Learning to Run

I’ve started running. Not well. Not quickly. Not for long. But I am running … and slowly making progress (where “progress” is defined as no longer feeling like I’m going to collapse after running for three blocks).

Running was never my thing. My sister’s thing, yes, but never mine. I was more about cycling — I was happy to go on on a meandering 20-mile ride and have fun trying to find my way back home. Those days are long gone, and there was a big stretch of time where I did no exercising. Unsurprisingly, I got fatter.

I transitioned to going to the gym — alternating between the treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike — and the pool. This was the sweet spot as far as exercise routines went; rotating between the four activities kept boredom from setting in, and swimming is almost as much fun for me as cycling.

Except … I work at a college. This is great, because I can go to the gym for free. It’s not so great because occasionally a few thousand students decide (usually at the start of the semester) that they want to exercise too. Of course, that’s exactly what they should do, but it throws off my schedule if I get to the gym any later than 4:30 p.m. The pool is better — fewer people swim — but it requires me to schedule lunch from 2-3. It’s also more of a production since I need to shower after a swim (with the gym I can go right home).

The single biggest problem with that routine, however, is the afternoon time slot. There are simply too many meetings each week to easily defend the swimming time, and the kids’ after-school activites — like baseball and softball — mean I have a narrow, easily missable window to go to the gym. (all the more so when my wife and I are both coaching teams, and we need to shovel down dinner while writing that night’s line-up).

Thus … running.

It’s an early morning activity that I can do through out the late spring, summer, and fall months, before switching over to the gym and maybe the pool in the winter. I can do it before work, which means I’ve guaranteed to get my exercise in before the rest of the world can mess up my schedule.

And I have a running mate. Indiana, my yellow lab, is just as active as the rest of his kin, and loves a good morning walk. Before I started running, Indy and I would go for a morning walk. That was good for both of us, but it never really got my heart rate up even though my route involves a fairly large, tiered hill.

My first running attempt began in late spring, and ended after two weeks because it was so … damn … hard. Also, I was stupid. I did exactly no research; instead I just strapped on my sneakers and ran full tilt for as many blocks as I could. This wasn’t far, and even with imaginary undead from the Zombies Run! game couldn’t keep me motivated.

A few months later, I decided to try again, but this time I did a little research. I found a couple of posts about training for a 5K (a race in which people run distances greater than a few blocks). The Mayo Clinic post is the one I’ve been using, but most of the training programs are very similar, and offer the same, pretty basic advice: don’t kill yourself.

Practically that means don’t try and run hard the entire time. That way leads to failure — instead run, then walk, run, then walk. Build up your strength and tolerance, and eventually the running bit gets longer. Throw in a walking-only day once a week to give yourself a chance to recover, and then repeat.

Indiana loves this routine. When I get up, he’s there waiting for me. When I pick up my cell phone, grab his leash and snag some string cheese (a treat we use for training the dog), he gets very excited, does a few canine stretches, then bounds to the back door.

If it’s the school year and my wife gets up before me, he runs downstairs, has some breakfast, then runs back upstairs, jumps on the bed and barrel rolls me until I get up.

Yep, he’s basically my running coach.

I’m careful not to push him too hard. Labs are not known for being distance runners, and I don’t want him or myself sidelined by injuries. So far he has no problem keeping up with me, and let’s be honest … it’s probably going to be a while before my endurance will surpass that of a 4-year-old Labrador.

The strange thing is … it is working. I’m getting better, and while I can’t run my whole two-mile loop, I run more of it every week. I might spend the morning tired, sore, and way too freaking hot (running seems to rev my body into overdrive, much the way swimming does), but I am making progress.

Now I just have to keep making progress.