In the last installment, My running history: Part 1, we learned what drew me into regular running in the first place, after a few false starts.
That was in the spring of 1999. So, you ask, what happened after I started running?
Well, for one thing, I was totally out of shape. I couldn’t walk up the stairs in our house without getting slightly winded. So, I strapped on the shoes I’d bought in one of my previous abortive attempts to become fit and headed down to the local park. There, I discovered just how unfit I really was.
At 34, I should have been in my prime, right? Sadly, I was not. I could run, very slowly, for about 200 feet. Then I’d have to stop because I was so out of breath. So, for the first few weeks, I’d just run little distances, then walk for a bit, then run for a few more hundred feet, then walk, etc. I would do this over a distance of under a mile.
Eventually, I was able to run more and walk less, and after about a month and a half, I could actually run the entire mile. I wasn’t keeping records, but I guesstimate that I was running about a 12-13 minute mile at that point.
Then I started adding distance. I wish I could say that I didn’t worry about speed, but I was always trying to go faster. Looking back, I realize now that this was a mistake. I could have become comfortable running over longer distance much, much earlier had I just concentrated on distance and not speed.
Here’s the really sad part. I ran like this for several years: Running too fast, getting winded because I had to stop, and never really reaching the point of being aerobically conditioned. I know this because I would get terrible headaches if I tried to run farther than 5 miles. It never ocurred to me that there was a better way. “Training” wasn’t even anything I could conceive of. I was just trying to run.
Finally, around 2003, through sheer force of will I got to the point where I could run seven miles at a decent pace (perhaps around 10.5 minute mile average). But I wasn’t happy about this because running seven miles was still very difficult — lots of heavy breathing and aching legs — and I couldn’t conceive of ever being able to run farther than that; I also wasn’t losing any weight, which had been a goal.
I recognize now that part of the problem was my inability to tolerate running in extreme weather. Since I wasn’t fit in the first place, running in the heat/humidity of NY summers was impossible. Where I could tolerate running when the weather was comfortable, that went out the window when weather was bad. As a result, my regular running would drop off dramatically in June and not pick up again until September. In that time, I’d lose what little conditioning I had gained in the spring. Then, when the snow and ice appeared, and the amount of daylight decreased dramatically, my running would drop off again January through early March and whatever I’d gained in the fall would be lost. So I was constantly slipping backwards rather than moving forwards.
In early 2004, I decided to become more committed to my running. I bought a treadmill in order to allow me to run year round, no matter what the weather or daylight was outside. And, unlike most people, I actually used the treadmill (and still do today) for running rather than as a clothes rack.
That’s it for Part 2 of my saga. In Part 3, we’ll learn what happened between 2004 and today, including my discovery of the concept of “training” — and the birth of my racing career (cough cough).