Tag Archives: running

Running Fast

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I run more than I used to. And much faster.

 

For the longest time, I had a set running scheme. Twenty jumping jacks, hop on the treadmill, start at 6.4 speed, increase the speed one tenth every half mile for two miles, slow back down to 6.4 for the third mile, speed up a decimal every quarter mile until I hit mile 3, then speed up to 7.0 until I got to 3.11 miles, or a 5k. Stop. Stretch.

 

I’ve always been sluggish. I’ve never been quick on my feet. My legs are disproportionately short and squat compared to my longer, leaner torso. I’m not built for speed. I was proud of my nine-to-ten minute miles, since 7th grade me could barely puff out a mile in 14 minutes and always had to stop and walk.

 

Then I had a conversation with one of our church teens. He’s a he, considerably taller than me, with long skinny legs and long flailing arms. He attends the school I attended when I was a teenager, and one of the features of their physical education program (as is the case with every phys. ed. program) is a regularly scheduled timed (and graded) mile run. We were comparing mile times; I rather proudly told him I could run a mile in about nine minutes.

 

He looked at me in wonder. “Nine minutes?” he said, almost pityingly. “That’s like, a D.”

 

Even though I know this boy well enough to know that he would never intend to hurt, I broke a little inside. I had worked hard for several years to get that fast. I was only able to make it to the three-mile mark in the last four years (my first time was when I was 20). I have managed very well for a person who is not genetically predisposed to athleticism. I’ve rarely even experienced “runner’s high”—running doesn’t feel good until I’m finished running. The act of running isn’t very fun, but it’s the most straightforward thing I’ve figured out to do that helps me stay healthy. As someone with no coordination, questionable depth perception, and a visceral aversion to group activities, sports are a significantly less enjoyable fitness option. Yoga, though and fun and challenging alternative, doesn’t get my heart rate up. I love feeling my heart thud confidently through the miles; I love the feeling of my springy knees; I love coming to the end of a few miles knowing I earned the warmth radiating from and through my muscles. So I run. Not fast. Just determinedly, and consistently: at least five times a week at varying distances.

 

I wasn’t about to take anyone’s pity for not being able to run fast. The following Monday, I started a mile at my usual finishing pace (7.0, or about an 8.75-minute mile) and sped up a bit every minute. I surprised myself with my first 8.25-minute mile.

 

Of course, I couldn’t let myself stop there. I had to get faster, and I had to be faster over longer distances. I kept my established pattern for 5ks, but kept increasing my starting speed. I would do 2-mile interval runs, alternating a minute of sprinting with a minute of running at an easier pace until I reached 2 miles, always finishing at my maximum speed. I would run a mile at a time, going as fast as my legs and lungs could carry me. I supplemented with weighted leg exercises, like squat jumps and calf raises and walking lunges and many, many more. I would choose my pre-run meals carefully, making sure that I would be full but not too full and sufficiently carbed up for my fastest and easiest pace.

 

Soon I could run 2 miles in 16 minutes, which quickly shrank to 2 miles in 15:23. My 5k time went down from 28 minutes to 25 and change. Occasionally I can go for 4 miles without killing myself (although my feet have taken a beating).

 

This week, I ran a 5k in my shortest time ever: 23 minutes and 58 seconds, or about 7 minutes and 45 seconds per mile. Today I ran 4 miles at an easier pace of about 8.5 minutes per mile, finishing in 32 minutes and 43 seconds.

 

All of this information is, I understand, more or less meaningless statistics on a runner who will probably never run in any race longer than a 5k. I realize that there are hundreds if not thousands of people out there who can run much faster than me and who probably think a 7:45 mile is embarrassingly slow. I understand that, so laugh all you like.

 

But I am proud of myself. I am fast, sort of. And I am getting faster.

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Running

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I can run again.

After my surgery in September, I couldn’t. One, there were three slowly healing holes in my abdominal wall that weren’t there before, and two, the organs that received treatment took way longer to heal than the surgeon said they would. I suspect scar tissue glued things to my core muscles that aren’t intended to be glued there. Whatever it was that went on inside of me made running a painful business. After ten minutes of running, I’d get gut-wrenching cramps and would have to stop.

All of that for the girl who used to run 3 5ks a week.

I’d try to run, but couldn’t do more than ten minutes. It was like my own body refused to allow me to coax it back to health.

But now, after months and months of waiting and herbal supplements, I can run.

I’d forgotten how much I missed it. There’s a simple, but inescapable challenge with myself to run faster, more steadily, longer, harder. And it’s excruciating. It’s exhausting. I’ve never experienced what dedicated runners call “runner’s high” where you forget about the pain after the first mile or so. Nope. Running always hurts while it happens. But afterwards, my heart calms down and my muscles unanimously agree that running was a good idea. I sleep well at night, I breathe more deeply during the day, and I have more energy. Short term pain, long term gain.

And I’m so glad I get to do it again. 

Miles To Go

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I run. No, I don’t do half-marathons, nor can I carry on an intelligent conversation about the pros and cons of certain brands of running shoes. I can’t give advice on stretching, nor can I explain proper running form. I tie on cross-training shoes and run 3.10 miles, then I stop. That is the extent of my running prowess.

