In case you’ve been wondering, yes, I more or less dropped the ball. Remember the way back time, when the planet was still young, dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the calendar page said, “August”, and I had yet to begin the November sprint of chaotic word-spewing that was NaNoWriMo 2012? Back in those sunny, happy, rose-colored days when I announced I’d be getting my lazy cushion-press off the couch and taking a few tentative first steps towards eventually running a half marathon?
The first of of said tentative steps was following the Couch to 5k program, getting myself into shape to run 5 kilometers at a stretch without falling over in a wheezing pile of grease sweats and huffing not seen since the Big Bad Wolf a quarter mile into it. And you know what? That program freaking works. Because on November 2nd, I logged my first run of five kilometers.
Of course, ever since I first started the transition from “blubbering heap of carbon in a semi-constant state of lethargy in my recliner” to “actual human being making actual regular use of his, you know, actual bones and muscles and stuff”, I’d intended to write up one of the my patented* “10 Things I Learned From…” post. Yes, as we all know by now, NaNo pretty much precluded me from any substantial bloggery in the month of November.
Honestly, I’m surprised I put up anything other than re-linked cat jpegs.
Nonetheless, November is past, and the time has (finally) come for 10 Things I learned from Couch-to-5k.
- Your lungs will hate you first, but they’re team players; they’ll get over it. Your legs, however, will hate you much much more, and they hold a grudge like a spurned sorority girl
I’ve probably used the word “wheezing” more times since August in the “Running”-categorized posts here than the entirety of the three years I’ve been regularly writing Puddintopia. I honestly, truly believed that it would be months before I could run even a mile without clutching my throat and gasping like an unfortunate Imperial officer on Darth Vader’s ship. Instead, even once I actually got into the more regular jogging portion of the program, I found that the whole thing was possible to survive, as long as I didn’t run at full sprint like I was trying to steal home or something.
Unfortunately, with all good news must come some bad (seriously, that’s like, written somewhere in a Properties of the Universe** guidebook or something). The bad in this case was that although I found it possible to jog quite a ways without my lungs exploding like a kid’s balloon, my legs weren’t so forgiving. See, as it turns out, that number your scale gives you each morning isn’t just an Arbitrary Mocking Index. The higher that number, the more pissed off your shins, thighs, hamstrings, and (in my case, especially) knees are going to be when you pound concrete for 45 minutes straight.
- Week 7 is a bitch
If you haven’t looked at the Couch-to-5K program, why not take a moment to do it right now? Done? Great. Now, as you can see, Weeks 1-6 are fairly well broken down into manageable pieces of walk-jog-walk, lather, rinse, repeat. And then you get to Week 7, and suddenly it’s RUN ALL TEH MILEZ, NO WALKY-WALK FOR YOU, LAZY MCLAZERSON. AND TRY NOT TO DIE! On paper, this looks scary. At the end of week 6, it’s positively terrifying. So, feel free to do what I did and repeat Week 6 before you move on to Week 7. Don’t worry, your 5K goal will still be there, waiting for you, a week later. But doing Week 6 2x saved me from the potential of failing Week 7 miserably – and giving me bad feelers about the whole idea – when I wasn’t quite yet ready for it.
- Hills are evil. Like, more evil that that creepy thing in that creepy movie. Also, deceptive.
If you’re anything like me, you used to think you lived a pretty flat neighborhood, topographically. You know, because when you’re rolling through it in your gas-powered Middle-Aged Man Sedan, you don’t really realized that gentle slopes make your house the highest-standing point in the surrounding two miles. Guess what? The minute you start trying to push yourself through that same ‘hood using your own feet for propulsion, you’ll suddenly find yourself subconsciously evaluating every street your pass for it’s levelness. Because hills? They suck when you’re running. Even little ones.
- You need a running buddy. Seriously.
Maybe you need a little extra motivation to keep you on the straight and narrow when it’s Tuesday evening and you need to get your second workout of the week in. Or maybe (like me) you tend to think every effort at jogging is actually an Olympic trial being filmed by hidden camera, meaning no matter what kind of pace you should be following, left to your own devices you’ll be sprinting as if being pursued by a hive of pissed of yellow-jackets before you hit your 1-mile mark. Running buddies can help with these inconsistencies, and many more things. So get one. My buddy was the Puddinpop, who did a great job of keeping me jogging at the right pace, even without knowing it.
