Saturday, April 7, 2012

A running commentary

Let's backtrack a few years. Maybe four or five, to where I was back then. Unfit, fat, early forties, working hard, drinking a lot, unhappy, burnt out. All very well to look at it from here, but when I was there I didn't realise how poorly I was looking after myself until I literally fell apart. Back then I was windsurfing, sometimes cycling to work (admittedly a 30km round trip) and scuba diving. I knew I was active, but hadn't really contemplated the idea that I was unfit.

After the "hit the wall" moment I decided to do something about it, without resorting to drugs. Being in the medical game I had a pretty good idea of the directions I needed to go, and one such direction was proper physical exercise. Along the way the goal to head off overseas and climb a 3800m volcano got me motivated enough to take the training seriously. It also helped that my friends Sally and Sheridan enjoy a good long walk, so for months on end the three of us, plus Hazel, enjoyed one to two long walks a week, discovering and exploring the countryside around Geraldton.

I also did some dune walking. Seriously, if you want to work your leg muscles, I can highly recommend walking in soft sand. Add a few tall dunes to climb up and down and you've got a genuine thigh burn happening. In altitude challenged Geraldton, you've got to take what you can get, and I thought I did a good job. At no point did I ever consider going for a run.

My attitude to runners is echoed by many non runners:
Have you ever seen a runner enjoying themselves? No! They huff and puff past you, sweating, red in the face with a look of pure torture on their faces. They never smile, never say hello, caught in their own little world. Who'd want to do that hey? It doesn't look fun and even they don't look like they're enjoying themselves. Poor advertisement for the sport I reckon.

Back to the back story. Off I go overseas and climb my first volcano. Not the 3800m one but a smaller 2800m. It almost kills me!! I exaggerate, but with a bit more training and walking at my own pace I do indeed climb the big one, and over the ensuing months I do a number of summit climbs and multi-day treks, and survive! I'm proud of myself. I return to Australia, confident in my new found fitness, return to work and then gradually fail to keep the activity up. In 2010 it bites me in the arse half way down an off-piste slope on the ski fields when my lack of fitness causes me to make a stupid decision, and I break my arm.

I return from that ski trip a changed woman. Not only is my arm in a snazzy red fibreglass cast but I'm now really motivated to get active, fit and strong because I'm determined to conquer that mountain next year! The cast is a bit of a problem though, because at that stage in my life my preferred methods of exercise were swimming and cycling, and walking. So I grit my teeth, join a gym, and even get a personal trainer. Best investment in myself I ever made!

Over the ensuing 12 months I did indeed get fit, and strong. I found books specifically on ski training, learnt to assess and work on my weaknesses and strengths, and had a lot of fun with Sharon (my personal trainer) designing wicked routines for me to do. And my body changed irrevocably. I toned, I lost fat from parts of my body that had remained stubbornly flabby since my teens, and I started to at last like the body I was seeing in the mirror. And when I hit the slopes I was able to ski easily without getting jelly legs, thigh burns, or soreness in the morning.

Once I returned home I needed a new goal to keep me motivated. I kept up the gym till my membership ran out, then gave myself a little break before trying to implement a fitness program without the help of a gym or personal trainer. This is where technology steps in.

I'll go back a few steps, because the technology started a while back, when I began to exercise using a heart rate monitor. The concept of the heart rate monitor is that you exercise within certain zones. Most exercise gets done at 60-70% of your maximal heart rate, but the intense stuff needs to be in the 80-90% range, but only in intervals, or you'll end up stressing your dear little heart and need a pacemaker!! The beauty of using the HR monitor is you get immediate feedback on the intensity of your workout, whether to slow down, or speed up, and also to monitor how fit you get over time. I particularly like using it for running.

Ah yes, running... Remember my old attitude to running? You can perhaps imagine my response the day Sharon put me on the treadmill and increased the pace to a speed that required me to run. "I don't run" I said. "Now you do" she said. Since I was paying her to be my bitch for an hour I had no choice, and well.... the rest is history.

I started on the treadmill, just 10 minutes at a time, and over the months I progressed to 20 minutes or so. Then one day I was away for a long weekend in Perth and needed to do some exercise so I hit the real world and did my first ever proper run. And never stopped. Sharon then taught me to run to my heart rate, to slow down or even walk when my heart rate went above 70% and restart when it hit 60%, and I found myself running further and faster without my heart rate rising so high. Yes I was getting fit.

I discovered Skins, compression tights, that are excellent for wearing when running. Not only do they hold all your flabby bits in, meaning you not only look skinnier but you don't wobble as much also, they help to massively reduce post exercise muscle soreness by reducing lactic acid buildup in the muscles. They were an integral part of my daily ski wear as well. Although expensive, they last ages. I am only now onto my second pair, because my original pair are now too big for me. Because I got skinnier.

Which brings me onto the big motivator for the moment, which is purely narcissistic, and why I believe runners run. OK, some people run for competitive reasons, but most people run because there is no other exercise I know of that has such profound effects on your body as running. Sure there's the buzz from a good workout, but the reality is that you've got to endure a good 5-10 minutes of pain before you hit that nice zone where the muscles are warm, pain free and the endorphins are flowing.

I now have a waist. Seriously, I don't think I've ever had a waist, but the silhouette in the mirror is now decidedly wine glass rather than traditionally tankard, and that stubborn fat on the outside of my thighs is in great danger of disappearing altogether. And my butt is perhaps half the size it used to be, no downward droop on this lady no siree!!

So yeah, I run, maybe 4 times a week. I listen to my iPod, catching up on all the podcasts I never get around to listening to otherwise, and count my kilometres then brag on Facebook to my friends. I set myself goals, use training programs I find online, and use my thinning silhouette to keep me motivated. And when I pass people out on my running route I smile, say hello, sometimes even chat. You won't get bad advertising off of me!!!

Two weeks ago I ran for one hour and forty minutes. Three times around the lake at Albert Park. 15km! No doubt about it, I'm a runner!!


  1. Glad I saw this just now. I've been thinking about taking up running lately. I've always wondered about it and even tried it, but never took to it.

    Like you said, many runners don't look like they're enjoying it, but so many are in fantastic shape. It seems like a very efficient way to get and stay there. I suppose that with time, it gets better.

    After reading your post, I'm thinking that I should give it another shot. Thanks for helping motivate me!

  2. hmm, don't know whether it ever really gets better. I can certainly run for a long time now, and I am faster than when I started, but the first few minutes really are torture. If you can get through that, be really persistent by having a goal, then yeah it does improve. would love to have a pain free run, but does it really exist?