February 21, 2010

Couch To 5K

Have you ever experienced "runner's envy?" It's when you are walking, or worse, driving, and you notice people running, some easily and smiling, others panting and spitting, but all wearing nifty running gear while doing healthy exercise that is helping their bodies while you are noticing them and not doing anything to help your body. When this happens to me, I usually begin a series of rationalizations in my head about how and why runners are able to run: they are most likely freelance workers who can make their own schedules, their houses are messy, they can afford a good nanny, etc, and why I cannot run: it hurts my shins, I have a demanding job, I don't have the nifty sweat-free outifits, etc.

But, secretly, I wish I were a runner, developing my lung capactiy, becoming trimmer and fitter and healthier. I have even tried it on occasion, but with little success. I does hurt my shins and I don't have nifty running gear. But most of all, I get tired after about one block. I'm winded, huffing and puffing and afraid I'll collapse. I have never understood how people can sustain running for long periods of time, like a mile-let alone 26 miles! So, I've tried to pride myself by walking around the loop in Prospect Park, about 3 1/3 miles around. It's exercise, it doesn't hurt my shins, and it doesn't require special clothing. But, it also takes a very long time, (two hours!) it's boring if you do it alone, and it doesn't make me feel as though I've accomplished anything, especially with so many pesky and proud runners whizzing past me.

Recently two friends, Vicki and Heather, have introduced me to a new idea which I believe will enable me to make my dreams of becomming a runner actually come true. Vicki has transformed herself from a Breast Cancer walker to a Breast Cancer runner, seemingly over night. Actually, she worked on it all last spring and summer. She told me that she built herself up to running slowly by combining walking and running together. Brilliant! Why hadn't I thought of this? Vicki measures her running/walking ratios not so much in terms of distance, but time. When we last spoke, Vicki said, "I'm running 80%," meaning that she runs 8 minutes and walks 2 minutes while covering a distance of 6 or 8 or 10 miles. When I relayed this information to Heather, also a distance and marathon runner, she said, "Oh, yes. That sounds like Couch to 5K. Look it up online." So I did.

Right there, on the front page, is a suggested program of how to get started. The program recommends beginning with three 20 minute periods a week. Even for me, the procrastinator, 20 minutes seems doable. You begin with a brisk 5 minute walk and then alternate running and walking for 60 second and 90 second intervals. Heather's tip, if you get tired, it means you are running too fast. Just slow down. I carry a watch with a visible second hand and I've taken to counting every fourth step as a jog to pace myself. I count about 42-44 (x4) steps per minute. If I count more, I'm running faster. I also watch my breathing and try to breathe at the same pace as I'm counting. During the walking periods, I notice how long it takes me to recover (yes, I am tired after running 60 seconds!)

I have been on vacation from school this week, so I began my program on Monday. One thing I never understood is how runners stay warm on their walks to the park. I kept thinking that I had to do this running thing in the park. However, this week I ran/walked at my father in law's house, and there is no park. I just walked out the front door and started. Aha! I can get warmed up right away if I start right outside, rather than worrying about how to get to the park. If I get cold, I just start the jogging part sooner, like after 60 seconds, rather than after 5 minutes.

I have been doing the program for the last 6 days now. I play around with the length of time I run. My first run is usually 60 seconds, and it's the hardest every time. Then I usually do three 90 seconds runs, with 60 seconds of walking in between. For my 5th run, I try to stretch myself to 2 or 2 1/2 minutes. Today I ended with a 3 minute run. But, the program has you build your time gradually each week. The test for me will be to see if I can wake up early enough to run before school on work days. Vicki does. She even gets in 6 miles or so. For me, it will be a huge change to wake up one hour earlier, but I am really motivated to do this.

And, about the clothes: it's still a problem. I did splurge on some thick running leggings like the chic runners in the park wear. I'm embarrassed to have the back of me seen in public, so I wear a super long tee shirt over the leggings. I wear a jog bra (which makes me feel athletic,) and a tank top underneath the tee-shirt. (Heather says you mustn't wear cotton, but I hate everything else!) I have a fleece pullover that I wear (although the wind blows right through it,) a fleece head band, good running sneakers but bad gloves. My hands are often cold. I treated myself to a windbreaker which is coming in the mail soon. I hope this is an improvement over the fleece. I keep all of my special attire in a pile so that I can easily find everything and dress quickly. I have coffee before I go, but nothing else. I look forward to breakfast afterwards. The most important item is chapstick-it's the difference for me between comfort and discomfort.

So, if you have ever experienced runners envy and would secretly like to become one, do it. If I can, anyone can.

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