This will come as no surprise to those of you who already know me from the internets or in real life, but I have never been much of a runner. I was, however, a fairly athletic chubby kid who was always engaged in sports during high school and part of college. But, none of the sports I played ever required me to be able to run for more than a few seconds at a time. In college, a third knee injury in five years convinced me that playing defensive end without a scholarship was no longer a good idea and I then stopped being even the slightest bit athletic. I fully embraced the college life of beer, pizza, beer, beer, beer, pizza and more beer. And now, at 31, I’m approximately 75 pounds heavier than that 19 year old kid who reported to two-a-days in the best shape of his life. Denny asked me if I’d be interested in writing about my struggles with running, and now that I’m once again staring at a fitness plan that I need to follow or risk having to call Wilfred Brimley for free testing supplies, writing about it seems like a good idea to keep me honest.
Like most people with my impressive physique, there’ve been a lot of efforts at righting the course in my life. A lot of them were even successful in the short-term. I’ve had gym memberships. I’ve tried swimming regiments, elliptical machines, weight lifting and most gym trends that weren’t high impact on the knee. Three years ago, I made a complete overhaul of what I put into my body and lost about 50 pounds. It was an intense change and all the things I used to love to eat were sent out to pasture. Then, in a scene that happens to most people who try to get by on diet alone, I tipped off the wagon a little. And then I tipped a little more. Eventually the wagon went into complete disrepair and the weight was back on within a year. I don’t eat the way people think fat people eat. I have plenty of lean meats and veggies. I’m not tearing down a bucket of KFC every night. Now, I don’t eat great, but I know I’m always going to want the occasional super fatty meal that completely derails people trying to lose weight via diet alone. I know that I absolutely have to exercise a lot to be effective in my efforts to get healthy.
Thanks to my history of knee problems, running has rarely seemed like an option for me when I’ve tried to get in shape in the past. I would plod along outside and do it with terrible form, the full weight of my body pounding an already fairly weak joint. My knees would creak and swell afterwards. Pounding the pavement was just not a very smart thing for me to do. Treadmills, and any stationary machine for that matter, bore the hell out of me and there’s no way I’d ever trust myself to really commit to that kind of workout on the regular basis that I need. But, I knew that running, or in my case, slow plodding, outside with changing scenery was the most likely thing to keep me engaged. As a fairly competitive person, the idea of running in races also provided the big motivator of having multiple goals to meet every time I would go out. I just had no idea how the hell I could get myself through a running program without the continued destruction of my knees.
After deciding that I absolutely needed to figure out what I could do to make running outside more palatable for my body, I started hitting up our dear friend Google for ideas. I read a ton of blogs about proper running form, the various types of foot strikes, various shoes that would make you strike a certain way and the pros and cons of everything. I talked to my friends that were runners, like our wonderful editor here, Dr. Mayo. As I am easily suckered into trends, I became fascinated with minimalist shoes that promised proper form and less joint pain via this newfound proper form. I decided to go visit one of the many running stores in the DC Metro and test some out. After finding a pair that did in fact help to lessen the impact on my knee when my foot struck, I went home to start running for the first time in a decade.
I turned to Denny for help in figuring out how much I should run and he provided a plan that slowly built up my strength and challenged me just enough to keep me from getting too frustrated. It turns out that proper shoes go a long way in helping you feel good out there. I was actually enjoying running outside and within a couple of months, I was running for over an hour straight and not wanting to die. I had my eyes set on a half marathon a few months further down the road and was on pace to be ready to run it. I was losing weight, getting healthy and feeling great. Then, I started getting hit by the injury bug. I was mid-way through my first 5K when I felt a pop in my calf. But, idiot that I was, I was determined to finish that race. And I did just that, dragging my leg behind me and then immediately vomiting upon crossing the finish line after stupidly running while hurt for well over a mile. I then spent the next two weeks hobbling around and cringing every time I walked anywhere. Discouraged, I struggled to get back on a regular program after that. I had intermittent calf problems the rest of the spring that mentally and physically blocked my progress. I managed to stay in 5K shape for another couple of months off and on, but the dream of running the half died with my inability to shake a string of unlucky runs and I was back to where I started from by the end of the year.
Today, it’s been just a little more than a year since the 5K where my frustration started and after several months of relative inactivity, I know it’s time to get back to pounding the ground. I’ll do my best to keep everything I write to be more of a discussion as to how I’m doing and what I’d like to get better at rather than “ran 4 miles today in XX:XX! CLICK TO SEE MY ROUTE MAP”. When I inevitably start getting bogged down in my perceived lack of progress or frustrations, I’m hoping Stride Nation will be a place to keep me honest and get me motivated. But, for four days this week, I’m going to go out and run for 15-20 minutes and try to feel good about it as a way to get moving again. I may only actually run for 5 of those minutes, but I’ll keep moving forward. It's the least I can do for you after you read 1200 words.