Becoming a runner

After having the scare with my blood pressure last summer, I knew changing my diet would not be enough if I really wanted to have a chance of avoiding heart disease. I needed to be more active as well. I was nearing the age of early heart attacks in my family, and this knowledge was a huge reality check. I was never what you would call an athlete, but more of a mathlete. Seriously. I was the Grand Master at my school’s Math-A-Thon in 4th grade. That’s right, I kicked those 5th and 6th graders’ butts. Probably would have had the title three years running if we hadn’t moved to a new school district in 5th grade. Though if we hadn’t moved at that time, I also would likely have never discovered steelpan. But I am easily distracted, that is not what this post is about.

So, yeah. I needed to start getting regular exercise. At the same time, I did not want to overdo things at first and injure or discourage myself. So I started walking a just over 3 mile loop around my neighborhood every other evening in late June 2013. I fired up the pedometer app I had downloaded ages ago but never really bothered to use, got sucked into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast as my walking entertainment, and proceeded to try gradually ramping up my pace. By the end of July, I was walking my loop nearly every night. Some time in August, I dusted off the Power 90 DVDs I bought back in 2006 but never used more than a few weeks, and started getting up earlier to do that. So P90 in the mornings, walking in the evenings, and giving myself one day off each weekend to rest. And that was my routine for a while.

By early October I was starting to get bored with my walks, so on a whim I decided to start sprinkling in small bits of jogging. I honestly don’t know why beyond boredom. Running is – erm, was – not something I would have voluntarily done. I mentioned this a couple of different places and a number of people suggested I try a Couch to 5K program, which is essentially what I was doing – a blend of walking and jogging – but with some actual structure. I initially rejected the idea. I mean… I wasn’t interested in running any races! But at the same time I was so bored with just walking and didn’t have the first clue about how to push myself further in a safe, healthy way. So in mid-October I downloaded active.com’s C25K app and gave it a go. (There’s a link to my active.com profile in the menu bar.)

With no small amount of trepidation I did Week 1 Day 1. And you know what? It didn’t kill me. The last couple of jogging stretches were pretty uncomfortable, and my too-recently-a-smoker’s lungs were burning like nobody’s business, but I could do it. So the next day I did Day 2. Again, it didn’t kill me. And then Day 3 the day after that. Which felt like it almost did kill me. That was when I discovered just how important the rest days scheduled in the C25K program are! Made it until the app said I was half way done and turned around to head home rather than finishing the big loop. (At first, the sessions took me around 2 miles, so I’d just walk the rest of the loop home.) Took a couple of days off to recover, then resumed the program on an every other day basis. By the middle of Week 2 I found myself actually enjoying this running thing and even started considering signing up for a 5k maybe in the spring. Somewhere around this time I decided to move the running to the morning, replacing the P90 cardio days with C25K. I kept up with the P90 resistance training days on C25K rest days, though.

Somewhere in week 3 I thought to myself, “Why the hell am I waiting until spring to run a 5k? There’s got to be something sooner!” Sure enough, I found one in early December. Which, with careful scheduling, would fall on my last day of C25K! And it also happened to be the day before my birthday. So I said, “Screw it, let’s do this!” and signed up for the Sugar Plum Fairy 5k. By race day I was able to run for 30 minutes without stopping, but I still hadn’t quite run an entire 5k distance, so that was my goal. To run the entire race. No walking. And I did it. I put on my fairy wings and tutu (What? It was put on by a dance school in December. And they came with the race registration.) and ran the whole damn thing in 36:10.

Sugar Plum Fairy 5k

Sugar Plum Fairy 5k (12/2013)

A couple weeks of trying to just get out there and run every other day showed me that I still needed some sort of structure to keep me interested. I’d been hearing about this app called Zombies, Run! a number of places – primarily on reddit – so I decided to give it a try. I immediately got sucked in by it. It’s kind of a podcast combined with a pedometer/GPS app combined with a game. It plays music from your device, with snippets of post-zombie-apocalypse storyline sprinkled in on “missions” to do various things. And you can turn on zombie chases, which force you to increase your speed by a certain amount for one minute in order to escape them. Without going into too many details, that’s the basic idea. And I’m loving it. (A link to my Z,R! profile is in the menu bar.) It got me to my second 5k race, which was St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Oh yeah… And a few hours after the 5k, I ran a 1-mile race that the same group was sponsoring. My goals for the 5K were to finish in under 35 minutes and be in the top 100. Finished 75th with a personal best time of 33:44. My goals for the 1 miler were to have under an 11 minute mile and to be in the top 50. Finished 40th at 10:09. I’ll take it.

Running with the Irish 5k

Running with the Irish 5k (03/2014) – Photo by Sarah Arnold

And the adventure continues. I’ve just registered for my first 10k race, which is in a couple of weeks. I’m also strongly considering a half-marathon in October, followed by a full marathon in December if I feel I’m up to one that soon.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me! I think that pretty much catches us up to where I’m at now.  I don’t expect to continue posting daily – or necessarily even weekly – but we’ll see. I do have one or two more things in my mental backlog still, but I don’t anticipate them being more Great American Novel-type posts.

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