Saturday, 24 August 2013

Tips for finding your stride

white tank top
The workout of the day was a 5K. 
After hearing that, I could have had the fastest time running out of the gym.
I’m not a fan of running. A 5K?

Others, too, were as thrilled as a kid in gym class being told to run laps, but somehow Extreme Fitness instructor/owner Katie Staab got us to go the distance. I’m not exactly sure how, other than really we were there to exercise.

I was the last of Thursday’s small group, so Staab “ran” with me. I say “ran” in quote marks because I couldn’t run the whole 3.1 miles. Sometimes I had to walk -- like when one of the other ladies (let’s call her Kelly because that’s her name) said, “We haven’t even done a mile yet.” Ugh, it felt like the 5K would never end.

Staab tried a lot of things to motivate me. She wouldn’t give up, so neither could I.
My mind didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to think about. I had problems getting my mind to go one mile, never mind three. I hated the sound of my labored breathing. My legs didn’t want to run. My steps seemed embarrassing on the sidewalks of Milton’s busiest streets.
I saw a low-hanging tree branch and wondered if it would poke me in the eye. Maybe I would trip over a curb. I’d scrape my knee. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to go on. That’s what I was kind of hoping.
I avoided eye contact with Staab, who stayed with me even when I slowed down even more. I glared at the trees. Would this never end? I ran from one traffic sign to the next. Who knew there were so many signs? I ran from one tree to the next. There were even more trees than signs.
I kept running and walking with small steps. I wanted to take big steps. I wanted to run faster.
Staab counted steps with her phone and gave me numbers to aim for. She added music.
I started doing better. I was delighted the end was near. When I got there, I was disappointed, not because it took me forever, but because I couldn’t get my mind to go the distance. I understand, a good personal trainer like Staab doesn’t usually ask you to do things you cannot do. I was frustrated that I had not, from the start, embraced a more can-do attitude.

Is running for everyone?

I had no intention of writing about my 5K experience. My plan was to talk about 5Ks becoming the thing to do for people approaching middle age who metaphorically want to prove they can go the distance. I wondered: Is running really for everyone?
Milton High School cross country head coach Jennifer Greenleaf said, “I think everyone can be a runner, but not everyone will enjoy running.”
For Greenleaf, who started running in middle school, running is an escape from life’s stressors.
“Running is a workout for the body and the mind, so after running I just feel good,” she said.
For some, she said running comes more naturally than others, but every runner can surprise him or herself.
Some people find running boring and prefer other forms of exercise.
“Running is more mental than physical, and not everyone understands the challenge,” she said.
I understood the challenge, but I don’t quite know how to overcome it.

Tips for overcoming the challenge

Coach Greenleaf shared with me the following suggestions:
  • If you’re just starting out, start with running/walking workouts. Gradually run more each time. instead of setting a distance goal, consider going for time. Start with 5 minutes of running without stopping, keep adding 5 minutes til you can run 30 minutes, then measure your distance and work to increase your distance.
  • Cross-train. Perhaps hike, walk or swim.
  • Keep a calendar on the fridge and mark the number of miles or minutes you run each day.
  • Try different routes. Have four or five you can pick from.
  • Mix it up with shorter and faster runs.
  • Experiment with running at different times of the day to see what works best for you.
  • Remember not every run is going to be great.
  • Listen to your body and rest when you need to whether there’s a rest day built into your training plan or not.
Bill Beil had done sports in high school, including a year of cross country, and gone to the gym but he didn’t pick up running again until he became the assistant cross country coach at MHS.
He acknowledged running as an adult isn’t the same as running with the energy of a teenager, but some things are generally true for both age groups.
After about a mile or so, he said your legs are about as tired as they are going to be.
“As long as your breathing is fine, you’ve found your rhythm, you can overcome the tiredness in your legs,” he said. “It’s just finding your own pace.”
Once you can find your stride and your breathing, he said you don’t have to think about it anymore.
It’s OK to take walking breaks, he said, but don’t walk more than 30 seconds at a time. The longer you walk, the harder it will be to convince yourself to run again.
I’ve heard people say they let their mind go, they get in a zone, and just run. It seems I have many miles to go.
Maybe running isn’t for me, but I might do better if, while I’m trying, I tell myself that it is.

Next time, I will tell myself I can do it. I can go 3.1 miles – but not a step more.

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