A Running Story

Posted by Andrew on May 31, 2013

Sunset Runner

image courtesy of joshjanssen

Have you ever wanted to get started with running or to get back into it after being gone a while? I have wanted to start running again for almost 5 years and have finally found a way to do it.

Any one who has ever considered themselves to be a runner, or at least to be someone who goes running, has a running story. How you got started, why you kept going, why you stopped, how you got started again, that time you set a personal best in a 5K, the route you used to run in college that you miss badly, the pain, not wanting to run, hating it, loving it. I'd like to share my story and my plan for adding to it.


Usain Bolt

Fast is relative

I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica from the age of 1 to 16. If you know anything about Jamaica you probably know that Jamaicans consistently win track and field medals in the Olympics. Imagine growing up in a place where track and field is one of the top national sports. Needless to say I didn't really ever look forward to "Field Day". It was obvious to me at an early age that I was not going to be a track star. I was always active, playing soccer (as a Jamaican football is really the correct term), volleyball, and hiking up and down all kinds of hills and mountains. I just thought running wasn't my thing and didn't plan on doing much of it outside of sports.

Then the US Air Force called during my senior year of high school to let me know that I had received a scholarship to study Electrical Engineering at Mississippi State University! Oh and by the way, you have to pass a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) your first day of Freshman year in order to qualify. This didn't really register with me as a problem since I was so active. Ha! Boy was I in for a rude awakening at 6 am my first day of college. Back then the PFT was pushups, crunches and a 2 mile run and I had never been so nauseous but I managed to pass. Time to get a little more serious.

The Accident

For the next 3 years of college my running was fairly consistent, never longer than 3 miles at a time, always a steady pace of around 9 mins per mile. Then I had my "freak accident". A part of me still thinks that if I had not gone for a run that night that maybe it wouldn't have happened, but who knows. I had just returned from a summer internship in California, my body was on Pacific time and I had the first PFT of the semester the next morning. So I decided to go for a run at 11:30pm, genius. I have vivid memories of that run, how humid it was, what I was wearing, the route I took, even certain things about the way the sidewalk looked. It was the first time I ran that route and the last.

When I got back to the house all my roommates were already asleep, I jumped into the shower, turned off the water and was stepping out to grab my towel when I saw it. The large mirror on the wall over the sink started to fall. All I could do was pull up my left leg and hunch over in an attempt to make myself smaller. The mirror making impact with my left shoulder, shattering, the largest piece breaking off, falling behind me and slicing into my right achilles tendon. Pain, blood, and I still don't have my towel.

Holding the glass that cut my achilles tendon

Holding the piece of the mirror that cut my achilles tendon.

Physical Therapy; a wolf in sheep's clothing

Physical Therapy was hard, painful and slow. The therapist treated my scar like she hated it, her vitamin E massages were not looked forward to. Yet in my belly was this need to be back, to be running, to not be limited, so I only cried a little bit when she reached for my ankle. It was probably a mix of fear and wanting that thing you can't have anymore, it motivated me to do my exercises at home, eventually getting to where I could walk without a boot, and then just a few weeks later a slow jog that lasted about 4 minutes. Victory! I had never before had a reason to truly want to run, and boy did I get my fill soon enough.

My training consisted of trying to run for two miles 3-4 times a week for a total of around 6-8 miles a week. My pace was nothing special, but I was also being very timid as I was worried I'd push myself too far too fast, I kept it around 9:30 minutes per mile for quite a long time (I still wish that I had done a better job of documenting the progress I made with my mile times, but you never think about those things in the moment). By the end of the semester I had to take another PFT for the Air Force ROTC to keep my scholarship and I was able to pass it just fine with my pace approaching the 8:30 mark. I felt pretty good about it, I wasn't going to be too limited. But now I had a constant reminder that I wasn't the way I used to be, the tendon had a large amount of scar tissue and I had to stretch it out many times a day to keep the tightness away. I probably felt like I had more to prove to myself.

