Sunday, April 4, 2010

"I Can't Run" - The Funny Things People Say

My husband is on the far left. I am in the front row on the right.

My husband and I are so surprised how many people quickly claim “Oh, I can’t run.” when they hear that we run.
I don’t understand why so many people are so sure they can’t run. Especially after they hear I run. My goodness! If I can run anyone can. I am not built for running. I am 5 foot tall and quite thick. When I say ‘thick’ I mean I weigh about as much as my husband who is 6 foot 2 inches. He, by the way, is built like a runner. There are two big secrets to running, that if everyone knew these secrets, no one would think “I can’t run.”
I remember before I started running I perceived running to be quite a feat. I had heard about people who were runners to the point that they claimed they can’t live without it. That they HAVE to run and when they don’t they feel terrible and even the people near them can tell the difference. 
I thought something was wrong with these people. That they were rare, and special and very very lucky to not just enjoy something that burns up so many calories but NEED it.
I felt terrible when I had run in the past. When I look back, I never really ran unless I had to. For instance, in gym class. I have never heard of any gym program teaching people how to run. For me, it was always, “Ok class, we’re starting our running unit today. Run around the perimeter of the gym for 40 minutes then hit the showers.”
The skinny and athletic girls would take off running chatting to each other as they made lap after effortless lap around the gym. The rest of us girls, (the over weight, the unexercised and the druggies), would plod along gasping for air and hoping the stitches in our sides would go away. Forty minutes later, the gym teacher would blow her whistle indicating the torture was over for that day and it was time to shower. 
The ‘runners’ would trot into the locker room while the rest of us would collapse in individual heaps. The strongest of us would crawl to the locker room under our own power while the rest just laid there until the air came back to their lungs and heart beats finally regulated. 
The gym teacher would bark at us, “Come on girls! You’ll have to do better than that! You’ll have to run a six minute mile by the end of the unit to pass. That’s only six weeks away. You’re going to have to pick it up!”
“Oh my God! We have to do this for six weeks???”
Every class was more of the same. Run run run. Just run. No coaching. No starting at the level you were at. We were just expected to run. I mean after all you can’t teach someone to run right? You just put on shoes and go run. Either you’re good at it or not. 
Well, high school is many many years behind me and I hope they don’t still treat running in the same way. I learned that while running is incredibly simple. You do need to ‘learn’ to run in a sense. 
If you decide to become a runner one day and just take off on run, my experience is that you will not likely stick with it. Let’s face it; running is a high impact sport for sure. It is highly stressful on your joints, muscles, cardiac system, and some times psyche.   Unless, you break it in slowly you’re going to be overly tired, sore and feel like here is one more thing you're not good at. If you break in slowly and work up to running for significant times or distances, it can be just the perfect medicine for your joints, muscles, cardiac system and psyche.
Through my childhood, college and most of my adult life (ok, all of my adult life to date) I have struggled with weight and body image. I kept trying to take up running because I thought it would burn off the most calories in the shortest amount of time (which is for the most part true). But I could never stick with it. How do people do this?? I hated running. It hurt, it was hard and I was so sore the next day it just made it harder to run. 
I felt like crap mentally too because I knew I couldn’t run like all these other people I saw at the gym and on the road who actually seemed to enjoy it! I was never much good at anything remotely athletic. So why should I expect to be good at running? It would just have to be something I forced myself to struggle at or just simply give up trying.
So I just gave up trying. But I was always intrigued. And one day I ran across the book “No Need for Speed” by John Bingham. I read the description on the back and decided to give it a read. I believe that book is what opened the door to me to become a runner.
Mr. Bingham didn’t start running until he was in his forties. In fact, he became an “adult on-set athlete” at age 43 when he was 80 (that’s eighty) pounds overweight and....get this...a smoker!

If this guy could run why couldn’t I? What was his secret? How did he get past the pain and the fatigue and soreness etc?
Unlike my gym teachers, Mr. Bingham did not recommend going out and running for 40 minutes at a time. In fact, depending on your fitness level at the time you want to start running, Mr. Bingham suggests you might not run at all!
Huh? If you haven’t so much as taken a walk since Howdy Doodie was on the air, he suggests you start out walking only. Once you do start running you still don’t just run. You warm up by walking five to ten minutes then run for one minute (maybe 30 seconds) and then walk for five minutes (or ten or fifteen). 
That is big secret number one of runners: None of us (with very few exception) started out running full miles. We typically run a little bit at a time and then run a little further on the next outing. 
In fact, Mr. Bingham cautions not to do more than his prescribed program directs. Even though you will feel like doing more, don’t. Because if you do, you’ll over do it and be too sore to do your next ‘run’. 
Even now that I have a couple solid years under my belt as a runner, it is a rare occurrence for me to go out and run my full distance without any walking breaks. In fact, elite marathon runners often use walking breaks and find their overall time to be better for it. 
So that leads us to big secret number two of runners: When we say “Had a great run today!” We likely walked part of it.
So if you think “I can’t run.” I reply with confident “Yes you can.”

There are many books on the subject of running out there today. It's easy to find many with beginning runner plans in them. I invite everyone who has entertained the idea of running to check out these walk-to-run plans and give it a try.

While Mr. Bingham's book was a great start for me, I can also recommend Katherine Switzer's Walking and Running for Women Over 40.

You can run. 


Anonymous said...

aEnjoyed the article. Lots of laughs, of course. But the straightforward approach, many great examples (which rang true) pulled me into the article and then to Jill's argument. And the answer/solution sounds reasonable and doable. If one has any need to run, why not try the ideas here.

Anonymous said...

Very true. Being built like a runner or not, I went though my whole life thinking that I couldn't run. Now I am addicted. If it hurts too bad, you are probably going too fast. Pace picks up without even trying. Knowing that there's nobody to beat, it is actually really fun!