I run and I write. There are hundreds of interesting metaphors you can pull from running.

Such as what follows:

A semester at school is like a race—not so much a race against competitors as it is against yourself. You are your worst competition.

If you’re like me, the first few seconds before a run are murderous; you know the difficulties you’re going to face and you tell yourself that you’re crazy to do this…again. But you stretch—luxuriously, enjoying every second—and you start anyway. The only way you’re going to finish is if you start.

You start out feeling fine. Your feet feel light—you’re well-rested and fresh. It’s easy to concentrate on the scenery as it goes by. Sure, you have a long road ahead—a stack of syllabi about a mile high—but for now, life is good.

Then you hit a hill. Things start to ache. Your breathing gets ragged and your mouth dries out. You begin to wonder if you’ve bitten off more than you can swallow. Your feet feel heavy, and you feel fat.You wonder how long you’re going to last before you need to pull over, stop, catch your breath. There’s still so far to go.

You always reach the top of the hill the moment you think you can’t take it anymore. There’s a moment of exhilarating release once that major project is turned in, and you plunge downhill into a valley of semi-normalcy. You’ve recovered a bit. You can breathe more freely.

But there are other hills. Some big, some little. Some parts of the road you run with others—but for the most part, you go it alone. After a while, it gets hard to enjoy the scenery. You’re too focused on muscling your way through the pain in your legs and lungs and stomach, willing yourself not to stop until you’ve gone the distance.

You see the finish line. You’re a matter of yards from the end of a very long and painful haul. You have three options at this point: give up and stop running, succumbing to the nag of your aching limbs; trot across the finish line, dragging your feet he whole way, putting out minimal effort; or push like crazy.

Usually I can muster the fire to push like crazy, no matter how tired I am or how fast my time is.

Just keep pushing. We’ll get to the finish line soon. Then we can wind down, stretch…and go to bed.

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Domino Effect

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There is a perfectly logical reason as to why I am sleeping in my running clothes.

I only have the time to go running on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is one of the final two rehearsals of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before opening night next Monday. Normally I go running immediately after my last class, which ends at 2:50. However, tomorrow I have an appointment at 3:00 to rehearse with my duo partner for acting class. Rehearsal starts at 6:30—probably earlier—and the time it takes to run, stretch, shower, and eat is at minimum one and a half hours. If I waited until four to run, then I would not be done until 5:30, and for all I know that’s when we’re starting rehearsal. So because I am rehearsing at 3, I will not get to run tomorrow unless I run in the morning.

Using the same measurement of 1.5 hours of running/stretch/shower time, if I’m going to get in the maximum amount of acting practice time in before going to my 10:00 class, as well as having my daily time with God (which, I find, is best done in the morning when things are quiet), then I need to hit the treadmill at precisely 7:00.

This means I need to roll out of bed at 6:45. If I sleep in my running clothes (sans shoes), I can sleep five more minutes and not have to get up until 6:50, which gives me time to walk to the gym and fill my 32 oz. water bottle.

This also implies that if I plan on getting a full night’s sleep of seven glorious hours, then I need to hit the hay as soon as possible. It is currently 11:19.

In summary (and to prove that I have a point other than to give you an obnoxiously detailed description of how tomorrow will hopefully run), because of an alteration in my afternoon schedule, I will have to get up and run first thing in the morning: a task which will be easier if I don’t have to fumble around in the dark of early morning for my running clothes.

(Really all that’s happening here is that I’m trying to save myself five minutes. But when it comes to sleep, every. Second. Counts.)

My real point: humans can’t be two places at once. If they could, life would be a lot easier. But we can’t, so it isn’t. We have been given only so much time every day, and we can shift our location but we can’t shift time. The minute someone figures out how to do that, let me know, because it would really come in handy.

It’s not much of a point, but it will have to do. For now.

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff

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It seems like a lot of people run these days. Runners are everywhere, trotting up and down streets in shorts and tennis shoes, some svelter than others, men and women and many different ages.

Some are clearly trying to get in shape after having not been for a while. Most have the grace not to wear shorts. Others don’t. But they are determined. I want to drive past them, windows down, speakers blaring “Eye of the Tiger” and throw confetti on them as they run. People who decide to make a change deserve a little encouragement.

Inexplicably, there are these silver-haired, sixty-year-old men who are clearly in better shape than I have been in my entire life. They deserve to wear shorts, and few can justify running around without a shirt (though I don’t necessarily endorse that behavior), biceps glistening with sweat as they run along as if they aren’t even thinking about it. It’s evident that men like this have been running since elementary school and haven’t stopped. Chances are their former-junior-leaguer brides have their protein shakes ready for them when they come panting into the kitchen at the end of a run.

For whatever reason, I have selected running as my torture exercise of choice. Even though I hated in in high school and junior high, I couldn’t deny that I the longer I run, the skinnier I get. So I still run. It’s not an obsession. I couldn’t eve really call it a hobby. But I try to run as far as I can without collapsing. So far two miles is my limit. Yes. Two miles. After years of trying, two miles is as far as I can go without stopping.

