I have intended to write about my journey from slow walker to runner for quite some time. There are a few people out there who I think might be encouraged to finally dive into running after reading this (at least I hope!) and I’m all for encouraging folks to run. In fact, as I’ve said before, a couple of people have told me I’ve inspired them to start running (and have subsequently run circles around me, but that’s neither here nor there…). Earlier this week, I was flat out asked how I got to where I am with my running, so I figured it was definitely time.
Brace yourselves, folks: It’s a long one.
Three years ago, my husband and I went for a walk in our neighborhood. At the time, we lived toward the bottom of a rather long and steep hill. By the time we got to the top, I was out of breath and sweaty, and my calves hurt so badly, that I couldn’t keep going. Even though we intended to walk for more than 10 minutes, we turned around and immediately went back home. This was embarrassing, of course, but it didn’t spur me on to get into better shape. Hell, I had moments like this all the time.
Two and a half years ago was my turning point. Prior to this, I did kung fu, but that was it in the way of exercise, and that’s not always very aerobic. Someone on My Food Diary suggested that I try a video workout series called Walk Away The Pounds (WATP) by Leslie Sansone. Basically, the idea of these videos is that you walk in your house: In place, two steps up, two steps back, side to side… it’s a lot of walking in a 4′ x 4′ space.
I did WATP for a few months, lost a good amount of weight thanks in part to it, and increased my fitness quite a bit. Then the weather improved and I started walking outside. WALKING. I had no intention of running. In fact, I always had a very strong aversion to running that went back as far as I could remember.
Then one day, I was walking down a steep hill and something came over me. I actually think I was mostly curious about whether I could run or not. It was also the first time I had music with me, so I’m sure that had something to do with it. I only jogged for a few seconds, but I remember feeling liberated! Fat girl on the loose! I also remember getting winded really quickly. That day I was down to 224.
That’s also when I started thinking about trying the Couch to 5k (C25k) program. Before diving into that program, though, I tried something on my own. I went out a few times a week, jogging when I felt I could, always pushing myself a bit further than I thought I could go. The hills were a huge issue – even more so than they are now – since I had basically never run in my adult life.
Shortly after that, I joined a gym so I could use the treadmill. I then followed the first 5 weeks of C25k. If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s a program designed to help beginners go from not running at all to being able to run 5k in just 2 months. I followed the program precisely: It was incredibly challenging, but I was always able to do what was asked of me. It starts out “easy”, with you jogging for 60 seconds, then walking for 90 seconds, and alternating that for 20 minutes. Let me tell you: When I started, I was so out of shape that jogging for a full minute was a huge undertaking.
I got 5 weeks in, where you’re supposed to run for 20 minutes straight. I did it, and then very nearly vomited in the parking lot.
But I did it, and that’s the point! Of course, as is my M.O., I accomplished this huge feat, and then didn’t keep up with my schedule. I don’t know why I do that. It’s so dumb.
Anyway, my running became more sporadic after that. Or at least, I wasn’t following a program. I would just run when I could get out and would do as much as I could. I signed up for my first ever 5k that took place on Mother’s Day, 2008. I hoped to be able to run the entire thing, but that didn’t happen; my training wasn’t consistent enough.
I continued on in the same way, going through phases. I would start running and run pretty intensely (and by “intense” I mean 3 times a week, 1-2.5 miles a pop) for a few weeks, and then that would die out. And I didn’t run at all during inclement weather.
In the last month or two, that’s gotten much better. I’ve been running consistently and I’m so surprised at how much that has helped me improve. I’ve been able to increase the distance/duration of my runs by 2-3 miles in just about 2 months by steadily running 3 times per week. As you know, I ran 5 miles straight last week, something that had previously sounded completely impossible.
Running is definitely not something that comes naturally to me. As a child, I avoided it like the plague. I played softball, but counted on my heft to hit the ball far enough that I didn’t have to run very fast. Of course, hits that other girls would have gotten triples or home runs on only got me to first base because of it.
Even today, I’m not very fast. I’ve been working on endurance and not speed. Once I’m up to a distance that I’m happy with for a while, I think I’ll switch to working on upping my speed. I’m not sure when I’ll reach that “happy distance” though. Get this: I have a friend who just ran his first marathon last week – yay for him! – and I told him that if he’s still doing marathons in 5 years I’d join him. Not sure what I was thinking, but I like lofty goals!
If you’re looking to either start running or better your running abilities, the best advice I can offer is to train consistently, with a starting point that is reasonably suited to you and your current fitness level. If you’re significantly overweight and/or out of shape like I was when I started my journey, I’d say start with walking (or check out WATP). After a few weeks or months of that, check out the C25k program. Those helped me so much in the early stages, both in getting me in better physical shape, and also in preparing me mentally for running longer distances. Since it’s such a gradual increase, you’ll be amazed at what you can do!
If you’re a bit more advanced than that but are still struggling, I challenge you to look at how much you’ve been running. If you’re only running once a week, you’re only doing enough to maintain your fitness, and not increase it. Make a schedule. Plan out how far and how often you’re going to run, and then stick to it! I really like Hal Higdon’s training schedules. So far I’ve used his 8k and 10k schedules, with a little editing to fit my schedule a little better.
I’m certainly no expert, but if you’d like to ask me any questions about my personal running journey or want some tips about yours, the comments are open :)