Something 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:
- 9.5 mph constant pace for 16 minutes
- 9.6 mph for 1 minute, then 9.5; 9.7 for 1 then 9.5; 9.8 for 1. etc
- 10 mph (once hit according to above) for the remainder
- 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.