Not why, but ‘how’ I run

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Over the last three plus years since I began running many people have asked me why I run. We all have our reasons how we began and why we continue to do so and I am only to happy to share my story with them. But very often people ask me questions like:

  • Don’t your knees hurt running all the time?
  • I don’t know how you have the energy to do it?
  • How can you run that long and not be bored?

These are generally accompanied by statements like:

  • I’m not in shape, I could never do that!
  • I have (insert problem) so I wouldn’t be able do what you do!
  • I wouldn’t last even a mile running!
  • I would get bored after ‘X’ miles/minutes!

Here I am going to share the ‘HOW’ and see if these questions and comments can be answered. Here goes…

1. Set attainable goals 

I never thought that when I started the Couch to 5K program that I would ever be a marathon runner? I didn’t. But I set myself a goal. Finish the 5K program. This program took me from being a non-runner to being able to complete a 5K (3.1 miles) in 9 weeks. It was hard. I had shin splints, I had a hard time with stairs for a while. I had to repeat week 5 at least twice. I struggled. But you know what? I finished. I was amazed I went from nothing to running a 5K. I had started a new habit of running 2-3 times a week and built on my progress from there. Now I run 5 days a week.

2. Get fitted for shoes at a proper running store

Once I had run up to 3.1 miles it was time to get some real runner’s equipment. Shoes. I went to a local running store where I had my running gait analyzed by an experienced runner. Don’t concern yourself with looks and colors. Take their advice. Be prepared to spend a bit…but not too much…to get a good fitting shoe that will serve your needs.

3. Find a race

As I completed my Couch to 5K program I started to look at what I wanted to do next. I set my sights on completing a local 5 mile race that the local running club holds every Thanksgiving. It wasn’t easy, I didn’t manage to run the whole way but I completed the race with a decent pace (for me at that time). At that point that was the longest distance I had ever run. I then targeted what was is one of the major running events near me, the Philadelphia Broad Street Run. As part of my training I started running more and more 5K races to get used to racing and also as a dress rehearsal for ‘big events’. I’ve built up my race experience with longer distances since then.

4. Celebrate the little successes

By Thanksgiving in 2010 I had finished my first race (the 5 miler) and had at that time lost around 20lbs. I headed for a family vacation in Florida and took all my new running gear with a goal of running 30 miles over the vacation. On my final day of vacation I ran 6 miles (my longest run to date at that time). I achieved that and made sure to reward myself. I hit up the Nike outlet for some goodies.

I’ve used this success and reward cycle to keep building myself up. These successes were running 3 times a week, running 4 times a week, running 8 miles, running 10 miles. I’ve always made sure to celebrate in some way however small. Now after every marathon I treat myself to a new pair of shoes (typically just a different color of the same model shoe) as this inspires me to get out there and keep training.

5. Take some chances

So having registered to run the 2011 Broad Street Run I continued to build on my mileage. As I had recently completed 10 miles in training my wife encouraged me to sign up for my first Half Marathon (the Bucks County Half Marathon). It was held in Tyler State Park where I now do most of my marathon training although it was new to me at that time. The week before the race I decided to take a trial run to see how I might do on the course. I printed of a map and started running. Unfortunately I had the map upside down but it taught me how hilly the park was!!! So with only a couple of weeks between signing up and running my first half marathon I felt great that I took that leap (or push) and took that chance. Now it gave me the confidence for Broad Street.

Every race distance I complete, every PR I earn now gives me the confidence to step up my game and toe the line for a new challenge.

6. Maintaining the motivation

Now what? I had completed a Half Marathon, I had run Broad Street, what was next on the plan? I hadn’t looked too far forward at this stage as I had still been running for less than a year. I set a new challenge. Break 2 hours for a Half Marathon. I set my sights on another local race, the 2011 Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. This meant that I couldn’t slack off during the summer as I was still a newbie and needed to build up again to a half marathon distance. This is what got me out of the door after Broad Street.

Today I look to plan my race calendar for at least the next 6-12 months in advance so that I can plan my training, have set goals and keep myself committed.

7. Listen to your body

Early in my running as I was continuing my training and increasing my distance running I started to become more and more uncomfortable with my right knee and ultimately I went to see a doctor. I did not want to stop running but I was waking up in the middle of the night with discomfort and it was getting painful on my daily 110 mile round trip commute.

