Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why & How I came to be a runner Part 2

 Back in March I wrote an article titled Why & How I came to be a runner. That was part 1 of my running memoirs series explaining how I came to be the runner I am today. I am the least likely person to become a runner but that's the way life rolled for me. If you haven't read my first article I highly recommend you do that before diving into this one. This second article picks up where the first one left off and it describes 2 important lessons that I learned early on that every beginning runner should pay attention to, shoes and mental limits.


2 lessons I learned early on:

Lesson1: Get your running form and shoes dialed in!

 The training plan Mary printed off the Internet started us off running 3 times a week for 2 months and then moved up to 4 days a week for another 2 months and finally we got up to 5 days a week for the final 2 months. The workouts were structured so that we did our base mileage or short runs during the work week and a long run on Saturday or Sunday. Our mileage in the beginning was 1 or 2 miles per workout. It took us the rest of February and most of March to build up to 4 miles. By late March we had run the 4 miles about 4 times. That’s when Liz & Tom invited us to run the Tilden Park trail 10k in Berkeley. 6.1 miles would be a bit of a stretch for us but we were up for the challenge. We didn’t realize trail running was more difficult than roads simply due to the hills, uneven terrain and varied course conditions. We were just excited to be in another race environment. Tom of course would be running a much longer distance of 18 or 22 miles if I recall correctly. This stoked the fire under my motivation because Tom was attempting to accomplish the impossible and this brought in the idea that it if he could do it than perhaps with enough training I could too.

This injection of motivation made us get just a bit more into this running business and that meant stepping up and getting some real running shoes from a real running store as opposed to us going to any old store and getting whatever we or the salesman told us to get. These were our special half marathon shoes. Not something that we would wear on a muddy trail run in two weeks. The old shoes would be used for that run. Mary went to a mom and pop shop staffed by knowledgeable runners. This brought to light the issue of running form and proper foot fall. The 2 things these people were evaluating on my wife as she walked up and down the sales floor in various shoes. I had never heard of proper running form or that there may be a right and a wrong way to run. I started to research proper running form and the different foot strikes that runners do. I watched Ryan Hall videos on YouTube and read articles in Runners World and other websites all over the net. This lead me to a store called Road Runners Sports where they put me on a pressure sensitive mat to see how the weight is distributed between my feet when I stand. Then they put me on a treadmill and had me go at it for a minute or two while they videotaped me and then played it back while analyzing my foot strike. Lastly they put you on some insoles that they heat up and mold to your feet. They hand you the insoles and send you over to the shoes. Next thing you know 3 boxes of shoes come out that fit your running form and foot fall style. I was a heel striker as opposed to a mid-foot or fore foot striker but more on that later. You basically have 3 different shoe categories to choose from neutral, motion control or stability. I apparently needed stability plus shoes because I was a big guy with a lot of weight coming down on weak ankles and my feet over-pronated too much. Regular stability shoes are what were recommended to Mary when she was at her store. That would not suffice for my terrible attributes. I needed stability plus! This was all new and very technical as far as I was concerned and so I was eating it up like a starved dog. I was brought out a Nike, a Saucony and a Mizuno. I liked the feel of the Mizuno Wave Nirvana 7 the best and they said “Now put the custom molded insole in the shoe and see how much better great can feel.” SOLD! A pair of top of the line shoes with a state of the art insole out the door for almost $200 total. It was expensive but exciting. Knowledge was growing and these shoes were going to make me run like the wind, or so I thought. Road Runners offers this gait analysis for free because I’m sure it often leads to a high priced shoe sale and an insole sale as in my case. There’s nothing wrong with that. I like the service and have utilized it a time or two since. Over the next year I learned way more about running form and running shoes and the need for insoles but I’ll save that for another chapter. I will say that the insoles are more damaging then helpful no matter where you get them and the shoes are only important until you develop some foot strength. At that point in time all I knew was that I had shoes dialed in for my particular attributes and I was on my way to where Tom was. I was starting to feel more and more like a real runner. Whatever that is. If I could give every beginning runner one piece of advice it would be to go to a store with a knowledgeable staff and get a good pair of running shoes. It will likely help your running improve. It will definitely cut down your odds of getting a running injury but most of all it will help you feel like a real runner. Whatever that is.

Lesson 2: Train smart & consistently and you will do more than you think you are capable of (most of the time)

Mary and I ran the Tilden 10k and were absolutely stunned that we completed it. The race seemed like such a long distance and we had never done it before. Technically I had when I was 10 years old or so but that was over 25 years ago and most of what I remembered of it was that it was excruciatingly difficult. We were thrilled out of our minds and quite frankly couldn’t wrap our heads around the idea that we had just done a 10k. It was a major milestone and we had accomplished it in a relatively short amount of time. Two months earlier we struggled with 2 or 3 miles. We had also just run our second race in two months and found the atmosphere to be intoxicating. The thrill of race morning and all that it entails leading up to the start line is thrilling. The run itself and the thrill of crossing the finish line is addictive. All of this lead me to make a bold suggestion. "We should run a race every week!" I exclaimed. Nobody took to the idea as strongly as I did because it sounded ridiculous. Who does that?

 Two weeks later Mary and I were at the starting line of the Presidio 10k with our kick ass new shoes on. We were nervous and excited all at the same time. We had done 6 miles once before at Tilden but the muddy conditions on that course made us walk a bunch of sections and some of the hills were so steep that lots of runners walked them. We had never run 6 miles start to finish without stopping and didn’t know if we could. The Presidio 10k started at Crissy Fields and climbed up a huge hill to get up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge itself is a hill in both directions and we NEVER run hills. The gun went off and we ran together for the first 3 miles. Mary slowed a bit and waited for me a time or two in mile 4 but finally we were separated and she finished ahead of me by a fair amount. This was the most difficult run I had done to date and I had to dig way down deep to finish it. I didn’t care who finished first. I was proud of her and proud of myself but most of all we were both just stunned that we could actually run 6 continuous miles. We were so happy and in such disbelief that we had accomplished what seemed like such a monumental task that we couldn’t wrap our heads around it.

 Mary’s birthday was a few weeks later and we decided to take a weekend down in Big Sur. We were both committed to our training at this point and we planned to do an early morning run along the ocean. Hard runs on a Saturday morning had started to become what we looked forward to. It’s how we preferred to start our Saturdays. It wasn’t a burden to keep up with our training plan by running during our vacation. In fact it was one of the highlights of the trip. We were coincidentally supposed to do 6 miles again. We hadn’t quite graduated to a longer run yet. As a testament to our disbelief in our abilities we were nervous and excited again all at the same time. We don’t have the noise of the spectators urging us on this time. We don’t have the other runner’s energy and the energy of the race atmosphere to feed off of. There is no aid station along this run. It’s just us stepping out of our hotel room and dropping a bottle of water in the bushes by the edge of the driveway. We planned to run around the “block” that this hotel was located on twice as it was a 3 mile loop and so at the completion of one loop we would grab the bottle of water and carry it with us for the last 3 miles. We did it and it wasn’t as hard a struggle as the Presidio 10k. We were getting stronger and we couldn’t deny it. This was the 3rd time we had run 6 miles and finally we believed it. We were real runners and we could run 6 miles without stopping. We proved we were stronger than we thought we were every step of the way and that is something every new runner should keep in mind. You can do it. If you have the patience to train slowly and methodically for a given distance and you stick to the plan, then trust in the training and give it all you've got on race day or your new longest run and you will reach levels you never thought possible.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my trip down memory lane!