October made me a runner

Burning up the treadmill four years ago

October has been a significant month for me in my history as a runner. Modern history I should say, because my running experience in the early ’90’s (and before that) is hazy and undocumented. But in August of 2008, I took my first running steps during my walking workouts. I steadily increased the ratio of time I spent running during my walks, all through September, and then into early October.

The reason I know the details of my early progress is because I’d used a Nike+ wristband and chip and I’m still able to look back at my workouts and see the histograms that show my pace and distance. It’s interesting to see the first run/walks, where I traveled at about 15:00 min/mile, with short sections dropping into the 10:00 range.

A scan of the log shows that I averaged 9:34 per mile on October 21, 2008, making that my first full run over a mile with no walking. One year later I ran on a relay team at the Cape Cod Marathon where I achieved a then-personal record distance of 8.75 miles (over two relay legs). Two years after that, I took my big spill on the driveway at the end of a morning run that scraped me up so badly that I still have scars a year later. You have to take the good with the bad.

I guess the longer your running history, the more you’ll have to look back on every month. Still, I’ll always look at October as a most important month, because that’s when I truly became a runner.

My most important decision in the last four years

Four years and many miles

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

This past weekend I realized that it’s been four years since I took the results from my annual physical as a call to action. At that time, I weighed thirty pounds more than I do today. My cholesterol was very high, as were most other indicators. These results were no surprise to me at the time. I had become sedentary and, while I maintained a decent diet, I did not do a good job of regulating portion sizes or sugar intake.

With a wife and two young kids who depended on me, I could no longer ignore the truth. I got off the phone after speaking to my doctor’s assistant and told my wife that I was going to change. I don’t know if she fully believed me, but she supported my intention. My wife has always been active and she suggested that I use the treadmill in the morning before work and to really watch how much snacking I did after dinner.

In August of 2009 I began to walk, first on the treadmill and, on weekends, around my neighborhood. I pushed my walking pace and, within weeks, I was throwing in some short running segments. It took a while before I could comfortably run a mile but by the end of September I was doing that. By October, I had given over from being a walker to a full time runner.

Along the way, I lost those 30 extra pounds and by year’s end, even more. Running is easier the less you weigh. It becomes more interesting when you can track your progress with devices that capture your speed and distance. I made a lot of progress in the first six months after I returned to an active life. Four years later, I’m doing even more.

This is the 1,300th post I’ve done on the Emerging Runner. I started the blog as a personal journal to help me record my experiences and share them with others. I wondered how long I would be able to maintain the discipline of running every morning and whether I would tire of the routine and the work that comes with it. But four years later, I feel exactly the same as I did the day that I completed my first continuous mile.

Embrace the hobgoblin

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

Last Sunday I took a look at my running history on Garmin Connect. This dataset goes back to February ’09, when I got my first Forerunner watch, the FR50. Although my modern running history starts a few months before that, the 750 recorded runs represent a statistically significant performance database. I ran a report of all my street runs and discovered that the pace and distances I ran in January 2012 are almost exactly the same as my all-time average.

I was happy to know this because it shows that my pace hasn’t degraded in the three-plus years since I returned to running. A deeper look at the numbers confirmed that my paces in early 2009 were similar to today’s, so this average isn’t merely 1.5 early years of fast running, followed by 1.5 years of slowness.

This morning I had a slow start to my run, owing to my chronic pain above my right heel that may or may not be my Achilles tendon. The burning I feel when I start off tends to go away once I’ve warmed up a bit. The pain isn’t bad. It’s just that it’s always there at the start.  Due to this, my first mile was slow — over 10 minutes — but I picked up the pace and finished with a time only 40 seconds longer than yesterday’s.

Today’s run and Sunday’s performance review both reinforced the fact that, most of the time, I run about the same, regardless of what I think at the time. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “…consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” That may be true, but I think consistency, when it comes to running, is a great way to validate your efforts.

