Monday, January 13, 2014

The backstory to a new direction in running and life

I have been running consistently now for about four years, minus a nine month lapse (for personal reasons) after the first year and a half and minus the periodic lapse brought on by minor injury. There was also the summer  and early fall of 2013, which I mostly missed because of a fractured wrist suffered in a bicycle accident (darn you Tour de France, darn you to heck!). I was never much of a runner when I was younger, though I did the occasional jog around the neighborhood, pushed the baby stroller at a brisk pace after kids came along, and tried (and failed) the treadmill game at a local gym.

But after my third child was born in 2007, after she began to run around in the backyard and at the park, I came to a realization: I was pitifully out of shape. I was over forty and I couldn't keep up with a three year-old. I knew that if I wanted to experience her childhood the same way I had experienced the childhood of my older two children (who are seven and ten years farther down the road, respectively), I had to make some serious changes, starting with improving my heart and my general condition.

At the time, I was pushing around 190 pounds at a height of exactly six feet. Now, that doesn't exactly make me overweight, but trust me, I was far more fat than muscle. And my waist size--which had been a 32 all through college--was growing in a hurry. I was well on my way to being a 36, at the very least and looking--quite literally--like a Weeble, without the added bonus of not being able to fall down.

It was a horrible realization, one that I vowed to use as a basis for getting back at least into some semblance of shape. To that end, I began to exercise. My early attempts at running were really more about walking. I'd jog for a couple of hundred feet, before I was out of breath, then switch to walking, though at a relatively fast pace. My hope was that eventually I would be able to just run, at least a couple of miles several times a week.

At the same time, I also opted for some fitness training, ultimately choosing the heavily promoted workout program P90X. And of course I also tried to adjust my diet, to cut down on the junk foods, the fatty foods, and all the rest, while making a concerted attempt to eat more vegetables and fruits. This latter change was--and still is--one of the most difficult for me, partly because I really enjoy hamburgers, french fries, and the like, but also because of the rather hectic schedule of my life. But I do try to keep at at. In other posts, I'll share some of the things I do to help with my diet. But back to the running.

Anyway, the P90X program kicked my literal ass. It made me realize just how sad my conditioning really was. As hard as it was to run a mile, it was even harder to do most of the exercises on the P90X videos. Granted, they're not supposed to be easy, but I was struggling to just do them, let alone do a series of repetitions in this regard. But I actually kept at it, eventually making it through the ninety day program and--by the end--actually being able to do all of the exercises. I even looked forward to some of the sets, particularly the Kenpo one.

All this time, I was also putting in a couple of miles after several of the workouts and on my P90X "rest day." Some advice to those starting similar programs and also running: if you're lifting weights and running on the same day, lift first, run second. This will get your body burning the fat you want to get rid of, prior to the run. You'll see much better results than if you do it the other way (run, then lift). The upshot here though is that my running benefited mightily from the P90X workouts. By the end of the P90X program (ninety days), I realized I could run much farther than I thought, without getting out of breath (I hadn't been pushing myself while running, at all).

Slowly but surely, running became my go-to activity. I steadily improved on both pace and distance (I use the Nike+ app to track all of my runs) and have, as of today, run over 1700 miles in the past three years (since I started tracking them). Minus the nine month break, that works out to about 63 miles per month, or just over two miles per day. Time wise, my average per mile has gone from over fourteen minutes to under nine, which I think is pretty good, all things considered.

All that said, I still have some problems. I've had injuries as I noted above. From blisters--mostly on the back of my heel--to muscle soreness and cramps to severe joint pain in my knees and ankles. I've tried a variety of things to combat this issues. I've changed shoes and added or subtracted support, worn knee braces, and tried to improve my pre-run and post-run stretching techniques. I've also taken supplements to help with joint and muscle pain. To an extent, all of these things have helped. But some problems persist, rise up time and time again.

Understand that I am not running to compete in a marathon or anything else. My longest run is a mere twelve miles. I'm running to stay healthy (I still do some weight training and some swimming). I've made a conscious choice to focus on running because I do like the way it makes me feel, I do like the results. Right now, I weigh about 166 pounds, easily twenty pounds lighter than I did four years ago, and I'm staying that way, even as I continue to lose fat and add muscle. My waist is back to a 32, if not a 31, and I can afford to have the occasional hamburger without setting myself back at all.

All that said, I believe I should still be doing better in my running, I think that doing a marathon should be a possibility. And I question why I can't get rid of these nagging injuries and problems.

This is where I was, just as 2013 ended, when I saw a commercial--of all things--that led me to explore some other avenues, that sent me down a new road I think might very well be life-changing. But we shall see in the days ahead.

In the next post, I'll detail what that commercial was, what it led me to do, and the changes I am about to institute, both with regard to how I run and how I live. And rest assured, this not a spiel for the product that was in the above commercial, at all, not some sort of blog-based infomercial. The commercial simply set off a chain of events that led to this blog, as will soon become clear.