Friday, February 29, 2008

Gettin' off the Couch

I ran into my friends Dave and Liz last night at a Wildlife Society banquet and started talking with them about my running, training, etc. Liz piped up with the oft-heard response "Oh, that sounds like fun, but I can't run that far."

You know, I used to use that line, and others ("I'm not a runner," "I'm not built to run," "Running sucks," etc.).

So where did the change come from? Well, the story's long and full of details that are probably better recanted while on a long run or for a post-workout beer. But I'll at least give you a brief run-down of the history of my evolution from being a non-runner to someone who, less than two years later, is thinking that the run portion of a triathlon will be the easiest part!

Before I really began learning to run in August 2006, I'd tried several different times to run. I remember one summer (2003) I went out running several times, and could never run for more than about 5 minutes before I'd have to stop and walk. I went for these run/walks about once a week. My last semester in college, too, I tried running here and there, and one day even ran a full half mile at one time. Again, my efforts were sporadic. And in all cases, I'd always have these overly-optimistic goals of being able to go from basically no running at all to running at least a mile. When I couldn't eek out a full mile, I'd be embarassed. My shins would hurt for days afterwards. I'd tell myself all the reasons why I wasn't made to run.

Then in 2006 several factors started leading to my decision to run:

* I worked with a woman named Emily who, while being a strong, beautiful woman, does not look like the stereotypical runner; yet she'd recently finsihed a marathon, and was telling me about all of the cool races she'd done. What?! You mean you don't have to be turbo-thin and full of sinewy leg muscles to run a marathon? That was pretty inspiring!

Emily told me about the Couch to 5k program, and while I looked it up that spring, I didn't decide to implement it until several months later. But she'd planted a seed, and had given me some inspiration.

* That summer I finally began to realize/accept that the field work I was doing for my job just wasn't as demanding as the work I'd done in my younger years. And there wasn't much hope for it getting better. One of the sad realities of being a wildlife biologist is that the more educated you become, the more your work leads you indoors. While you're more able to affect change from that venue, you definitely miss out on some of the guts & glories of field work.

For the first time ever, I actually gained weight that summer. A stark contrast to the days when I would lose 15-20 lbs in the summer months while backpacking! I realized, though, that those days were over, and that I couldn't rely on my job to give me all of the physical activity I needed.

* In early August I had the opportunity to get certified to fight wildfires. The first step in that process is to attend a week-long class. The second step is to take the "Pack Test," in which you have to walk (not run!) 3 miles wearing a 45 lb pack in 45 minutes or less.

I wasn't too worried about the mileage or the weight, seeing as how I've covered many more miles with more weight in previous backpacking excursions. But one morning a few weeks before my test I decided to go out and walk 3 miles, just to see how fast of a pace I'd have to maintain in order to do it in 45 minutes or less. I used my car to measure out a course, then went out at dawn. The first morning it took me 52 minutes to do 3 miles. Yikes! I'd have to pick up the pace a little.

The next morning I tried again. My hips were a little sore from the day before, but I cut my time down to about 47 minutes. The third morning was the charm, though, and I finished in 43 minutes. That's a pretty fast pace for someone my size to have to walk. But it was do-able, at least without the weight!

Those three mornings taught me a few things, though. First, I was in pretty poor shape. Especially for August-- a time when in past years I'd been at my prime. Second, I felt really good all day long, with more energy than normal and a little more brightness in my smile, on those mornings when I got good exercise first-thing in the day. Also, I found that I was more prone to make healthier eating decisions throughout the rest of the day when I exerised first-thing. And finally, I saw a major decrease in my time in just three days, and began to wonder if it wouldn't be possible to jog 3 miles and enter the All Women's Run 5k in October.

* Meanwhile, my friend Jenny was finishing up her field season, and wanted to find a way to maintain her fitness post-field. She'd been doing bird work all summer, so she was used to the early morning hours. So when I proposed to her that we try out the Couch to 5k plan, and meet every morning at 6am, she was game!

We began implementing the plan, and for the first several weeks were great at holding each other accountable to meet in the early morning for our workout. The first few weeks felt really easy-- we'd walk for 2 minutes and jog for 1 minute, repeating the process for a total of 30 minutes. Piece of cake. Then the next week the workouts would increase the ratio of running to walking... but only in small enough increments that we barely noticed the difference. We heeded the warnings not to increase our intensity more quickly than what the plan stated, and neither of us had any injuries and we only had slight soreness from time to time.

In fact, the plan was so easy, we were appalled at our success when we finally accomplished our first 20 minute run. That goal had seemed so unachievable just 2 months earlier!

I'm totally indebted to Jenny for sticking with me in those early days. Having a buddy helped so much in keeping me on-track and accountable for getting my workouts in. And it was such a special bonding moment when we both completed our first ever 5k that October!

Well, as they say, the rest is history. Once I ran 3 miles, I figured I could do 5. And then once I ran 5, I began to think of 13. And once I did 13, I began to wonder if I could do 3 faster. And if I could tack it on to a run and a bike ride...

So here I am today. While doing a three mile run no longer seems like a daunting, nearly insurmoutable feat, the days when it did feel that way are still close enough in my memory that I get a little misty-eyed when I heard Liz repeat my old line last night. But I nearly jumped for joy when she expressed interest in the Couch to 5k plan, and genuinely seemed like she'd want to try it. And then I saw Dave again this morning, and he said that Liz kept talking about running late into the night last night.

Bingo! I got one hooked! So Liz, look out. You're now on my list of Converts! I can't wait to help you get started on the plan, and to har about your successes. And to run a 5k with you later this summer!

Anyone else want to learn to run? If so, I'd love to be your #1 cheerleader!

(NOTE: names have not been changed to protect the innocent; nope, I'm holding my friends accountable for their inspiring actions and enthusiasms!!!!)

No comments: