Friday, August 26, 2011

Running like a Penguin

Sidereal (Jack Lyons)- Flickr
When I was 23, I ran an ill-advised marathon.

I signed up for Team In Training, the fundraising organization for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, with the intention of doing a half marathon. I was not a runner, but I execised regularly and I was in pretty good shape. At the first meeting, there were a bunch of cheerleader type people who convinced us that "if you can run a half marathon, you can run a whole marathon!" I later found out that this is a BIG, FAT LIE.  A half marathon is probably more than a new runner should try to run as her first race. A marathon is ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I trained hard for five months, met my fundraising goals, and completed the 2004 Disney Marathon.

Then I never ran again. Until now!

I actually tried to run here and there over the past few years. I would get really motivated (and by that I mean shocked by the number on the scale), lace up my sneakers, and go out for a 2-3 mile run. I would finish feeling like my lungs were going to collapse, and my left knee would be swollen and achy for three days.

So I started saying "I can't run."

Lately, I have been frustrated with saying the word "can't" so much. I've also been looking for ways to simplify my workout routine. I was struggling with a lack of motivation, and it seems like I can always find other ways to spend my time than by going to the gym. I don't need to get super thin or super buff or anything, but I want to get enough activity to feel healthy. And, if we're being honest, the scale is pretty shocking lately.

I noticed on Facebook that a lot of my friends are doing Couch-to-5k . I checked out the website, and found that it starts out really simply.  The first week you are basically doing a walk with running intervals. Over time the running intervals get longer and the walks get shorter. The active part of the workouts is only about 20 minutes at the beginning. I thought it was worth trying.

And I did try it! I am in my fourth week (although I repeated week 2 after my week-long Ireland trip hiatus).  I stretch really carefully after I run and put some ice on my knee for about 15 minutes. So far I feel great and I love getting my workouts done so quickly. When you eliminate driving to the gym, parking, stopping to talk to people you know, and waiting in line for the restroom, your 25 minute workout really takes 25 minutes! I also love being outside for a little while, although I am looking forward to the time when I can run after 8 am without dying of heatstroke.

To help me get started, I picked up a copy of The Courage to Start, by John Bingham.  This guy writes a column for Runners World called "The Penguin Chronicles." The idea is that we are not all slim, speedy, elite runners. Some of us waddle along through an 11 minute mile pace and finish last in our age groups. Bingham's assertion is that running penguin-style doesn't make you any less of an athlete. He encourages us to enjoy running for the sake of running, even if we are slow, chubby, and winded.

What I have learned about myself over the years is that I am really excited by new things. I like to jump in with both feet before I completely know what I'm getting into. This can lead to some pretty wonderful adventures. The problem is that the excitement wears off and then it becomes difficult to maintain the effort. Things eventually fizzle out and get replaced by some other new thing. I feel like I am especially guilty of this when it comes to exercise: I am either working super hard five days a week or barely getting to the gym a few times a month.

Barbara Benagh tells us "a good yoga practice depends on undoing as much as doing." Leo Babatua says smile, breathe, and go slowly. The Penguin says don't increase you time or distance more than 10% per week or you will regret it.  I am trying to keep these words of wisdom in mind right now. I am really excited about the running, and I'm pretty tempted to get ahead of things. A 20 minute run/walk is so short, I keep thinking that I should add a few extra intervals, or try to go a little faster, or get lots of cross training on non-running days...

What's weird is that even though I am going slowly, I am improving quickly. In the first week a 60-second jogging interval was pretty hard toward the end of the run. Now I can run three minutes straight and feel like I could go a little further (but I don't).  I think taking the time to find my stride was key, and now I'm all set to increase my distance, slowly. Best of all, I feel great at the end of the run, so I'm less tempted to skip the next one.

I don't think I want to stop looking before I leap completely, because sometimes jumping right in to something leads to the best adventures (primitive camping for four nights on a mission trip to Haiti, anyone?).  But when it comes to running, I think I will listen to what all of those smart people said and take it slow.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and waddle on, friends.

Morning run + dewy grass= feeling pretty hard core that my feet look like this!

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