I was asked by some work friends, who are also runners, a couple of questions about my running. A few things struck me. I get a little bit excited when I meet or find out about another runner. Kind of like the feeling that some random person you just met went to the same school as you or has a friend in common. And they are in my office no less. Also the questions they asked me made me search my self a bit for the answers. It made me realise, again, that running or talking about running, is only possible and more satisfying with other runners.
I’ve generally been a solo runner as my family and circle of friends don’t run. I also figured running was somewhat of a solitary thing, so I just took it was meant to be a “me time” thing. Also given how breathless you can be, its hardly a place for chatting.
I was wearing my PT hat on at that moment when I was asked the questions and we were talking about how and when fatigue settles in for new runners. The point I was making was that there are a few stages a new runner must conquer before one can run 5k or even 2k.
First is the Cardio Vascular (heart/lung) aspect. For a new runner and certainly for those not even considering running, 5k might seem unconscionably unobtainable due to the fact that 500 metres into the attempt they collapse down into a breathless heap, gasping for air like a fish out of water, as they realise their Cardio Vascular system isn’t up to the challenge of supplying enough oxygen to continue. For smokers, 500 metres might be generous as the tar that cakes their lungs prevents barely enough oxygen through to support life. (I am of course kidding here. Some runners are smokers, but watching an unfit smoker run more than a 100 metres is hilarious for obvious reasons.)
But as some runners have discovered, if they properly pace them selves and continue running and walking their way to 5k they would go home and be able to gloat that they had “travelled” 5k that fine day and they would most certainly be doing it again in the very near future. They would of course need a few days to recover. The muscles will repair, the diaphragm and ribs will recover from all that heavy breathing. The inevitable improvement that their CV system undergoes so that on their next attempt they will be able to run a little more and walk a little less and be well on their way to saying they “ran 5k today!”.
After about 6-8 attempts which, for the average semi-committed newbie runner might 4-6 weeks, they will notice a definite measurable improvement. They may be able to run 1000-1500 metres without stopping for a break, which is a 100-200% distance improvement over their first attempt. Not bad for only a handful of attempts. Such is the rapid power of repair and improvement of our body if only it were given a chance.
Their run to walk ratio will also be higher. When they first started they may have run 500 metres, then walk 500 metres, then run 400 metres, then walk 500 metres etc until they either give up for that day or reach 5k’s. (This by the way is the recommended way of starting running, run walk run walk.) So the run to walk ( or work to rest ratio) is close to 1:1. It might be 500 metres of running followed by 1000 metre of walking. This would be a ratio of 1:2. You body is certainly capable of a better ratio but the mind is often unwilling.
As their fitness improves they will be aiming for 2:1, 3:1, 5:1, 10:1 , till eventually after a month or two they can comfortable run 5k. That only a milestone however. It was for me and unbeknownst to me its the standard length for the worldwide phenomenon “Parkrun”, which takes place each Saturday morning at 7am at a park near you. In Australia there are 151 parkrun locations, with nearly 200 000 runner taking part. 5km is the first Holy Grail for runners, then 10, 21, then 42, then 50 and finally 100k’s. WOW! But I digress.
So I was saying to my friends that the cardio system is the first system to be “trained” for improvement. So its the first obstacle to hurdle. I find once I hit about the 1-2 kilometer mark there was a marked improvement in my breathing. I wasn’t running any slower or running down hill, but there was a definite improvement in my “rate of perceived exertion”. It felt like a load had lift. It felt like my body found a new gear, like I had a second wind.
This is a real thing people! When the body uses all the glycogen in the muscles and blood it must source more energy. It changes from using the Aerobic system burning Carbohydrates to the Anaerobic system burning Fat directly (known as the Krebs Cycle). It uses less oxygen, much less oxygen but take a few minutes to ramp up production. It claimed the Anaerobic system is 8 times more efficient than the aerobic system. Hence the body needs less oxygen to do the same amount of work and you don’t feel like you are starving for air. A lot of beginner runners may hang up their shoes before discovering this effect. They never even get over that hurdle and never truly discover the joy of running.
