Yay for me!
So for anyone who might doubt their own ability to become a runner, it turns out that it IS possible to go from not running at all and HATING running to running three miles, three days a week! Who knew? It feels like I've been running forever, but really, nine weeks ago, sixty seconds of running exhausted me and I felt like I would never be able to run even a full mile - now I can run three and I'm getting ready for my first 5k!! I'm even hitting a ten minute pace - yes, I know that's not really THAT fast, but for me, the girl who ran her fastest mile senior year of college at over 12 minutes, it's a miracle.
Oh, and did I mention that I actually *like* running now? I might even love it? I don't even recognize this girl! Am I the same girl who took a gym sabbatical senior year of high school? (Admittedly, I was sick on and off, but I probably could have gone back sooner than I did). The same girl who told her gym teacher freshman year of high school that she couldn't run the mile because of her asthma? And now, not only am I running, but I'm liking it and even running in the rain? Crazy!
This week was a bit wild, so I got away from my regularly scheduled blogs, but I did run Monday/Wednesday/Friday, doing 30 minutes without taking any breaks - not bad! In fact, after Wednesday's run, I checked my distance and I thought I might be slightly under three miles. So on Friday, I made myself run a bit longer just to make sure I was hitting my three-mile goal for the day. I want to be prepared for my 5k in May! When I started this program nine weeks ago, who would have guessed that on the last day I'd not only run the 30 minutes without complaining, but push myself further? Not this girl.
So on to the last two runs themselves: Wednesday's run was pretty good. The first half was tough, but as soon as I turned around to head home at the halfway point, I felt myself settling into the run and feeling good. My goal all week was just to run the full time without having to take a walking break. So whenever I felt myself getting really tired, I would just slow down and relax and it worked! By the end of Wednesday's run, I felt great, not too sore, and happy to get two 30-minute runs in back to back. On Thursday, I had a friend come to stay with me and after a great day of catching up, we headed out for a nice dinner. I definitely ate WAY too much and when I went to bed, I kept thinking there was no way my poor body was going to want to run in the morning. But I knew it was the last day of the plan, and I wanted to finish it - I never skipped a planned run the whole nine weeks! Which, by the way, is an accomplishment in and of itself. I'm a chronic workout skipper - I can find an excuse to blow off any athletic activity. So not only am I running three miles, but I never skipped a run in the plan - I ran in new places, I switched days and did back to back runs, all just to make sure I would get them all in. Not bad!
So Friday morning rolled around, and I forced myself to get out of bed and into my running clothes. It was a clammy morning, not ideal for enjoying running, but definitely good for a run. I felt itchy during my warmup walk, like I just wanted to get started running and see how my body would feel. I find more and more lately, I get itchy. Itchy like I just want to be running. Mostly it happens during my warm up. But sometimes, it happens on days when I'm running later on. Or on off days. I hear that itchiness is normal for runners, so I told myself I needed the warm up and that the running would start soon enough. However, the minute I started running, my right achilles tendon started to protest. It's been too tight all week, and Friday it decided to go on strike. It was yelling at me - "no running, no running, NO RUNNING!"
But I didn't stop! I figured it just needed a bit of time to warm up, so I kept my pace really slow (hence having to add extra time on to the end) and just kept pushing myself. I figured that if it snapped, I would stop. Fortunately, it didn't, and it loosened up enough that I could run without stopping for the entire 30+ minutes. I'm paying for it now of course, but mostly only when I go up and down the stairs. My hips on the other hand are feeling pretty good! Lots of things feel sore when I'm running, but nothing dramatic or longlasting, which I feel is a great improvement! Plus, I'm still sporting an awesome blister from the rain run, which makes me feel even more like a real runner (as a side note, I want to say how awesome Band-Aids blister bandaids are - they've made all post-blister-forming runs possible and relatively pain free!).
I feel like I should sum up everything I've learned since I started the couch potato program. And I also suspect I should change my twitter profile from "learning to run" to "runner." I think it's official now. So what have I learned in the last nine weeks?
- Running isn't half bad! Just kidding - actually it's great! I think it might even be more great for me, because it's something that I had kind of always wanted to do but I faced this obstacle of really hating to run. Starting slow, taking other people's advice, and focusing on the journey took me from struggling with 60 seconds of running to enjoying 3 miles of running. It's one of the most tangible accomplishments in my life, and I am actually pretty proud of myself. I can't wait to finish my first 5k. The other day, I found a list I'd started of life goals. On it was "Run a 5k." I'm so excited that soon I can cross that off my list and maybe add some new, tougher goals!