- Everyone you’ve ever known will support you
This is a big one. Everyone…and I do mean everyone…you know wants you to succeed. Partially because it’s great to see people we know set goals and strive to reach them. But it’s also partially because every person we know who spurns the carbon-heap lifestyle is one more sign that there’s yet some hope that humanity isn’t doomed to lose the foot race when the Zombie Apocalypse finally comes. So, as you make progress along your C25K path, you’ll receive no shortage of supportive comments and pats-on-the-back. And it’s awesome. You might have to make your body go the distance, but a lot of people end up carrying your spirit for you.
- There’s a whole different kind of guilt for runners
Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. I mean sure, you probably could have gotten your run in, but it was dark and raining and there were wolves outside, so you just…didn’t. That’s when the guilt comes. It’s like no other guilt I’ve ever felt. I mean, I certainly know the “My Mom is Disappointed with Me” guilt, the “Why Did I Scream At That Poor McDonald’s Worker Like a Crazy Person” guilt, and even the “OMG, I’m Going to Die or Upchuck Eggrolls For The Rest of My Days, ” post-Chinese buffet guilt. That last one might be more shame than guilt, but whatever. The point is, the guilt you carry around when you know you could’ve run, but instead decided to be a pansy and hit the snooze button burns worse that those Atomic Wings you had last year during the Super Bowl. Eventually, you realize it’s better just not to miss your workout.
- Endorphins are, like, real, Man!
Sure, I’d heard all about these mythical “endorphins”. But after an entire childhood of holding myself stock-still after losing another round of “Freeze Tag” and an adulthood beset with attempts to run that ended in tragic failure, I was convinced these endorphin things were as made up as Sugar Bear, the hooker with a heart of gold, and John Madden. Wait…what? He’s a real person and not an animated caricature? No way. That’s crazy talk.
Anyway, no, I didn’t believe in endorphins. But then, three weeks into working the program, I got back to the house one evening after a workout and the Puddinette was forced to suggest I calm down and take my endorphin high-induced nonsense someplace else and do something productive with the extra energy, lest I get on her One. Last. Nerve. As I tend to live tap-dancing on that one nerve, she had every right to make said suggestion.
That’s the moment I realized, that, Yes, Virginia, there is a Endorphin Claus.
- You will believe you’re embarrassing yourself
If you are coming off of your couch and just getting started, it’s hard not to think that seeing you lumber down the street is likely to be an image that strikes fear – or amusement – into the hearts of young and old alike. You don’t look like a runner, you won’t move like a runner, and odds are good, at some point or another you’re going to need to “tie your shoe” for extended periods, at times which will likely be oddly coincident with jogging uphill. The first time your running app (and yes, you should get a running app) posts your workout time to your facebook page, you’ll imagine it includes captions such as, “Massive aquatic mammal seen flopping through neighborhood” or “0.25 miles, 10 minutes, 0 point.” But all that’s nonsense that lives no where but the dark, evil, doubting recesses in your head. Indeed, no matter how you think you’re doing, you’re out doing it. You’re running, at that, by definition, makes you a runner. So hold your head up high, keep your arms and legs moving, and leave all that other nonsense in the street.
- You will get lapped by old people
It took my 45+ minutes to run that first 5K. This is not Olympic Record Pace. In fact, it’s pretty much standard human walking speed, which I believe is roughly 4 miles/hour. I have little doubt that while stumbling through my neighborhood in a hoodie, I look more Norm from Cheers than Rocky from, um, Rocky. In fact, there was one Saturday morning run when a guy who had to be 60 if he was a day – and carrying his own paunch, however less, um, grand, than my own – caught up to me from behind, politely said “Hi” as he passed me, and was gone from my sight five minutes later. But you know what? If I hadn’t been out, he’d have gone jogging past my house that Saturday morning and would’ve been out of my sight in less than a minute. I call that progress.
- You will end up loving it
The very first running post I wrote started off with a very honest admission. “I loathe running,” I wrote. But as it turns out, what I really loathed was doing it wrong, trying to do too much too soon. Admittedly, I still don’t like inside running (and am struggling at the moment to decided how to survive a winter in Cincinnati – especially one that’s apparently going to be full of cold rain – without treadmill or gym membership). But running itself has become something I enjoy much more than I ever thought possible. Let me be an example of that, if nothing else; proof that even though you hate running too, there may yet hope. And then maybe give your own stab at this or some other program a try. What’s the worse that could happen? Sure, the effort might do little more than reinforce your hatred, but then again, it might, as I found, reverse it.
*I don’t actually have a patent on this.
**Mental note: write a Properties of the Universe guidebook