one day "huh, I should lose a few pounds," and they magically fell off. He'll tell you it was a bit harder than that... but it doesn't seem like it to me. Last year, we decided to do a sprint triathlon -- Dave because he had lost 60 pounds and felt great -- me because I wanted to prove to myself that I could if I really wanted to. (On a side note, I probably need therapy to resolve this constant need to prove things to myself.)

We trained. Unfortunately, a sprint triathlon involves running. I helped Dave with his lap swimming and he encouraged me to keep running. He promised it would get easier. I didn't really believe him, but I kept at it and learned he was right.

Here is what I did: Start with walking/jogging intervals. Walk 5 minutes, jog 2 minutes. Slowly (over weeks) build up your jogging time and diminish your walking time until you can jog 10-15 minutes straight before walking 1-2 minutes. This seemed to be the turning point for me. Once I could run 15 minutes, I was halfway through the 5k distance. Depending on your deadline, keep running 15, walking 1, running 15 for a week or two. This will help you get really comfortable at this distance. Increase your running time if you feel up to it. If not, don't fret. Walking 1-2 minutes of a 5k is nothing to be ashamed of.

The sprint triathlon was actually pretty fun. My running time wasn't great, but I finished the race in a reasonable amount of time. Mission accomplished.

I had a few revelations as I taught myself to run. Here they are in no particular order:

Run alone. 

Of course, only do this if you have a safe place to run. Carry your phone if possible in case anything happens. I am lucky enough to live in a very safe neighborhood... and I only run in daylight. I also make sure Dave knows my route and estimated time so if I am not back, he knows where to look for me.

The reason I like to run alone is that it makes it easier to go at my own pace. I used to try running with Dave. The problem is, he is 11 inches taller than me, so naturally, he has a longer stride than I do. It would take 2-3 of my steps to match 1 of his. I would try to keep up with him and tire out quickly. Now I understand that if you're running a 12-minute mile, you don't want a jogging partner who runs a 9-minute mile.

Wear a watch.

Even though it can be discouraging at times, having a rough estimate of your speed (or how long it takes you to get from Point A to Point B) really is helpful. You need to keep track of this so that you can see your improvement. Sometimes improvement comes slowly and having some hard numbers can help you stay motivated.

It gets easier.

It really does get easier as your body becomes accustomed to running. So don't give up after a week.

Control your breathing.

This was the biggest help to me in pacing myself. I hit a plateau where I couldn't run more than 8-10 minutes before I needed to walk. So one day, I did my run without my iPod. And I realized that I was trying to keep up with the tempo of the music. Without the music, I was better able to monitor and control my breathing and my pace. I realized that I had been breathing too unsteadily and it was making me winded a lot faster. So I did a few runs where I matched my breaths to my steps (inhale for 2 steps, exhale for 2 steps) and it helped tremendously. Now I can do this even with Vampire Weekend blasting in my ears.

Shin splints suck.

I went through normal bouts of soreness as I built up my running endurance. But I never suffered from shin splints until this spring. 

In an effort to encourage myself to keep running through winter, I signed up for a race in March. In some places this would not be an issue. In Utah, March weather is a little unpredictable. Three days before the race, the high temperature was 57 degrees. The night before my 5k, it got down to 22 degrees and snowed 6 inches. I was not prepared to run in the snow. But, the race was still going forward, so I bundled up as best I could and went for it. I picked up my packet, then sat in the car with the heater blasting until about 10 minutes before start time. Then I got out and moved around, trying to keep my muscles warm. Of course, it was only 30 degrees outside, so I was unsuccessful. By the time the race started, my feet were numb. I finally got feeling back in my toes at the 1 mile mark. I slogged through the cold, finishing in about 35 minutes, then quickly went back to my warm car.

Running through a winter wonderland.
Later that day, the shin splints began. My legs ached terribly. I thought this was just normal soreness, magnified due to the cold. But I was wrong. I left them untreated and I was sore for two weeks -- barely able to walk down stairs, much less go running. Eventually my legs felt better, so I went for a jog. It was painful. Now every time I run, I know my shins and calves will hurt for at least two days afterward.

The moral of this story: warm up, stretch out, treat soreness after running, and don't ignore unusual pains.

If I can learn to run, then pretty much any reasonably healthy person can do it. Of course, you should talk to your doctor about it first. And you should take it slowly and stick with it. 

1 comment :

  1. Way to go! I really think I might be the exception to anyone can run. But you give me hope. Now I just have to start. :P


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