Running on the Dreadmill

I have really enjoyed my return to running.  In the past two months I have run in the Army Ten Miler and in the Richmond Half Marathon.  I'm no speed demon, but I run and I finish, and with that I am quite pleased.  In my post-half-marathon runner's high, and as motivation to keep running during the cold, dark winter months, I signed up for the National Marathon on March 26.  Morning runs are now part of my routine several days per week, and I look forward to my runs as one of my favorite parts of the day.

However, here in Washington DC we are having an unusually cold start to the winter, and my willingness to run in the predawn darkness when the temperature hovers around 20° is being tested (my friends from colder climates are probably laughing at me right now!).  I have a flexible schedule and live next door to my office, so I've been known to adjust my work schedule so that I can run in the middle of the day, when the temperature soars to a balmy 35°.

Of course, the other option is to go to the nearby gym and use the dreadmill, ahem, the treadmill.  The treadmill is that dreadfull device that, though located in a climate controlled environment where the temperature is approximately 68°, provides you with a running experience like no other.  There is no wind on your face, and you don't actually go anywhere. There is no scenery passing by, no puddles to jump, no birds or squirrels crossing your path, no trail alongside a rushing creek.  The sounds you hear are of grunts dropping weights, friends chit-chatting, and the bad radio station the gym manager has decided to play that day.  As someone who enjoys the many facets of outdoor running, the treadmill is just dreadfull.

Screen shot 2010-12-08 at 7.00.48 AMAnd then there is the pace.  When we run outdoors, we run at a pace that is influenced my multiple factors, both physiological and environmental.  For amateurs like me – and perhaps for more elite runners, too? – pace is not perfectly consistent.  At right is a chart showing my pace over a recent 8 mile run.  While I ran a fairly consistent pace for the 8 miles – my splits ranged from 8:40 to 9:00 – as you can see, my pace within those miles varied to some degree.  What created those pace spikes and drops?  Street crossings, uphills and downhills, fiddling with my hat and gloves, playing with my stride, getting warmed up, accomodating that little kink in my ankle that pops up from time to time … any number of factors contribute to pace variations.

You don't get that kind of variation when running on a treadmill.  The pace is established by the machine, which runs a consistent pace without variation.  Surely you can program the treadmill to simulate a course or a workout, with various hill simulations or pace increases or decreases, but it doesn't allow your legs and body to run with the natural pace variation it might otherwise want or need to.  You either run the machine's pace, or you get flung off the machine.  Take your choice.

I know that I might succumb to the treadmill soon enough, especially if the unusually cold temperatures remain.  My gym is open 24-hours, and there is only so much schedule-juggling that I can do to accomodate my preference to run when the temperature peaks higher than 25°.  And I might yet learn to run in the predawn darkness with temps in the teens or single digits.   But I'm preparing for what might be the inevitable – and dreadful – decision to get on the treadmill and run.  Wish me luck.

UPDATE: A helpful article from Active.com, Treadmill Training for Winter Fitness.

Doctor’s Orders: No Running for Four Weeks

Earlier this spring I returned to running for the first time in 17 years (thanks to the wonderful Couch-to-5K running plan). I began losing weight and feeling better about myself, but most importantly I just really enjoyed running. After a little while my days felt incomplete without a run, and during the day my mind would often wander to thinking about my next run. I can't overstate what my return to running has meant to me. I even blogged about the joy of getting reacquainted with running. It's been an amazing, life-giving experience.

Thus I can't overstate how disappointed I am that, on doctor's orders, I've been shut down for four weeks.  No running, he said.  Get on your bike instead.

But I'm a runner. Not a biker.

