Run Forrest, Run!

I lost a lot of my enthusiasm for running after reading this article (be warned, it’s a little contentious and not very PC) and my cardiovascular fitness took a nosedive as a result. I got interested in high intensity interval training (HIIT) and developed a love for kettle bells instead. When I did occasionally go for a run my limbs felt heavy, and I took my laboured breathing and tight chest as an indication that I’d lost condition, and I didn’t like it.

For a while (and before reading this article), when I was living in Nelson, instead of jogging four or five kilometres at a steady pace like I used to do, I would do a series of sprints along Tahunanui Beach or up the Maitai. I’d jog for a while to warm up, then sprint as fast as I could for as long as I could, then when I couldn’t go any further I’d slow to a walk until I felt completely recovered then I’d sprint again. Each successive sprint got a little slower and a little shorter but man it was fun! I mean how often do adults really get the opportunity to do an all-out sprint in everyday life? I’d say pretty much never, unless you make it happen.

Now that it’s winter and I have a gym membership I’ve been doing a little running challenge. The premise is pretty basic: to run two kilometres as quickly as possible. It came to me one evening when I was on the treadmill doing some dreaded steady-state cardio (the article I linked to at the start of this post states that excessive amounts of steady-state cardio can lead to fat gain and hypothyroidism, especially in women, and especially when caloric restriction is also happening). It was all feeling rather pointless as I had no particular goal or aim in mind in terms of speed or distance. So I thought why not challenge myself to see how quickly I can run two kilometres.

Below are the 10 runs I did over the last couple of months, with my final run time being three minutes and 21 seconds quicker than my initial run time.

Date Run time Distance travelled first Time of day Notes
14/05/2014 13:25 Evening No strategy
16/05/2014 12:22 Morning Fasted except coffee
21/05/2014 11:33 Morning Fasted except coffee
31/05/2014 11:13 Morning Yoghurt and chlorella beforehand
06/06/2014 11:03 Morning Fasted except coffee
10/06/2014 10:39 300 m Evening Brussels sprouts and bacon for lunch, used Gymboss for first time
18/06/2014 10:30 400 m Mid-morning Porridge for breakfast
26/06/2014 10:26 300 m Mid-morning Coffee and banana only
04/07/2014 10:21 500 m Mid-morning Porridge for breakfast
08/07/2014 10:04 500 m Afternoon Steak and veggies for lunch

 

For the first five runs I just used the timer on the treadmill, which meant I started out walking for a few seconds as I got the treadmill up to speed. After a while I realised that I was losing too much time by doing that so I started using the stopwatch on my Gymboss, which allowed me to get up to a decent speed before I began. I also rowed for one kilometre on the rowing machine set at the highest resistance as a warm up each time – this took about five minutes. Initially I thought factors such as time of day, food eaten beforehand, and running strategy – such as when to try and run the fastest – might influence my run time, but in hindsight I think that my determination to improve on my previous time was by far and away more powerful a tool than nutrition or time of day. There were times when I wasn’t felling particularly energised beforehand and I would think to myself “I don’t think I’m gonna make it any quicker this time” but my mental fortitude seemed to make up for what my legs were lacking on the day.

I could keep going with this challenge and maybe continue to shave off a few more seconds each time, but I’m pretty happy with my final time of 10 minutes and four seconds, and I’m also getting a bit bored with running.

If you read Kiefer’s article and are worried that running will make you fat, please don’t be. However, I do agree with him that excessive running coupled with under-eating will probably ruin your metabolism, make you feel awful, and force your body into starvation mode where it will hold onto fat in an effort to stay alive. My advice would be get off the treadmill and run outdoors, in nature, up hills and along beaches, and do it because you love it, not for punishment. And eat sensibly too.

my running shoes

I’ve had these running shoes for four and a half years and counting. Who knows how many kilometres I’ve run in these puppies. They’re on their second set of laces, they’re a bit worn in places, but they’re still going strong.

About a year ago I contemplated buying a new pair of running shoes, but when I asked myself why, I couldn’t come up with a decent answer. I love how comfortable my shoes are – it’s like they were made for my feet and my feet only. Why change a recipe that works? I could go out and buy a brand spanking new pair of high tech running shoes but I’d probably hate them, and I doubt that they’d enable me to run faster or farther or for longer.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you don’t need lots of fancy and expensive gear to be able to exercise. The shoes are nothing without the wearer. The shoes don’t run. It’s the person who runs, with or without shoes.

Why I Run

I don’t run to build muscle or burn fat. I know enough about exercise to know that running doesn’t really achieve either of these two things. I don’t run to compensate for my poor food choices of the day before, although I have done this in the past. I run because it makes me feel alive. To me, running feels like the most natural, primal movement the body can make. And bodies are designed to move, not to sit at a desk looking at a computer screen.

I don’t meditate, but running is as close as I get to a meditative state. All I need to worry about is breathing and placing one foot in front of the other on the track in front of me. Sometimes, if I have the energy, I’ll open up into a full sprint when I’m nearly at the end of my run. I’m going so fast my feet feel like they’re barely touching the ground; I may as well be flying! This makes me feel invincible.

I always run alone. This is my opportunity to get away from everyone and everything. This is when all my best thoughts come to me. Or sometimes there aren’t any thoughts at all. Sometimes I have conversations in my head, conversations that will one day be had with the person they’re intended for. They’re draft conversations. Sometimes I get so animated that I catch myself gesticulating with my hands while my lips are moving as if in speech. I must look rather odd.

When I run I strike with the ball of my foot first, not my heel. I learnt this from reading the book ‘Born To Run’ by Christopher McDougall. It’s an excellent book and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in running. Before this book taught me how to run properly I used to strike with my heel first, and it made my hamstrings tight and my joints sore. If I revert back to my old style of running, just to remind myself of how poor my form used to be, it feels heavy and jarring and cumbersome – no wonder it made my body hurt.

I like to run in nature, not on a treadmill. The last time I ran on a treadmill was at a gym in Auckland, about a year ago. I was struck by the realisation that I was running forwards, looking at a brick wall in front of me, but going nowhere. Plus I’d paid $25 to do it – is that crazy or what? When I’m living in Marahau, as I currently am, I run in the Abel Tasman National Park. My standard 5 km run takes me to Tinline, around a loop track, and back out again. I’ve done this run so many times I could probably do it with my eyes closed.

While I was living in Brightwater earlier this year I started experimenting with some longer runs; around 12 km, and was pleasantly surprised by how do-able they were. Over summer I’m planning to do some longer runs in the Park. I’ll decide how many kilometres I want to run, catch a ride into the Park with a water taxi, then it’ll be up to my trusty legs to get me back out again. I can’t wait!

This is the track I run on when I’m in Marahau

And this is the view! Better than a brick wall, right?