Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why I Started Running

One of the questions I typically get from non-runners is, Why? What's the point of logging all those miles in all sorts of bad weather. I was reminded of this when Laura posted about how she first fell into running. Everyone has their own story about how it happened. For Laura, it began during an internship in Florida.

My running story began in Washington, DC, in 1999. I'd lived there for about a year and half, mostly unhappily. Some people love Washington; I wasn't one of those people. I had my first job out of school, spending my days doing work of dubious value and living in basement apartments on Capitol Hill. I'd even started to become a social smoker, buying a pack on Friday, then putting it out on a newspaper box on the way to the Metro for a homeless person. At some point, I realized I needed something new. It turned out to be running.

I started just going for a jogs around a park near me on the southeast side of Capitol Hill. I probably ran about 20 minutes before feeling winded. But I knew the consistency was key. My goal: run five nights a week. This proved hard, partly because I was totally out of shape and partly since it was the start of summer in Washington. I kept at it. My shins would kill me, but I got hooked on how great I felt after a run. It was that summer in Washington -- my last, as it happened -- that I learned the No. 1 thing about running: I never felt worse after a run than I did before it.

Shockingly, I've now run for nearly nine years. In that time, I've run 13 marathons, including two 50Ks, come within 63 seconds of running a sub-3 hour marathon, and logged thousands of miles. The decision to start was the best and hardest decision during that time.

6 miles, 43: 40

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pain + Recovery

I got to talking to a coworker the other day about running. She's quitting smoking and giving running a try. Her one question: When does it stop hurting so much? I didn't have an answer. In a way, running doesn't really hurt, or maybe I'm just used to the regular discomfort that comes with doing anything hard. It made me think because I've spent the last week sick with the flu, dealing with a body that had some evil toxin that was turning it inside and out. What's odd is I came down with it on Thursday, waking up with a very upset stomach. Naturally, after realizing I felt crappy and nauseous, I went running. My idea is the same: I've never felt worse after a run than before it. OK, this was possibly an exception. For the last week, I've been recovering. Tomorrow evening, I'm getting back into it. I miss it, even the painful parts.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ten Tips for New Runners

I've been running a pretty long time now, over eight years. What I remember starting out is that I didn't know much about running, other than basic info. Here's my crack at the top things new runners should know starting out.

1. Set a schedule. Running requires a certain amount of regimen. Pick a time when you do nearly all your runs. Eventually, it becomes like brushing your teeth: something (hopefully) you just do without thinking much about it.
2. Be flexible. This conflicts a bit with No. 1. One thing I've noticed is the tendency to get too rigid in training. Leave room for the spur-of-the-moment drink after work.
3. Run everywhere. Living in NYC, I'm surrounded by pavement. That's not so great for running. But with ingenuity, even runners here can do at least some of their mileage on softer surfaces. I run at least once a week on the trails in Riverside Park, and during warm months do some miles on the Bridle Path in Central Park. No matter what, mix up the surfaces. Your knees will thank you.
4. Get shoes from pros. Running isn't complicated. We're pretty much born to do it. (Check out Why We Run.) One thing, though: shoes matter. Visit a local running store like Super Runners to find out if you're a pronator, supinator, etc.
5. Invest in clothing. Buy wicking clothes and soak them after runs. They dry quickly and are ready for the next day. I go six-seven runs before the clothing needs to go into the laundry. No, I don't have rashes.
6. Stretch. Some don't buy into it; I do. Running makes you stiff and inflexible. Try out Active-Isolated Stretching. It's helped me.
6. Cross-train. I don't do this as much as I'd like. Try to mix in biking or swimming, pretty much anything low to no-impact. Bigger bonus if it's cardio or works on core strength.
7. Accept pain. Running hurts sometimes. There's no use denying it. But I always think, I'm not going to die or anything.
8. Learn what's an injury. There's a fine line between regular aches and pains and real injuries that require treatment. The key is if the pain changes the running stride. Otherwise, look to shoes, running surface or training schedule for why stuff hurts. You'll find your answer there 90 percent of the time.
9. Set a goal. It can be a 5k or running 20 miles in a week or a marathon. A goal helps people focus.
10. Never give up. Getting beyond your comfort zone is probably the greatest part of being a runner.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Warm Weather Reckoning

There's no doubt that it's easier to run when the weather is nice. Today, we got a preview of spring here in NYC. The runs on these days are always somewhat nicer, although it comes with a catch: lots of people come out to run who haven't been so active the last few months. Tonight, I easily accelerated around dozens of people. By the back half of the park, I felt like I must be running at an incredible clip. Maybe that solid 20-mile run Saturday helped me turn the corner. Or could it be using the chocolate milk as a recovery drink? My visions of Pre were dashed when I made the turn at 100th Street, where I get the best read on the five-mile loop of my 6.2 mile run. Only problem: my watch said I ran the five in 35:30, or a 7:06 pace. Not bad, yet not exactly earth-shattering. I feel like I have too many similar runs, right around 7:05-7:10. That's quick, no doubt, but I don't see doing 26 miles of 6:50 with that as a base. Maybe it's time to reassess how I'm going about this.

6.2 miles, 43:11