Thursday, March 3, 2016

E is for Exercise (or Kadee's Guide to Becoming a Runner for Slackers Like Her)

When I was in college, I paid a huge wad of money to my private university to take a class called "Running/Walking."  I would say "don't judge me" for that choice but seriously, judge away (Lord knows I do).

I enrolled in the class with my long-suffering friend, Jason, and would meet him and the rest of our classmates early in the morning, two days a week to fulfill this "heart-healthy" physical education requirement.

Unfortunately for Jason, who was a real runner (long-distance track, cross-country and the like), I was his friend and therefore running partner in this class.  I say "unfortunately" because, while I passed the written "test" on running/walking (Stretch for 15 minutes!  Don't wear ankle weights, even if you want nice calves!), I couldn't seem to actually RUN myself. 

Hope springs eternal, so Jason would persuade me each and every class to try and run.  This invariably began with a "warm-up" in which we walked and talked to the designated point for our run. Then the running would begin, only to end a few minutes later by my wheezing and whining and swearing I was going to throw up.  I genuinely believed this to be true, and Jason--gentleman that he is--would slow down to a less strenuous pace (i.e. walking), possibly rolling his eyes, but if he did I never saw it.  This was followed by the "cool-down" (indistinguishable from its predecessor), and a long period of stretching and the dismissal of our class. 

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I have lived the past 12 years in Vancouver, BC where most of my friends run and I see spandex-clad wonderwomen and wondermen jogging each day, rain, downpour, drizzle, or shine.  When the rare sunshine comes, the sidewalks and seawalls are clogged with the fit.  If you're really lucky, you'll catch them sighing in contempt behind you on hikes because THEY want to run and you are SO getting in their way with your inefficient, SLOW self.

"Poo poo to that", I always said as they elbowed past me.  I didn't need to run, I walked aplenty--I even BLOGGED about walking once!  If I wanted to be miserable like them  I could find less strenuous and sweaty ways of doing so.

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As luck would have it, this weird season of my life has been the season in which I joined the spandex-clad of my community.  I started running because my doctor and therapist made clear that if I didn't start exercising in earnest I wasn't going to get better.  For all this leave has seemed an exercise in failure, I have succeeded in one point: doing absolutely everything my health care providers have told me to do.  And, if you can believe it (I scarcely can), I now run 4-5k three times a week.  (The runners who have gotten this far will no doubt roll their eyes along with Jason at this number, but I DON'T CARE, I still say "5k" in reverent awe).  

I like running(!) I feel better after I have run(!)  I can, as the doctors promised, manage my stress better and more cheerfully manage my at-home circus when I get out and run on a regular basis.

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How did I do it? And can other slackers do it, too?  I make no promises, but I offer the following guide for at least TRYING to become a runner.  May it encourage others in the attempt, with much love from me.  

THE GUIDE

1)  Lacking motivation?  Postpone your attempt until you have a serious life crisis.  Some sort of romantic break-up would probably serve (close friends assure me this is the case) but a mental break-down will also do nicely.  If you're going to torture yourself, it is better to do so with the firm belief that YOU HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE, THIS MUST HAPPEN NOW!

2)  When said crisis has occurred, go to the store and buy very expensive, pretty running shoes.  I stress the "pretty" part more than the expensive, because I once bought a pair of all-white running shoes at the behest of my husband, who wanted me to run with him.  I knew even then, as I later proved, that white shoes only "enhance" the MONSTROUSLY large feet God saw fit to give me.  Long story short, I never once went running with the white shoes.  So this time around I got pretty, bright blue shoes with pink laces that screamed "Wear me! Love me! Run in me!"

PRETTTTTTY!!!!!!  They're so PRETTTTTYYY!!!!

3)  DO NOT run with other people your first few times out.  If you have not really run before there is no getting around the fact that you WILL huff and puff like the big bad wolf at the house of bricks and people will wonder if you are close to death.  Likewise, do not run where you are concerned about people watching you.  These first few runs need badly to not be about performance or impressing people.

4)  DO NOT set concrete, numerical goals for your running the first, say, month you go out.  On a similar note, do not invest--yet--in something that shows how far you are running.  The last thing you need when experiencing a crisis (see point 1) is to create ways to fail.  If you must set a goal, select ones that are impossible to fail:  "I will run to that bush five feet away!" or "I will run to that comfy-looking bench and sit down".  The best goal of them all is the fail-proof, "I am going to run until I feel like stopping."

5) DO NOT listen to music while running for this first month or so.  Listen only to the puffs and huffs and aches and pains of your poor, suffering body.  Keep telling yourself, "I can stop whenever I need to," and judge when that is by when your body tells you to.  

6) After a month of this low-bar, high-five-for-not-much regimen, do something revolutionary: bring headphones and an iPod along.  The experience of listening to "Shaka shaka shaka" while running will make you feel like a running god[dess] because music really does distract you from your agony.  The first time I ran with music I felt like Christopher Columbus discovering the New World.  I came home and told my husband "Music really helps!!!" at which point he did not even bother to hide the fact that he was rolling his eyes at me.

7) DO NOT listen to music that makes you sad or stressed or sentimental.  I once made the mistake of selecting Nat King Cole's Christmas album for my running soundtrack.  "Silent Night" started and my cry instincts started flaring up.  (The why of this will take more explaining than I have time or you have interest for).  The point is, when you want to cry, it gets harder to breathe, and the harder it is to breathe the harder it is to run and the more you will want to give up.  The best running music I can listen to is electronica with no lyrics.  I tried to listen to CBC's workout mix for awhile, but you wouldn't believe the misogyny!  I found myself getting all angry and stressed out and before I knew it I was having trouble breathing again.

7)  After month one, invest in a few proper running clothes.  This is your reward for being awesome.  I went to Old Navy for my purchases because they were way less expensive than elsewhere, but do as you will.

8) Try to run in the same place for the first month or two.  Don't set goals, necessarily, but figure out what you are capable of (two laps around the park, ten blocks, etc).  At that point, and only then...

9) Use Google maps to figure out how far you are actually running (unless you're on some handy-dandy track and this has been clear to you all along).  The thrill of figuring out for the first time that you are running REAL, spandex-worthy distances is worth all of the agony you have endured thus far.  (Slacker secret for US readers:  calculate in kilometres for an extra bump of number-birthed ego-boosting).

This is just an example of what you're looking for; the first time I calculated with Google maps I learned I had run four kilometres.   FOUR!!!

10) Once you have figured out your distance, keep at that distance for a week or two.  Then add a bit. Then add a bit more.  If at any point it feels like too much, scale back.

11)  Never--never, never, ever--forget that you can stop if you need to.  On pretty much every run I do, I come to a point where I want badly to quit and I have a chat with myself that goes something like this:

"Ouch, my stomach hurts.  I wonder if I can make it home?"
"Probably not.  You'd better stop now."
"No, wait a minute, it's a bit better.  I'll keep going for awhile."
"Okay, fine.  But don't forget, you can always stop if you need to."

12)  Realize one day that you have somehow, miraculously, made this a habit.  You are sweaty and a bit tired, but your legs keep moving and your arms keep swinging and you are stronger and fitter than you've been in a very long time.  Congratulations--you are now a runner!

Sweaty, running me congratulates [future?] sweaty, running you!!!

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