#ThatSummer

The following summer, before my super senior year I had the good fortune of heading back to California for a second internship at a research lab named Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This summer was that summer for me, I hope you've had a that summer. It was mine for many reasons, some of the highlights: Climbing Mount Shasta twice in one week, down hill mountain biking and swimming in the cold clear water of Lake Tahoe, trips to Yosemite to rock climb and hike trails next to waterfalls, trying to get onto the roof of as many tall buildings in San Francisco as we could in one night, surfing at Half Moon bay, playing soccer with South Americans and Mexicans, learning some Spanish, but my favorite is running the San Francisco Marathon.

Oh, is there a Marathon this weekend?

We heard about the marathon on Tuesday, bought better running shoes on Saturday and ran the marathon on Sunday. I have previously written about the story in a post about how I and a friend ran a marathon without any training. That post generated some interesting discussions, there are over 100 comments, it was tweeted over 360 times, featured by the BBC, on Lifehacker, and visited over 50,000 times.

One of the interesting things I learned through discussions about my experience was that there is a large segment of runners who think it is Not OK for someone to run a marathon without training. In fact it upset quite a few people that I would do such a thing and then tell others about it. I will concede somewhat to those who were bothered by the fact that I took Ibuprofen before the race, because it's not a great idea. However, my point was not to prescribe a plan for someone to do what we did, I was merely telling a story about what we did. A running story.

A new love

After college I was commissioned in the Air Force as an officer and so of course had to continue to keep in shape. Now that I was a working man I suddenly had a ton of free time that I didn't have in college (engineering degree). I used my free time to start figuring out how to be a better runner. I tried all kinds of different training routines, I met Jeff Galloway of marathoning fame/infamy, and got to tell him I used his technique without knowing what I was doing. Jeff was an Olympic marathoner and is a huge proponent of what he calls the RUN WALK RUN method. This is essentially how I was able to finish the San Francisco marathon without training, I just didn't know it was actually a real technique. Since I wasn't planning to do another marathon soon I adapted this method to an interval training system that I tweaked over the next few years. This program allowed me to dramatically improve my PFT times, 5K times (Best 5K time of 21:13 at a 6:49/mile pace) and dramatically reduce the amount of time it took to get it all accomplished.

Seriously?

Then one night my two roommates Robert and Dave and I were sitting on the front porch and we decided, along with a friend named Brian, to run the Las Vegas marathon that December. Great Idea! We had about 5 months to train for it and planned to do it right. I started to train, this time I was going to do more running than walking though I planned to still incorporate walk breaks into my strategy. I was doing a serious training plan, was upping milage and coming back down, all the good stuff they tell you to do. I had done an 18 mile run and two 16 mile runs, then the week of Thanksgiving I went for a 13 mile run, came home, and as I was getting ready for a dinner party we were having I stood up to put on my shoe on my right foot and I dislocated my fifth metatarsal. This is the bone that your pinky toe is attached to. Yes, it hurt really bad. I was out of the race. That injury plagued me for a year or so and was eventually part of the reason I almost quit running altogether. Over the past 4 or 5 years I have run around 10 times. Until a few weeks ago.

Where have you been old friend

I'm tired of not running, it's this part of me that I miss a whole lot but have found every excuse in the book to avoid. My foot is fine, yes I notice the achilles tendon, always, and the fifth metatarsal threatens me everyone once in a while but they aren't really stopping me. What's been stopping me is that running is hard, it's time consuming, it's hot, I'm tired, I don't have time, the neighbors are watching, I'm slow, I'm scared, I don't have new shoes, my iPod is dead, the list goes on.

Some of that you have to just get over, some of it you can work around. So my plan for becoming a runner, again, is to go back to my roots, find that sweet spot of short runs that get the heart going but that I can still easily fit into a schedule of wife, kids, church and work. Get rid of some of the excuses, some of the others are just stupid. I have to call myself out when I'm being a coward but also have to know where my limits are.

What about you?

So that's what I'm doing and I want to help you too. If you want to join me on this journey I'm thinking about writing about it on another site that would just be about running and fitness. I put up a blog as a placeholder but I really like the name http://normalrunner.com. I'd love to share more about what my actual nuts and bolts strategies are for becoming a runner again, the ups and downs of it all. If you want to chat you should email me by clicking the Contact link above.

That's my running story, I'd love to hear yours!