I remember the first time I became aware that my breathing was easier, I was no longer struggling for air. I was so excited by this realisation that my body had changed “chemical gears” that I more than doubled my run that very day, travelling until my legs would take me no further. I had pushed my standard run of approx 6k’s out to more than 12K’s.
Once you are over this particular physical hurdle, the body is well supplied with oxygen and energy to sustain running simply until the legs give out. This is the next hurdle. For the novice runner with little running experience, bad shoes, bad form etc, that might be 3 – 5K before they need to stop and rest their weary legs or feet. But day by day as they continue practising, changing band-aids on their blisters and running until they reach their limit, they also are undergoing change within the muscles they are using. Until the next milestone occurs where you feel strong like you can run endlessly but you stop out of sheer boredom. You think about the ironing at home or dinner or that report. The next milestone is “owning” your running so you truly make it a high priority and you fit it in where ever you can. This in my opinion is a big hurdle because at this point you may have to steal back 30 – 60 minutes, 3-4 times a week satiating your desire to run. Work, commuting, family, life commitments meet us squarely in the face competing for our time. And until they are re-prioritised you simply won’t feel happy spending upwards of 3 hours a week out on the road.
It becomes your time. You run for sanity. You run from your memories. You run too fill time because you are a recovering addict. You run because you are a loner and you are accepted by other runners. You run because your significant other can’t run and you cant stand to be at home but you don’t know how to move on.
Personally I run because I think its cool to run. I’ve always pushed to do things the average person can’t or won’t do. Guitar, computer nerdery, kung fu are all achieved by much fewer than 1% of the population. Personally I started running again in 2013 for sanity, then continued for fitness. I had a Kung Fu grading approach and I needed the fitness. Now I like getting and being fit. 30 minutes of running (at my weight range) is approx 500 calories or 1/4 of my (recommended) intake. I think I eat more than 2000 calories but I don’t care because I run. I eat what ever the hell I want (within reason) because I run. I run because I like seeing other people out exercising. I run because I like being part of that elite circle. My next goal I guess would be a 42K run. I’d like to be a part of THAT elite circle. At the moment I run because at this stage of my life I’m piecing together a large puzzle that is Fitness++. Branding, Marketing, Business Plans, community collaborations, the list goes on. While I run that stuff gets sorted out in my head like a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle. A lot of it is unconscious sorting, but I make a conscious effort to give my brain that time to zone out and be creative.
Another thing that wasn’t apparent to me until I arrived there, was suddenly as a runner (even completing the meagre distance of 5k) you become a bit of a rock star to other aspiring runners. To someone who doesn’t run or who is getting started, looks to you and appreciates your support if you take the time to slow down and motivate them step by step them to do better. The community at large greatly appreciates those that helps other get in to it.
Some individuals come to mind, but one who truly stands out in my mind on the Sunshine Coast is Neil Collie. I bought a pair of shoes (which are now long over due for a change) from Rebel Sports Maroochydore where Neil works. Neil saw me trying a pair on and came over to chat with me. Neil ended up inviting me to join his group of runners, the “Rebel Coffee Club” (the coffee drinkers that run) that left from Rebel the following day at 5pm. That first day was nice. I ran a PB because I had new shoes and I was running with a group of (relative) quickies. Running with others unearthed a mild competitive spirit that hadn’t risen up before. I was proud to hang with this group and wanted to show what I was made of.
I still get up to Maroochydore and run with them when I can because they are a nice group of people and because I like running with other people!
SO I guess I should rap up the dawdling piece. Lets see what we’ve covered. We run for our own reasons; social, physical, mental etc. There are a few plateau we must break through. Cardio, muscular and the mind and finally running is better when you run with a friend or a group.
See you out there.