You see, by early August I was getting comfortable running 7+ miles twice/week. My last long run was an 8-miler to the Washington Monument on August 9.  After a day of rest, I went for a short 4-miler on August 11, but didn't even last 2 miles.  I felt a shooting pain in my left shin, and a throbbing pain in my right. After feeling this horrible pain on another run following several days of rest, I went to the doctor, who told me to stop running for two weeks.  Two weeks came and went, and I went out for two short runs – 1.5 miles – on Monday and Tuesday of this week.  While I felt better, the sharp pain persisted in my left shin.  And so I called the doctor back, and that's when he gave me the four-week extension to my running moratorium.

I went to the running store last week, before the call to my doctor, and in hopeful anticipation of a cautious return to running this week. The guy at the store looked at my shoes – purchased in May at another running store – and said, "they're shot." "But they have less than 200 miles on them," I said. He then told me that they had a 180 lb limit (I weigh, ahem, a bit more than that), and that he himself had prematurely blown through a few pairs of this brand.  So while I don't want to blame my current predicament entirely on a poor choice of shoes, there's part of me that wants to find the guy who sold me those shoes and have a word or two with him.

Well, I bought new running shoes, the pair I wore on my two short runs earlier this week. They feel great, and hopefully I'll be running with them in a month or so.

So my hopes and plans to run the Army Ten Miler in October and the Richmond Half Marahon in November are shot.  For even if my shins feel great after four weeks, there is no way that I could get my body ready for the Ten Miler in less than a month, or for the Half Marathon in about five or six weeks.  These goals are now out of reach. For this year, anyway.

So today or tomorrow I'll take my bike to the shop, get it tuned up, and pretend to be the kind of person who likes bicycling. And tomorrow I'll go to the gym for a training session to learn how to use the machines properly, and pretend to be the kind of person who likes the gym. Let me be clear: I'm not the kind of guy who really likes cycling or the gym. Bikes and gyms don't come close to matching the simplicity and purity of running. Cycling is complicated – special shoes, helmet, gloves, and a bicycle with hundreds of parts, riding on busy roads or crowded paths where you've got to dodge pedestrians, runners, and cars, stop for cross traffic, and so forth. The gym is equally compliclated – what machines to use, how to use them, what is the proper weight? – not to mention the stale, sweaty air inside.  Running is so much more straight forward – strap on your shoes and run according to some plan. Running is the only kind of fitness I've ever really liked or enjoyed. Running is so meaningful for me (see that blogpost I referenced earlier). Shifting gears is going to be hard.

Well, this is the test, isn't it, to see if I'm so dedicated to this running thing (and to my general fitness) that I'll do anything – even ride a bike and do gym workouts – to get my body ready for an eventual return to running? I hope and pray that I can do this. I may even come to like it. But like it or not, it's my only option.

The Kingdom of God is Like a 10K Race

The following is a parable that was revealed to me while watching runners – including my dear wife, Jessicah – finish a 10K race on Saturday.  I'm pretty sure it was one of those parables that either got lost in translation or didn't make the final cut for the synoptic gospels, perhaps due to its high hokeyness quotient  😉

Then he said to his disciples, "The Kingdom of God is like a 10 kilometer race. Not one of those big charity races with thousands of runners in a big town or city, but a grassroots run in a county park with only a few hundred racers.  It's a race with many participants but few spectators, and when the fastest runners finish, there is nobody to cheer them on.  But when the slowest among them cross the finish line, there are scores cheering them on, for the faster runners had already finished, and were standing nearby the finish line, welcoming their fellow runners home."

Then the disciples asked him, "What does this mean?"  And he answered them, "Do you not yet understand? In a race the first receive the least amount of praise, since nobody but the race staff are there to cheer him on.  And what joy is there when a 21 year-old stud cruises to a first place finish in a community run?  We all expect young studs to win the race!

"But the last runner receives the greatest praise.  For when an overweight 54 year-old with achy joints sweats through the race, crossing the finish line in last place after running 6.2 miles without stopping to walk even once, the whole gathered crowd of racers who had already finished the race, cooled down, stretched, and begun replenishing their system with sponsor-provided food and drink, will put down their Gatorades and bananas to cheer on this last place finisher.  The cheers will be much louder, and words of encouragement much more plentiful, and admiration much greater for this last runner than they were for the first.  For they all know that the last place runner spent more time suffering on the course, and overcame more challenges, than any other runner in the race.