1,000 posts later and I’m still Emerging

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

Almost three years ago I published my first post on the Emerging Runner blog. The subject of the post was “Yeah, I’m a runner”, a tongue and cheek joke I have with my wife about things I did one time (rock climbing, sailing a 12 meter yacht, fly fishing) and then bragged about it for weeks. But, in running, I was determined to be more than a dilettante. I was ready to commit.

I started running after changing my diet in August of 2008, controlling portion sizes of my meals and making better choices with food. At the same time, I started walking, first on the treadmill and then out in the neighborhood. A month into it I started looking up the road and challenging myself to run to the corner. Soon it was a full street and eventually my walks became runs.

It took about six weeks for me to transition from fitness walking to running, and my commitment was helped along with the strong support of my family and friends. I liked I how felt after I ran and I was fortunate to begin to lose weight quickly. By the time I started the blog in November 2008, I had lost over 30 lbs. No magic diet, pills, shakes or fasts. It was simply eating less and doing more.

I started the blog as a journal to record my progress and as a way to tap into the community of runners. Over the last three years I’ve received many valuable suggestions, tried most, and adopted some. Even today, I welcome advice from runners like Paul, Dave, Adam and Brian who generously share their expertise and experience.

What have I written about in a thousand posts? A look at the “tags” list on the left side of the blog will answer that question. I mostly write about my runs, but I also like to share what I’ve learned from other runners. I’m out almost every day, and after three years, I’ve seen a lot of things on the roads and trails. I often wish I’d stayed with my running back in the ’90’s because I’d have all that experience to draw on by now. Then I think that I might have developed bad knees from all that running and I feel better for my more recent return.

One thousand post, hundreds of runs and twenty races later, I still feel like I’m an emerging runner. Every run is different and I’m still learning new things. Running gives me a reason to write and writing demands content, so I’m motivated to run. Thanks for taking the time to read this blog and for connecting through email and comments. It’s great to have friends who share this passion. I’ll keep writing if you’ll keep reading.

I stand corrected

Today’s run (street) 2.4 miles

Yesterday I wrote how fitness and performance levels tend to decline in middle age. I believed that to be true and, absent proper training, it probably is true. Out of curiosity I looked back on my running history on Garmin Connect and compared my performance (street runs only) between April 1 and October 31 to the same period last year. Some things surprised me. It was almost uncanny that the number of runs, year over year, were virtually identical: 119 in 2009 and 118 in 2010. However, it was the differences that caused my surprise.

Gains for the period 4/1 to 10/31 (2009 vs. 2010)

  • 12.4% more distance overall, average distance per run was up 12.5%.
  • Cumulative running time was 9% overall, average run was 9% longer.
  • Average pace was 4.6% faster.
  • Average cadence was 3.6% greater.
  • Median distance per run was up 11.5%

The only thing that declined year over year was average heart rate, dropping 1.4% this year. I use the HRM intermittently so that one comparison isn’t statistically valid.

So despite what I’d read I have seen some real improvement. Emerging Runner friend and contributor James suggested that I focus more on building a base with comfortably paced runs and using that conditioning to improve my speed. James is an accomplished and dedicated runner who structures his training well. I’ve already started doing what he’s suggesting by focusing more on distance and less on performance. In addition, almost weekly, I’m running with a friend in the city where we pace minutes slower than my current goal rate. This weekend Dave and I are planning an LSD run in preparation of our first (of two) 10K’s that we’re running this month. If running slow and comfortably will help me on race day I’m all for that.

A year ago on The Emerging Runner

Dirty Sock 10K — “I’m having some anxiety about how well I’ll perform. I’ve run 6.2 miles and longer in recent months but that isn’t a regular distance for me.”

Frustrations with GPS apps for the iPhone — “The MotionX was completely off with the path showing me running through people’s homes and across lawns and through back yards. I thought in the early morning there would be far fewer things that would interfere with the signal.”

Workplace running partners — “It takes commitment to run during the workday because we don’t have shower facilities and few people are willing to go at lunch and come back to the office soaking with sweat. I had hoped that our division Fun Run would surface some running partners but no one has taken the bait yet.”