Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I've been wanting to write about my experiences this past four-plus months in running, but have had these recent stronger emotional blog posts demanding to be released first. Your responses to me sharing my heart, in all of it's transparency, have been amazing. It humbles me to feel like I have the ability to move so many of you, and to inspire you. One of my favorite people here, SANDSUNSEAS86, told me once that my sticking by her, and messaging her while she was in a rut in terms of her weight journey, helped her come back and she's been kicking butt since! (Sorry girl, don't mean to embarrass you at all with the shout out.) If you're looking for a good read, I always enjoy her posts, go give her some love. Anyways, lol, if anything, I'm just amazed that Spark People seems to be a place where one person can actually make a difference. There are so many times in life where you feel defeated before you even try to make a difference, but here people make differences in each others lives every single day. Okay, I'm just blathering on now, lol, I have a habit of meandering far away from my original stream of thought - back to running! :-D
I've mentioned a few times that I used to be able to run 10k in well under an hour when I was nineteen years old. Although I truly feel like I'm healthier now than I've ever been, I'm still hoping to one day regain that form. It's not what pushes me though, I've been very selective about what I put before me in the form of a carrot on the stick. From the beginning, I laid only one goal before me. Just a single, simple goal: to lose 80 pounds and get back to a healthy BMI number. That's the only goal I've truly clung to throughout my journey. Everything that's happened since, has simply been a byproduct of trying to achieve this goal. Running has been no different in that it's always been a means to an end. I had thought about rowing instead, or cycling, when I first started my journey, but my pedigree in running made it easier to just pick up my legs and start going. At first, it was impossibly difficult. I made the agreement with myself though to not let anything get me down with running - if I could only run five minutes straight and then had to walk the rest of the 30 minutes I promised to dedicate to the treadmill, then I would look at that as a victory. And I did. When I ran seven minutes straight that first time, I was proud of myself, and viewed it simply as a good benchmark to start my journey.
In those early days of running, it was all I could do to muster the mental and emotional strength to push my limits - to work up from seven minutes at 5mph, and push to the point where I was running a full thirty minutes straight at 5.8mph. It took me about a month and change before I ran thirty minutes straight at 5.6mph, and by the beginning of month three I was pushing to do thirty minutes at 6mph. It became a goal and a desire of mine, and it seemed straight forward to just reach out and grab it. Even at that point, I was my own Jillian Michaels inside of my head, constantly having to push myself (why Jillian? I love Bob, but Jillian scares my ass into action, lol). I was hitting 5k in 31:30 essentially at that point, but then I hit a wall. My heart rate monitor was showing me as hitting my max heart-rate around the eighteen minute mark, and pushing through that left me feeling dizzy and faint afterward. I'm a mostly clever person though, so it didn't take me too long to figure out that I wasn't doing a good thing. I started to chat up a couple of my long distance running friends, to see what advice they had for getting my heart-rate to drop and let me go faster. The response I got was kind of humbling in a few different ways.
They both said essentially the same thing, that it was a miracle I hadn't hurt myself up to that point, and that I had essentially accomplished a jump in conditioning and speed over three months that takes hardcore runners about eight months to a year to accomplish. They both said that I would never get past my wall if I kept pushing so hard. Essentially, by running at max heart-rate each time, I was never allowing my heart to grow stronger and condition better - so it would never slow down. Instead, again they both agreed, they said I should run at a speed that put me around 80% of my max heart-rate, and run longer than just 30 minutes. They explained that the heart and the body respond to the conditions we put them through, and that it takes time for everything to adjust. Running longer would tell my heart and my body that it needs to adjust to allow me to sustain that consistently. They said that by running longer, my heart would take longer to increase it's rate of beating, and that this is what would allow me to eventually push to do 5k in under thirty minutes.
[BRIEF IMPORTANT SIDENOTE FROM THIS CONVERSATION] They also explained that the reason this happens, is because our bodies respond to the increased requirements on our muscles and organs by growing more blood capillaries surrounding them. Capillaries support our organs and muscles by helping to enable the exchange of water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and many other nutrients and waste chemical substances between blood and the tissues surrounding them. When there are more of these, our bodies become vastly more efficient in the activity we're training in - this ALSO means we burn less calories to achieve the same level of intensity to which we become accustomed. This was a watershed revelation for me, as I had always wondered why my metabolism seemed to slow down after a while of exercising and dieting, when I hadn't changed anything at all. That's the problem they said, we need to constantly be changing up our athletic routines, or simply doing the same thing for longer, in order to keep our bodies burning at a certain rate. A longer distance runner doesn't want to burn their calories quickly, they want their bodies to sustain it's energy for as long as possible, allowing them to go further and faster for a longer period of time. So of course, this is the result of exercise! I had gone from losing five pounds a week, to losing one pound or less per week in September, because my body had adjusted to my routine. Since then, I've been running longer, and I'm back up to a consistent one or two pounds per week loss - and that's with a slightly increased calorie intake as I've been toying around with yet another new normal on the horizon: Maintenance! :-D Ok, brief sidenote over.
So I began to run at 5.8mph again, keeping my heart-rate around 151bpm, and instantly I was able to run 36 minutes straight. Another incredible thing happened, I was finally able to run without having to be my own personal trainer, I could actually let my mind wander onto other things. When I was a teenager, this is why I ran. It afforded me an opportunity to be entirely alone and stripped bare in my own head, as I dealt with all of the real issues that teenagers deal with every day. Love, life, school, shames, everything. Ending my run with a sprint was every bit as much about purging the last of my emotions as it was about finishing strong. I hadn't had that ability to get all up in my head until this point, near the end of September, and it was amazing. At first I didn't know how long it would take for my body to respond to my new routine, but the conditioning came within two weeks, and I was running 38 minutes, then 40... then last night I ran 4.5 miles in 45 minutes. I could have ran longer but the treadmills only allow for 45 minutes before they do an automatic cool down.
A couple of weeks ago I cracked the 5k in 30 minutes mark by running it in 29:52. It was outdoors on the evening of Canadian Thanksgiving. I was somewhat frightened, as the sun had long since gone to sleep, and I run along a path that has no lights. The moon was almost full though, and illuminated my way. Regardless, I said a quick prayer for safety, and proceeded to be marginally reckless. :-) I was alone almost the entire run, with the moon shining brightly, and my mind free to wander in regard to the emotions that consumed my mind at the time. I came to peace with a lot of what was on my mind that night, and when I was nearing home, I was shocked by my running app when it told me that I was at 4.8k at the 29:10 mark! I hadn't really been expecting or focusing on breaking the 30 minute mark, but my body clearly was naturally running toward this the whole time. I'm not the kind of person to let something amazing slip through my fingers, and so I put on my 'focused eyes' and picked up my legs with every ounce of strength I had left. I sprinted like a fool around my last corner and up the last bits of sidewalk, and pulled out my iPhone to see my distance. As soon as I hit 5k I hit stop, and then came to a slow walk as my eyes watered at the 29:52 mark... sometimes the things we want in life may seem impossible when we go at them from the wrong direction... sometimes it just takes seeing it from a different angle, pursuing it in a way we didn't know how to before, and once we do, everything simply falls into place afterward.
I used to visualize, in the beginning, that I was running away from the me I was at the time, and toward the me that I'm becoming now. Now I simply run because I like it. I hope to do a 10k in the next year, and one day maybe a full marathon. We'll see though, for today I'm just happy for the blessing to be able to do something I'm passionate about. Have a great Tuesday everyone!