"And so it is in the Kingdom of God.  The angels and heavenly hosts will hoot and holler more loudly for those who stumble and straggle into the Kingdom than for those who sprint in hardly breaking a sweat.  For this world honors with heaps of praise the best and fastest among you; yet in the Kingdom of God, it is the least among you who are celebrated the most."

Getting Reacquainted with Running

I haven't exercised much since 1993, the year I graduated from high school and won a state gold medal in the 4×800 meter relay.  Sure, I have purchased gym memberships and bike equipment, but I haven't used either much, except perhaps for the few months of biking I did just prior to my October 2002 wedding.  I gained weight, got warnings from doctors about borderline blood pressure and high cholesterol, and purchased larger-sized pants.  I haven't done much of anything to return to any semblance of the athlete I was in high school.

To be clear, I know that I'll never run a 4:23 mile or a 16:30 5K ever again.  And I'll never weigh in at 169 pounds, my high school weight, again (at 6' tall and a big frame, I was one of the biggest runners on my team).  And I'll never win a gold medal in anything again.  And I'm OK with that … now.  But that wasn't always the case.

You see, for me – someone who experienced significant success as a runner in high school – the past has been an amazing deterrent to my attempts to keep fit.  I think the past can do that to many men.  In recent years when I've gone out running I've felt dejected that what was so easy in the past had become so difficult, and I quickly lost patience and confidence.  The framed gold medal and photo of my relay team hanging on the wall was simultaneously a source of great pride and of great shame – Look at what I once did!  But wow, look at me now.

I think I've turned a page, however.  Since Easter my wife and I have been running again.  We started slowly, with the Couch to 5K training program.  [When I say slowly, I mean slowly – the first week of workouts consist of 60 seconds of jogging followed by 90 seconds of walking, for 20 minutes.]  We ran our first 5K on May 29, and now I'm up to running 4-5 miles on training runs three days/week.  Though when I'm running my mind and my body remember what it was like to run 17-20 years ago – and that experience surely helps me today – I'm quite happy these days with distance runs that come in at a 9:30 pace, rather than the 6:00 or faster pace I often ran on such runs in high school.

What made me commit to running now?  People, specifically my wife, a few friends, and many strangers.  It all started when a couple from church invited me to sign up for the Army Ten Miler in October, knowing that I was looking to get back into shape.  And since the race registration last year filled up in less than a week – and that's for 30,000 runners! – I didn't have much time to mull it over.  I said yes, got online, and signed me and my wife up for the run.  Then I joined the Couch to 5K page on Facebook, and was excited to post my updates on the page after each workout, and read how others were doing with the plan.  Finally, I joined DailyMile.com, a social network for runners, cyclists, and triathletes.  Sharing workouts, receiving advice and encouragement, and "meeting" other runners has been a great help for me as I've stepped up my running since May.

What does all this mean?  Like many people my age, and particularly many pastors, I am overweight and out of shape.  Getting reacquainted with a long-lost passion of mine has been a gift from God, for all kinds of reasons.  I am working on my health and investing time and energy into something I love to do, a commitment which forces me to re-evaluate my priorities, from the foods I eat to the schedule I keep to the amount of work I'm willing to take on.

But perhaps most significant for me is the way that returning to running has allowed me to reconcile who I was with who I am.  For many years I've sort of written off my former running success, so irreconcilable was the memory of my "glory days" with the weight gain and fitness failure of my 20's and 30's.  And though I am not the runner that I once was, I am a runner again … and that alone makes me happy beyond belief.  I'm on the road to health and fitness, and am excited for the 10K and Ten Mile races I'm running in August and October.

Well, there's more to say about this, but it's time to go to bed.  I have a 5:00am alarm set to wake me up for my morning run.