- I'm stronger than I thought I was. I really, really, REALLY didn't think I'd be able to run without taking walking breaks. I just didn't think I could manage it. I'd never run the mile in school (from grade school all the way through college), without having to walk some of it. I've never been particularly athletic. I love yoga, but even that falls to the wayside in favor of things like sleeping or tv watching (yes, I really am a couch potato). I do like to joke that I'm freakishly strong, because I can lift very heavy things despite the fact that I don't do any weight training. But I wasn't so sure I could finish this program. Which is why after I programmed all the workouts into my Outlook calendar, I never looked ahead more than the week in front of me. I didn't want to psych myself out. And here I am, nine weeks later, and I finished it! It was just like Liz Waterstraat said - "Do the work. It will pay off." It turns out that stubbornness and a plan works.
- Motivation is key. For me, it wouldn't have been enough to say, I want to "lose weight" or "get healthy." I needed to have specific goals along with my plan in order to give me a reason to get up and run. Otherwise, I would have given up a long time ago. I had a few goals, which I could rotate on any given day to dig deep and find the motivation I needed. My first was training for the LBI 18-mile race in October. I knew that if I couldn't finish the couch potato plan and regularly run three miles, I'd never stand a chance of running 18. So somedays, my motivation was that I needed to move forward in my running so I wouldn't be falling behind in my training. Then, I added in the goal of running in a 5k. Because that fit in with the couch potato plan so nicely, and it was a much more manageable chunk of distance, it was easier to consider that I would actually make it to a 5k and finish it. Especially once I signed up to do the Island Heights 5k, I knew I needed to make sure I stuck to my training! I was also motivated to run after telling everyone on Facebook, Twitter and through this blog what I was up to and what the plan was. Knowing that people would be watching and cheering me on made me feel accountable. A couple of days, I really didn't want to run, but I knew somebody would ask me how it had gone, so I knew I had to find it in myself to do it. And of course, one of my main motivations has been my own innate stubbornness. I don't like to fail. This plan looked manageable to me, I had said I was doing it, and so gosh darnit, I was going to do it! I was not going to let running beat me!! Plus, turning thirty next year reminds me that there were things I wanted to accomplish in my twenties, so I'd better get about doing them.
- Get a coach. Seriously. Coach J has been a HUGE help to me throughout the whole process, and if it wasn't for his prodding, suggestions, nudging, cheerleading and expertise, I might have quit pretty early on. It helped to feel accountable to a particular person, somebody who knew what the plan was and would know if I was skipping workouts. Plus, whenever something wasn't going well, like my early trouble with feeling tired too quickly, the increase in migraines, my general aches and pains, he had suggestions and solutions that he knew worked from experience. And his crazy workouts in preparation for various triathlons made my little runs seem clearly manageable (did I mention that he came in 140th out of 3000 in the Ochsner Ironman in New Orleans?!?!). So if you're looking to run, find somebody who runs already and can pass along their experiences to you - it's made a big difference to me!
- Diet makes a huge difference. No, I haven't given up brownies - though, come to think of it, I haven't had any in a while...don't worry, I've been supplementing with Ben & Jerry's and Hostess cupcakes. But making sure I get enough protein is a big deal. A big enough deal that now that I've focused on getting more into my diet, on days when I don't have enough protein, I can actually feel a difference. I try to keep protein bars on hand for those days. But in general, increasing the protein in my diet hasn't been a huge struggle, and in addition to helping my running (since protein fuels you for longer), it keeps my head clearer. Plus, I actually enjoy finding ways to eat enough of it!
- Running is a mood elevator. On days when I wake up crabby, running works better than a cup of coffee. Overall, it's boosted my mood in a big way - I feel like I'm doing something good for my body, so that helps my self-esteem and of course, new leg muscles are exciting! I'm getting fresh air and sun (sometimes) for thirty minutes three days a week, which can help to get rid of the winter blahs that are rampant for me around March/April. Plus, I get to see the ocean every time I run, and the ocean is the reason I moved here in the first place! Running has given me a community of running friends online, who I feel like I've really bonded with and connection is always a good thing. Setting out to achieve a goal and achieving it is very satisfying. And the endorphins can't be beat!
- Like in life, there are good runs and bad runs. I always thought that if I stuck to the plan, each run would just get progressively better. Um, not so much. While overall, I do feel stronger and have greater endurance, each run for me was different. I've learned that that's true for all runners, and that a bad day has it's purpose, just like a good day. The important thing is always that I've gotten out there and given it my best shot.
So those are the couch potato to 5k lessons that I've learned. I'm really looking forward to actually running in a 5k, and working towards my 18-mile LBI run. But for right now, today, I'm just enjoying the fact that I'm really a runner. And that surprises nobody more than me!