Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Run? Who? Me?

I've caught the running bug. I have. It's contagious, but for better distribution of the infection, I'm writing a post that I hope will be its carrier. Be patient, and do not dismiss this as yet-another-athlete-who-runs-magically telling me to run. If you need an equivalent synopsis, it's "someone-who-huffs-and-puffs-just-like-me". Trust me, it is a positive message :)

First, to truly connect with this, let's start with my background. Let me know if you can relate to any of the following, either for yourself or someone you care for.

  • Love/Hate Live-with/Hate relationship with weight issues for most part of my life.
  • Little to no exercise for months at a stretch. 
  • Inconsistent attempts at joining the gyms and aerobics classes
  • Bordering-on-social-disorder shyness to step out and attempt to run. (I had multiple issues: more on that below.)
  • Inability to run for more than about 60 seconds (3 minutes if I'm in those bouts where I've been exercising a bit)

Those of you who know me personally, know that I ran a 10K in 2011. Of course, it was awesome. But I'd like to clarify, that I didn't run the whole distance. I did a run/walk - with more run than walk. I had been learning to run before that with a group of wonderful people and raised funds for more wonderful people. If not for them, even if I'd managed to sign up for a 10K, breaking free from the shyness, there would be a lot more walk than run.

So why shy about running? The gist for the purposes of this post is that I feel odd, I am abnormally wary of men staring (very common in a place like India) and I would fear meeting people I'm supposed to have been introduced to and can't remember their names, no matter what! Ideally I would have liked to run early in the morning when it's still dark, when no one can see me and I can see none.  I started writing about this with the intention of keeping it brief, but it turned out there was so much I wanted to say, so I've shifted this to a whole new post (link to come soon).

So how did I shed those inhibitions? I ran with a group, and I ran inside Cubbon Park, Bangalore, to begin with, where everyone else was also either running/walking/exercising. So you don't feel odd when everyone's doing the same thing as you are.  Even later on, when I would step out on my own, at any of those nearby parks in India, where there are running tracks, there were always other people walking/running. Of course, if you're a girl,  you're going to get an extra look or two, but it seems safe. In fact, you'll be surprised to see elderly 'aunties' doing uncommon exercises as well! Make sure there are enough people and there is enough daylight. Of course, this is an India-specific safety concern. Runs in the US have been very comfortable.

Also, don't wake up early if you don't want to! Do it in the evenings if you're not a morning person. One less excuse to make to yourself.

How about feeling conscious about my ability? Well you have to understand that you aren't the same as other people, and if they are already fitter to begin with, they are going to have a headstart. So you have to quit comparisons of any sort, and race with yourself like the recently mentioned sunscreen song says:
Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind. The race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself.
(I hear groaning, enough with the "sunscreen song" already! I hear you!)
After a while of huffing behind other people in the group, I didn't care about that anymore. I had my personal targets and worked on them.

The key is to start small, but don't stay small. Last year, I started small, trying to improve my running-at-a-stretch time, but didn't improve as much as I would have liked to, mainly because it was such a rough self-goal that I had given myself. Something like "little more than last time." (And I wouldn't even remember how much 'last time' was.)

This year, I came across this plan from another blog:- the NHS C25K nine week plan. It's the Couch to 5K plan, or more accurately, How to go from being a couch potato to running 30 minutes at a stretch. They assume you'll be running 5K in those 30 minutes, but that's a stretch for us newbies. And in fact, from the community for this plan, I found that I was not alone. There were plenty of people running - running alone - running slowly - but they were doing it.

The plan spans nine weeks, where you will go from running 60 seconds at a time to 30 minutes at a stretch by the ninth week. It comes with ready to download MP3's that you can play while you're running. The audio is timed to tell you when to start running, when to stop and walk to recover and when to start running again. And it's not some set of mechanical Start-Stop-Start commands. They've made it very 'human'. A person called Laura speaks to you like she's running along with you, giving you running tips, encouraging you and of course, timing you. Each week's plan has three runs with a rest day between each run. This works because you start off so small you just can't give up! This works because it feels like you're taking a personal trainer along with you! Each week I built over the last and ran. Although it starts small, in time, you are trusted to make the bigger leaps. It makes sure you don't underestimate yourself.  Not having run in almost a year did have its consequences, but the structure of the program worked. Time and again, from the community, I found people who had done the jump from one week to the next, so I knew that I could do it. That's one way of plowing through the mental blocks.

The other thing I did was to remove the weight-loss goal from this endeavor. Weight loss and fitness goals are different from each other. There may be some overlap, but the two can be very different. I wanted to run this time, just to be able to run better. I wanted to run, to be fitter. I think that took off a lot of the pressure. A lot of people attempt running and give up when they see there's no change on the weighing scale. That's not to say you won't lose weight. If you eat carefully, you probably will. A lot of difference will not be on the weighing scale but on that measuring tape. But if you want to run, you should do it just for the sake of running. Feel that sense of achievement when you go further, longer than the last time. Sometimes people advise me on how to make my running 'more effective' (ie, how to lose weight). But I know what I want - I want to hit the next milestone!

To summarize, if you want to catch this running bug too, here are a few of my suggestions:
  • I highly recommend a structured plan like NHS Couch to 5K to get started 
  • Try to run with a group
  • Separate the weight loss goal from your running target. Start running just to RUN.
  • Don't compare yourself with others. Your best sense of achievement will come against your own personal targets.
Happy running!


harshitha sm said...

Hey rachna.. well written and crisp! and the point of running put across perfectly :) I could relate to it and an amazing job!

Ashish said...

good one! and i agree, the race is with yourself. Keep it up!!

Rach said...

Thank you thank you :) :) :)

hari kiran said...

Now that you are so into running I recommend a copy of "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall.

Rach said...

Hey harki! Yeah that's next on my list! I'm currently reading Scott Jurek's Eat and Run - about his running and some about his vegan diet helping his running.

THE REJECT said...

Hey rach. Really nice article. I remember the time when I started running. It was three years ago and I just moved to the US. I went for a jog with my roommate and realized how out of shape I was. I took a break right after the first lap and watched him overtake me on his fourth, fifth and sixth lap. That was what gave me the kick to get started. Also remember to do some leg exercises on the days you are not running.

Rach said...

Hey Harsha! Thanks so much :)

Good to know you are into it too.. The overtaking still happens to me though ;) although i'm soo much better than I was, so that's good for now.

Yeah i agree, leg and also core exercises help the running.

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Meenakshi Malhotra said...

Gud one! I could relate to it, it started running in a nearby park, motivated by ace marathon runner, Fauja Singh, If he could start running at the age of 80, why couldn't I at the age of 34. Run, forget everything else!

Rach said...

@Anons, thank you so much. Please do keep coming by ! :)

@Meenakshi, thanks! I totally agree, people like Fauja Singh are true inspirations! Keep up the running! :)

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Poornima said...

Well articulated. Running with a group is indeed better, all we had to do during the TCS10k training was show up!
It's great that you've started running again.

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