At the beginning of 2012, I had decided I had enough. I weighed too much, my clothes didn't fit, and I felt ugly and lumpish. I was an out-of-shape, middle-aged yenta. I started working out (a lot) with the uber-trainer Andre, dropped 40 pounds in about four months, and found myself in the best shape I'd been in since I was probably 23 years old, which was half the age I am now.
But there was one thing still missing...running. In high school and college, I'd been a runner. I sprinted in high school, and in college, I would run to stay in shape. Never more than 3 miles, but I enjoyed it. But with age and genetics, my knees started to deteriorate, and by the time I was 40, it was basically bone-on-bone. If I would try to run a mile, I wouldn't be able to walk for a week.
Andre knew that running was a goal for me. Why? Because like people say, it does give you a high. And there is no better way to lean down your body. The first priority was to drop the weight, and I did. The second priority was to build up the muscles in my legs and around my knees. I purchased some knee bands, then went shopping for some books (of course) to tell me how to ease back into the sport. And I bought these:
Runner's World Complete Book of Beginning Running - Amby Burfoot
I wanted someone to take me by the hand and slowly lead me through the basics. I'd run before, but I wanted to relearn the right way. This was a perfect place to start. It covers everything...clothing, nutrition, injury prevention and core fitness, and basic training strategies. It also provides an 8-week training plan for those already active, and a 24-week plan for those who have never run a step.
Interspersed with all of this good information are success stories of people who have started running and made it a part of their lives...people who are 150 pounds overweight, people with bad knees, people with diabetes. This is not intimidating stuff here. The most basic level of training starts out running for 1 minute, and walking for 2. Anyone can do this. It was incredibly inspiring to read this book. I came away with the feeling that if some of these people can run, then so can I.
Marathoning for Mortals - John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield
I bought this book because (if you haven't seen my yammerings) I was convinced by Dawn to run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon in February 2013. My family shakes their head at me. I can't just tiptoe into something. But I had about 7 months to prepare, so I figured why not try.
This book includes, on a smaller scale, a lot of what was included in the first book...nutrition, stretching, gear, the importance of cross-training, etc. But there is a focus on specific planning for the half or full marathon. Quite a bit of time is spent helping you analyze HOW you are going to run these events. Will you walk most and run a little? Run most and walk a little? Or run the whole thing? Then there are specific training plans for all of these strategies, day-by-day, week-by-week. Attention is given to race preparation...how you ramp down your training 2 to 4 weeks prior to the event, nutrition and hydration before and during the race, and even the quirky, unmentionable things like managing your bathroom requirements before the race. (I won't go into this, but it is a pretty big deal!)
The book is written by a fitness expert, as well as a regular-guy runner who has the nickname "Penguin" because of his rotund shape, running form and slow pace. Again, after I finished this book, I came away with the notion that anyone can do this. You just have to have the will, and the ability to stop making excuses.
I say all of this because for the last 23 years or so, I was the biggest running naysayer on earth. Every odd was stacked against me, but I'm doing it. At least for now! (Doing a little prayer ritual for no pulled muscles!) So never say never.
Here are a few takeaways that I've learned so far that I think are the most important:
1. Start slow, take your time. Many training programs are 12-week deals to get you to the half-marathon level. Unless you are already a runner, no way. I'm loving my 7-month plan - if I have a bad week, or go on vacation, or get sick, I have time to recover.
2. This is a big one, so please heed. THE FIRST MILE ALWAYS SUCKS. I don't care how many miles I run, this is the God's honest truth. I think it takes a mile to just get warmed up. So it makes me sad to think of all the people who start out running just a mile and thinking "to hell with this". You do get into a rhythm, and it gets more pleasurable once you are in the groove.
3. Don't overtrain. When people first catch the running bug, this is the first impulse. Allow yourself at least a day in between each run to recover. Overtraining causes injury.
4. Find a running partner that has a similar skill level. There is nothing wrong with running by yourself, but there is accountability in knowing someone is waiting for you at 5:30am. You can also motivate and encourage each other.
5. Nutrition and hydration cannot be over-emphasized. If you are running more than an hour, you absolutely must have both after that point or you are in danger of making yourself sick. I "hide" waters at the halfway point for my long runs, and bring nutrition gels to boost my energy. The people at Hammer Nutrition have been incredibly helpful in navigating through what I need, when I need it.
6. Use a tracking app for your phone. I love "MapMyRun", but there are others. Not only does the app "coach" you and tell you how far you've run and at what pace while you are moving (and provide an online log), you can map out routes on the computer. Even if you are not a runner, but love a good long walk, this app would work great for that.
7. Good shoes are critical. I actually went out to Sports Authority at the beginning of the venture, believing that Asics was MY SHOE. I spent some considerable cash on this pair, but after just a few weeks, my feet were absolutely KILLING ME. (I went through this stage of thinking I'm a loser, I can't pull this off, blah blah.) I visited a specialty running store, and had my feet/arches/stride evaluated and I had the wrong type of shoe. For those with foot issues, there are also orthotics, and while I was willing to get them, turns out I didn't need them.
8. Training programs are different for people over 40. And this fact really pissed me off. I just don't think of myself as old, but after this age, our bodies don't rebound like they used to. Another reason why it is important to go slow.
I guess I've probably talked enough. I hope that at least I managed to entertain you, and maybe even planted a seed in your head that running may not be an impossibility for you. So talk to me. Are you even remotely interested? Do you think I'm crazy?