After completing an eight week running program I feel proud enough of my accomplishment to call myself a runner again. Not much of a runner mind you, but I can run more than a mile without stopping at least. I can run 5K in less than forty minutes! Not fast by any measure but it’s not about the speed or distance–it’s about the accomplishment and the feeling of calmness after each run. Maybe now is the time to sign up for an organized running event?
I had long ago made up my mind my running days were over. After several months of daily walking I started thinking maybe that wasn’t really true. I was comfortably walking for over an hour and started thinking if I can walk six or seven miles then surely I can run one mile.
I knew I needed to start slowly but I wasn’t exactly sure what that really meant. I did some online research and this brought back many memories of running a long time ago. I remember the feelings of calm and tranquility at the end of each daily run and I missed that. One the downside, I also remember the aches & pains that came with the sport. The aches and pains were something I wanted to avoid this time around. I also learned a few new things as well. One thing I learned was there are many mobile phone apps to help you get started. If you have an iPhone or Android mobile device, finding a training app for running is pretty easy. The hard part is trying to figure out which one to use. Some of the apps are free and some are not. There are minor differences in the training plans of each but they all seem similar enough. In the end I decided on Fitness22’s 5K Runner. I would say my second choice would have been the Couch to 5K app from Zen Labs. Both companies offer a free 5K training app for both the iPhone and Android mobile devices. Either app will make a good place to get started. I know there are still some people who don’t have smart phones, especially in my age group and older. That’s ok, but you will need a watch with a timer or stopwatch at the minimum.
So now it’s time to get started running right? Not quite. In the early stages my running still involved a lot of walking. I would start by walking–usually fifteen to twenty minutes before I would start up my new 5K Runner app on my iPhone. Day one of the training called for a 5 minute walk followed by running for one minute and then walking for a minute and a half. This is repeated six times and concludes with a 5 minute cool down walk. I usually continued to walk to complete at least an hour of activity. Of course, you could just follow the 5K Runner app and have your workout finished in 30 minutes if that is all the time you have available. The app continues through an eight week program of three running days per week. The great thing about using one of the smart phone apps for training is you don’t have to constantly monitor a stopwatch to track or remember how many times you’ve completed each interval. The app runs in the background and beeps and speaks to you so you know when to walk and when to run. If you listen to music while you run, you can listen to music and still get prompts for each interval. By week six the app works you up to ten minutes of running with a five minute walk, followed by another ten minute run. At the end of eight weeks you are running for 35 minutes without stopping.
Now here’s an important point I want to make–by the end of the program I wasn’t running 5K in thirty-five minutes. At my age and fitness level I just couldn’t run fast enough. One of my important rules about running for a lifetime is when you train: base your workout on duration only. Let’s face it, some days are better than others. Sleep, diet, temperature, humidity, running surface, and traffic congestion are a few variables that will affect your running performance each day. You can’t completely control those things so don’t try. Go out with a running duration goal in mind and let the rest take care of itself. Depending on the duration and the variables I just mentioned my per minute mile pace can vary by as much as 2-3 minutes per mile. Accept this and you will free yourself from the pressure of always trying to perform better. You will get better, you just have to give it time. We’re not training to be professional competitive runners–we want to run for the rest of our lives. Patience and long term goals are the key to success.
My return to running began in June of 2013. Actually, it didn’t start with running at all. It started with walking. At first it was just a mile or so and I gradually increased my distance over the course of about three to four months. By September I was easily walking for an hour or more. It was an easy progression really. About eighteen months before I started my new journey in running I moved to a new neighborhood that has fitness trails that run through different sections of the neighborhood. This turned my walking into a bit of an adventure to explore and learn the various paths.
To help monitor my progress I use an activity tracker. My activity tracker of choice was the Fitbit Flex. You certainly don’t need an activity tracker but they can help you stay motivated. There are trackers made by Nike, Apple, Garmin, Jawbone and a few others. They all have advantages and disadvantages and I’m not recommending one over the other. I will say what I like about the Fitbit products is their mobile app for the iPhone or Android devices. To me, the others just don’t compare. If you don’t use an activity tracker I do recommend you start an activity diary. It can be a small notebook that can easily fit in a pocket or purse where you just record the date, time and duration of your walks. The advantage of a diary is you can look back and see your progress. Seeing progress, even if it’s in small increments can help you stay motivated.
For the first few months I tried to walk at least six miles a day. Everyday. At first I didn’t do this in one session. Many times it was in the course of three or four walking sessions during the day. If you’ve got a spare 15-20 minutes–go walk! That’s what I did. Some days I didn’t get my six miles in and other days I went well beyond it. The main thing is to stay committed. When you put your mind to it you can find all kinds of opportunities to walk more. One easy way is when you pull into a parking lot to park don’t look for the closest parking spot near the building you want to enter. Instead, find a spot that is the furthest out. I think you’ll find many times this will be a time saver because you’re not driving up and down the parking lot looking for that spot closest to the building.
As you see, the first steps to running for a lifetime isn’t running at all. It’s walking. Over the years I’ve watched too many people take up running by starting out too quickly and too aggressively only to stop due to injury or frustration over the constant aches and pains cause by running. If you want to run for a lifetime, you’ve got to have patience and a bit of discipline. Regardless of where you are physically you will always need to stay with it and start slow. As you progress, slow will be faster than the first day you started running but it should always feel like you are taking it slow.