The Runner

Running Exercise clip art mediumSomething is happening that I never thought possible: my workout routine is changing so much towards running, I have to call myself a runner nowadays.

If you had asked me 5 years ago, when I still lived in San Francisco, if I’d ever consider running, I’d tell you there was no way. I was too big-framed, I would say, and besides my knees were hosed from multiple cycling injuries. Running was heavy on the … everything. You heard of knee injuries, shin splits, chronic pain, plantar fasciatis, etc.

When I started working out at the UCSD gym, I soon realized I had to do something about cardio. They only had a single spin bike in the workout room, and all the other cardio equipment involved some form of running. There were the elliptical trainers, the treadmills, and some strange self-powered treadmill that had the sad disadvantage of not keeping you on constant speed.

I ran, reluctantly. Initially, I could make 20 minutes at 6.7 mph (a 9 minute mile) and felt all proud of it. I was sure the entire gym was thinking I was a big stud – a feeling strengthened when one of the girls at the coffee shop asked me if I was the guy that did “all that cardio.”

Over time, I improved. I ran faster and longer. I started running outdoors, which worked fine at UCSD because the whole place is a running pace utopia, with slow cars and few pedestrians. I mixed my music with running playlists that would increase in pace.

Then I moved to Pacific Beach, and running became a competition for me. Not a competition with others, just with myself. I wanted to push myself beyond my own limits and see how far I could go. It also helped that the cardio room was constantly occupied with some class I didn’t want to attend, so that my old fondness for spinning was curbed depending on the day.

At some point, I started really running. I guess everybody has a different definition of where jogging ends and running begins, for me it is related to where the sweat lands. When I run, my sweat hits the neighboring treadmills. I run a lot. I am very popular with my treadmill neighbors.

To my complete surprise, all that running was not having any ill effect on my body. On the contrary: my thighs were swelling with muscle, so much so that I started having trouble getting into tight legs – like the wetsuits, or jammers. I was expecting any of the tons of ailments that befall runners, some of which I listed above. Instead, the only problem is that I seem to have acquired a running addiction. Nowadays, if I don’t run, I go about my day in a daze.

What was even more surprising to me was how natural running felt. It’s one thing to say, running is not harming me; it’s a totally different one to realize that my body (and every human’s, probably) is made for running. I can easily run for minutes at a time at my very highest heart rate, something I cannot do with any other exercise.

Even after several years of almost daily spinning classes, I topped out at a heart rate of 155. If I got there, I had only a few minutes and would need rest. Now, five years later (and hence with a lower base heart rate), I can run for 5 minutes above 160 and just wonder how long I can take it.

It is also interesting to note how speeds correlate to heart rates, as I need higher and higher speeds to reach and maintain the same heart rate. I used to hit 140 at 7 mph (at the very beginning). Now I have to go above 9 mph to get to the same level.

For a while, I focused on distance. Then I went to Hawaii last year and ran the 6 miles from the hotel to the Kailua Pier and decided I didn’t want to do longer distance than that. It simply took too much time. So I focused on speed.

The treadmills we have don’t function very well. Most of them can’t stand someone my weight running over 9 mph for more than 10 minutes. Then they overheat and stop functioning, until they cool down and are reset. But I manage to snatch my favorite treadmill once in a while, and always run a crazy course.

I noticed that I react really well to variation. If I have to run constant pace for a long period of time, my body gives up, like bored. Instead, I can run the same base pace and switch the speed up or down, and run the same average pace for a much longer period of time.

My current best (and I’ll keep you posted on improvements) came today. I ran 4.8 miles in 30 minutes, for an average of 9.6 mph. I was drained at the end, but I had had a lot of fun in the gym crowded with 4th of July pumpers.

The routine in detail:

  1. 9.5 mph constant pace for 16 minutes
  2. 9.6 mph for 1 minute, then 9.5; 9.7 for 1 then 9.5; 9.8 for 1. etc
  3. 10 mph (once hit according to above) for the remainder
  4. for the last two minutes, increase from 10 mph by .1 mph every 15 seconds, to end at 10.7

My original stretch goal was to reach a speed of 10 mph (or 6 minute/mile) in average. That’s 5 miles in a half hour, and my latest result was just .2 miles off. For the first time, I think I can actually manage.

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