There’s an excellent training program for beginning runners called Couch-to-5K. It takes people from zero to running a 5K race in nine weeks. It builds confidence and form without much risk of injury and countless people have used it or some variant to get their running legs. I’ve been on the couch for some time, but as I’ve previously described, 5K and shorter distances are dreary for me. It’s the time I need to get warmed up so that I can start to run comfortably. So for me, that would be nine weeks of negatve reinforcement — not the sort of thing that keeps me motivated.
I’ve seen faster variants on this theme. There’s a six-week version and a ten-week couch-to-10K program out there.
Me? I’m going for broke. Hitting the road and pushing my limits because that’s what’s fun. I may be risking injury but I’ve now done couch to 15K in one week. The concessions I’m making to safety and sanity are: I’m not going fast, and I’m not heelstriking. Not going fast means I’m following LSD: long, slow distance. So I’m not giving my body any sudden jolts, just increasing the load and maintaining that for a while. If something begins to hurt I can adjust or rest or both. I have always found that my body has a tremendous capacity to recover. When I get tired I can get back on track if I just stop for a short while. It doesn’t take long for me to feel like I’m at 100% again.
Today I noticed that at about the three mile mark. I stopped to take a picture, snapped a few shots, and was on my way again. Total time stopped: less than 90 seconds. And when I started up, my legs felt fresh. There was none of the resistance or discomfort which I had on the way out to the end of the pier. In fact my legs — and the rest of me to boot — felt better than at the beginning of the run because they were warmed up. So note to self: don’t run past aid stations, grabbing water and gulping as much down as possible. Stop and savor the water for a minute. OK, maybe 30 seconds.
The second thing that I believe is preventing what might otherwise be injury is the forefoot strike rather than hitting the pavement with my heel. I’m not wearing racing flats but the Kinvaras are marketed to «minimalist» runners with a thin sole and a heel only slightly higher than the front of the shoe. I haven’t done any barefoot running recently but I no longer occasionally use the thick-soled Saucony Omnis except for walking. I run in the Kinvaras and I run on the balls of my feet, not on my heels. A few years ago I stopped running because it was too hard on my knees. I was waiting for my weight to come back down below 190 pounds to run again. Well, I’m still significantly over 190 but by abandoning the heel strike I’m running without knee troubles. At least I have so far.
Finally, I refuse to believe that I can’t do this without evidence that I can’t do it. All the running literature gives the safe advice: start with short runs and work up slowly, not adding more than a few percent to one’s mileage each week. I do appreciate the caution and I really don’t want to be injured. But I want to enjoy running, and what I enjoy is putting in miles. Doing so slowly is a little embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as not doing it, and I feel better after nine miles than I do after three. The human body, even mine, is amazingly adaptable. It may be safer to advise people to run less, but I can’t let that sound like telling me there are things I can’t do.
This body isn’t getting any younger, it’s true. But I refuse to sell it short by listening to what other people say it ought not do. If I’m doing too much, it will tell me so. I expect tomorrow I’ll be pretty sore and I have to remain open to the possibility that in a few days I’ll be writing that I should not have done nine miles. Even then, it will be because my body gave me feedback. That sounds a lot better to me than cutting back miles because it’s safe advice.