A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
My journey into the wondrous world of running had begun in 2009 when I trained to run my first half-marathon (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2010). Before 2012, it was a bumpy ride strewn with injuries, missed races due to lack of training – the kind of relationship where I just wasn’t committing despite best intentions. If I were a teenager and ‘running’ my girlfriend, I guess my Facebook relationship status pre-2012 would have read ‘it’s complicated’!
2012 changed all that. My frustration at not being able to follow a disciplined training regimen reached a flash point, I guess. I used my disappointment of not being able to run the Mumbai Half Marathon 2012 in early January as the motivation to train and commit whole-heartedly to running. Hence over the course of 2012, I have run 1602 km, completed 3 races, ran my personal best in 5k (26:59 unofficial), 10k (55:21 unofficial), 14k (1:17:52 race), Half Marathon(2:18:25 race), completed about 180 runs and lost about 7.5 kgs. Also, I have read more literature on running than ever before – sometimes left utterly confused on what advice to follow – yet the likes of Hadd, Lydiard, Maffetone, Noakes, Jack Daniels, Murakami and countless other bloggers have enriched my understanding of my physiology and made me see running as more than just a means to get fit. The journey has just about begun but the steps I have taken over the last year have been thoroughly satisfying.
Now I wouldn’t want to dip the review into a giant jar of boredom by adding statistics and analysis. So the only two charts I will leave here (for posterity sake) are how my mileage and speed has evolved over the months. The major dip of pace in Jun-Jul was due to me following Hadd-based training (more on this below) by running within the aerobic heart-rate zone to build a strong aerobic base. Also it was bloody hot in Mumbai in June-July!
As I stand in the beginning of 2013, I still consider myself a serious amateur running-wise. What some might call an advanced beginner. I’ve run long enough to know that such classifications are all in the mind. Anyone who attempts to run a kilometre is as much of a runner as the person who attempts a 100-miler. We are all a part of the tribe with a strong kindred spirit to help each other, to become better. Because, as Baz Luhrmann put it aptly, ‘…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself’!
Still, the last year has taught me a few valuable lessons that have helped me make my running journey more safe and pleasurable. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Listen to your body – a.k.a avoid injury like the plague!
After my first Half Marathon in January 2010, I was laid low by Achilles tendonitis. After my second HM in November 2010, I lost a couple of months to popliteus strain. In 2011, I had a bad case of shin splints. Muscles I didn’t even know existed in my body were being pulled or strained. I guess I was trying too hard to get faster, run longer all at the same time. I don’t know if I have just been plain lucky or more self-aware in 2012 to have not contracted any major running injury. I think it’s a bit of both.
I have learnt that knowing your pace and staying within it, alternating hard and easy workouts, taking rest days when the schedule or your body calls for it are very effective in injury prevention. Also, improvements in pace or the mileage you can run in one go or over a week come with gradual effort. I know it’s very hard to believe in this when the adrenalin is pumping and Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ is egging you on in your ear. However, that is exactly where experienced runners know how to rein in the adrenalin.
2. Discipline is key but everyone slacks off once in a while
When I started 2012, I set myself small goals. In January, as I was returning to running, I just wanted to run 10 times in January. I managed to run 9 times. In March, as I grew more regular, I wanted to run 100 miles (160 km). I ran 165 km. Having completed 1565 km till November, I wanted to do 200 km in December to finish on 1700+ km for the year. I managed to run 35 km – my lowest mileage month.
I guess the only learning from the above is that it is important to stay disciplined and committed to a training regimen, yet not worry too much if things don’t exactly go to plan. The best and almost exponential returns on effort come from more “time on feet”. However, as countless blogs, self-help books and the like will tell you: often life gets in the way and puts paid to the most well-intentioned plans. Before 2012, if I missed my training runs for a day or a week, I would tell myself that all the fitness gained from running thus far has gone because of my sloth. This would trigger off a vicious cycle where I would not train for a week more and thereby make the loss of fitness a reality.
I’ve realised now that while being disciplined about running is critical, it is even more important to cut yourself some slack when you’re not. Instead of berating yourself, just go out and run at the next available opportunity. And you’re back on track to getting fitter. Remember the Buddhist quote made famous by Haruki Murakami:
‘Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.’
3. Always be open to learn more – and give back when you can
The one common trait I have seen about runners is that they love to talk about running. Pacing strategies, injury prevention, hydration strategies, shoe shopping, … never a dearth of topics to discuss for the running nerd. Online communities like runnersforlife.com, dailymile, runkeeper, fitocracy, letsrun.com, nike+ are all great forums to learn about running depending on the time you have at your disposal.
Having scoured all the aforementioned forums last year, I must thank all the contributing runners for being sources of inspiration, information and knowledge. In some cases, people have gone out of their way to help clear my doubts. For example, looking to experiment with Hadd based training, I found a blog post about someone else (Herm) who had tried it and documented about it (http://www.electricblues.com/html/hadd_season.html). I emailed Herm out of the blue about his experience and asked him for his advice. Over the course of the next fortnight, I exchanged a series of emails with Herm each full of useful advice, tips and motivation guiding me. What amazed me was the ease with which two complete strangers can connect over a common interest and am grateful to Herm for guiding me.
The only way I’ve figured to repay such acts of generosity is to ‘pay it forward’ by helping others who are embarking on this exciting journey. One word of caution though, given the multitude of forums about running and fitness, there is a lot of advice out there, often contradictory. For a beginner, there’s usually a tendency to start following everything which can lead to disastrous results. Each body is unique with its own different capabilities and limitations – hence it’s important to not follow advice blindly and staying in touch with your body’s messages to figure out what’s best for you.
4. Chart your own course a.k.a goals are only meant to strive higher – the journey is the reward
When I started running, I just wanted to run 5 kilometres without stopping. Then, it was 10k and then a Half Marathon after that. Once I had run a Half Marathon, I wanted to run faster. Do a 10k in sub-1 hour. Do a HM in sub-2 hours. The point of these goals, for me at least, is that it gives a structure to my running effort. It adds the much-needed focus to training.
However, over the course of last year, I have come to enjoy running for what it is and how it makes me feel. Not all runs are easy but each run leaves me feeling more alive. I would still want to qualify for Boston some day or run a sub-2 hr Half Marathon in the near future. Yet, I am keenly looking forward to running in 2013 for the amazing highs it brings to me and to enjoy the cool sights and sounds on the journey like the one below!