My dad was a runner—a real runner—years ago. He’d run for miles at t time. He loved it. He was sad when he couldn’t. He talked about this thing called “runner’s high.” Apparently this mystic state happens when you’ve run a few miles and all of a sudden it doesn’t hurt anymore and you can enjoy the rest of your run more or less on autopilot.

I’ve never gotten there. My dad ran like race horse. I run like a hippo with a gland problem. I probably look like one, too. I huff and puff and wheeze and stumble along. Running just hurts. Always has. Probably always will. But it keeps me healthy, and that’s the important thing, right?

 

Self-defeating

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It’s pretty much a given that once school starts back up again, your health and fitness level will sink faster than an elephant in quick sand. Suddenly all of the time you could commit to running and doing sit-ups is converted to study/work/sleep/classes/running around like a chicken with its head cut off (which bursts more blood vessels than it burns calories). Hence the common “freshman fifteen” phenomenon: start school, gain weight, or at least lose muscle. I deliberately buy skirts a size or so too large, knowing that by the end of the year they’ll fit just fine.

But so far this year, by some miracle I can’t define, I’ve managed to maintain a healthy eating regimen and even go running. Granted, I’m eating more carbs than my sugar-starved body is used to. I start the day with peanut-butter infused oatmeal (gasp! grains), and lunch and dinner are salads, but I add yummy things like apples to satisfy my sweet teeth. (Most people have a sweet tooth. I have sweet teeth.) I’ve only had time to go running once, but hey, that’s something. Last year it was two whole months before I had that kind of time. But, low and behold and glory hallelujah, last night I had time to run two miles. I’m eating right, I’m staying healthy, I’m getting decent sleep, and I drink about a gallon of water a day. Feelin’ good.

Then came tonight. Tonight, one of my fellow society officers brought a bag of peanut-butter-rice-crispy-m-and-m bars.

I ate two.

Looks like it’s salad for breakfast tomorrow.

Hush Up and Pass the Almonds

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I’m on a diet.

Oh no, says the World, not another female blogger who spends all her time griping about her exercise regimen and empty stomach.

Hang on, World. Hear me out.

My friends will tell you that I don’t need to lose weight. I look fine, they tell me. I know they’re right. I look just fine. But I still feel the compulsion to trim down. Maybe I just have a stigma left over from being “that chubby girl” in junior high. Maybe I’m insecure. Maybe I’d just like to feel as fine as I look.

Yeah, let’s go with that last one.

Every summer since I was 15 years old, my mother and I have spent our weekday mornings and/or afternoons sweating away at the women’s fitness center at UU. Her torture of choice: the elliptical trainer. Mine: running, usually a mile or two. Then we both hit the weight machines, chanting Proverbs 31:17 over and over to ourselves (“A wise woman strengtheneth her arms, a wise woman strengtheneth her arms, a wise woman….”). We guzzled water like camels in the Sahara. Breakfast was cereal with half a cup of 2%. Lunch was Weight Watchers canned soup. So was dinner. If we had been good girls, we’d allow ourselves a small serving of diet ice cream.

This year, my mother had a revolutionary idea: counting carbs.

All the meat you want. All the cheese you could ask for. Fresh veggies. All the coffee your heart desires. High protein. Muscles burn the fat off for you. Stop counting calories. Strength building. Mum had been on the diet for a month and had trimmed down noticeably. She had to go shopping for new clothes. (She’s kept up with it and looks fabulous, I might add.)

So at the beginning of the summer I stepped on the scale: 150.4 pounds. For my height and bone mass, not bad. If could be as disciplined as my mum, I could get down to a comfy 145 lbs. Determined and optimistic, I tied on my running shoes and got going.

Stage 1: I swore off bread. Nuts were a no-no. Diet ice cream, forget it. Fruit—dream on. Only 20 carbs a day, and none of it could be processed sugar, or even natural sugar. No problem, I thought. I can handle this. My endurance increased exponentially: I went from barely being able to run half a mile to going for two without killing myself. I grew stronger, felt better, and looked forward to the increased eating privileges that Atkins offers in later weeks of the regimen.

Stage 2: I may now eat strawberries and cantaloupe. Almonds are the highest recommended low-carb snack. I buy them by the truckload and munch away. Bread is still a temptation, but I faithfully deny myself. I run. I sweat. I stretch. I lift weights. I reach for the can of almonds. I get up to 30 carbs a day. I still miss carby foods, though. Don’t think I’m desperate, but I’ve discovered that almonds, feta cheese, and coleslaw, when properly combined, taste a lot like cheddar cheese puffs. (Look, a girl’s got to indulge where she can.)

I’ve kept up with this loyally all summer long. Recently I mustered the courage to step on the scale. Surely, after all my hard work and self-denial, I should be nearer to my goal.

150.4 pounds.

I’m fine. I look fine. I’m healthy. My BMI is great. I can run for longer than ever before. I’m a wise woman strengthening my arms. That’s it. I’m just trying to be wise. Yeah. What’s a number? It’s just four little digits. Four lousy little…

Sigh.

Pass the almonds.