I was referred to a physical therapist who had me run on the treadmill and she analysed my problem. I was an over-pronator. Although I had stability shoes I needed additional support and was recommended for some shoe inserts (over the counter were sufficient for me). I visited the physical therapist for a 6 week period twice a week and performed a series of exercises to build up the stability muscles around my knees, to learn how to stretch and to focus on my running form. I was also recommended as part of this to get re-fitted for shoes which I did. I have been in Brooks Adrenaline shoes ever since. (Over time as my body has got stronger I have moved away from the need for the inserts and now run with shoes straight out of the box).

By the end of the 6 week treatment I was stronger, my knees were aligned and I had a new focus on my running form that would go on to be a go to mental technique I now incorporate towards the end of races when I am getting tired. I was a fitter and renewed runner. I’ve learned to listen to the aches and pains when they occur and know when to rest and back off. I’ve also come more accustomed to the training. Where I once would have hurt or struggled for a couple of days after a long run I know how to self treat post run for better recovery. A lot of this is just experience and building up your own endurance.

I also started reading about running and training methods. Through my research I came across Jeff Galloway and his ‘Run-Walk-Run’ method. Learning about the method and applying it in training and racing has enabled me to achieve goals that at the beginning of my journey seemed out of touch. His methods have also allowed me to stay pretty much injury free as it changes up the muscles I am using through the intervals and also has allowed me to recover quicker.

8. Set bigger goals

After these little successes I set my sights on a bigger challenge, completing my first marathon. I signed up with the Runner’s World Challenge to run the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon which provided me with a training plan, supporting community and a daily e-mail providing encouragement (plus a cool shirt and a book on road racing).

Training for a marathon is a life changing experience. Never did I think that setting the alarm for 3am, strapping on a headlamp and a reflective vest would be something I would do but you get to a point where your habit becomes your lifestyle and something just ‘clicks’ and you do it because you want to do it. To date I have done 8 marathons (including a couple of multi-day distance events at Walt Disney World).

9. Preventative care

It’s not just putting in the miles that makes be a better runner, I have to look after my body as that is my tool to achieve my goals. I had already started dieting to lose weight prior to starting running but to run distance you have to fuel right. It isn’t about cutting out calories for the most part I probably eat more than I used to these days but it is eating the right foods at the right time in the right quantities. It’s about keeping the metabolism going.

I definitely eat more healthily than I used to. I seldom eat fried food or red meat anymore, anytime I do I definitely feel a difference. I seldom drink alcohol these days although I will partake in moderation. I guess that is the word, ‘moderation’. I still have a very sweet tooth. I look to satisfy my cravings with healthier alternatives but I also don’t beat myself up if I indulge from time to time. I journal all my food in the LoseIt app. I’ve been using that every day for almost 4 years now. It keeps me focused and in check.

I also get regular chiropractic adjustments. I go every 3 to 4 weeks to visit Dr Bagnell who has seen me go from being unfit and overweight to 50lbs light with my current fitness levels and he has commented on how different and beneficial it has been to my overall health. It is like a regular tune up for my body. A little realignment goes a long way. I’m pounding pavement for hour after hour, then I sit at a desk all day and drive a car for at least 2.5 hours a day. If I didn’t get myself in alignment regularly I would just be creating problems for myself and lead to long-term injury as I tried to over compensate for any discomfort. Training pushes your body to the limits, but if you can maintain your engine then your body will be kind to you and your recovery will be faster.

10. Have fun

You may have noticed from some of my previous posts that I like to have fun when I run. One of the best things that resulted from me running is that I get to run races with my wife. We are a good team. We both have somewhat different training schedules but we do run events together. I guess I am lucky that my wife is also a keen runner (we started within months of each other) and we get to share experiences together, visit new places and have a unique opportunity to sight see when we travel, for example running through all four Disney Parks at Walt Disney World, running along Niagara Falls and running across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Running across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA

Running across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Running also happened to allow me to be a big kid again. I think you may have been able to tell that I am a big Disney fan. Well running has allowed me some unique experiences (through runDisney) like running races in full costume It has also enabled me to raise over $8,000 (to date) for charity.

Running in EPCOT at the 2013 Disney Family 5K

Running in EPCOT at the 2013 Disney Family 5K

Running through EPCOT at the 2014 inaugural Walt Disney World 10K

Running through EPCOT at the 2014 inaugural Walt Disney World 10K

That’s how I got to be where I am and how I stay motivated. What do you do differently? Share your methods and motivations in the comments below.

Thank you for reading 🙂

3 thoughts on “Not why, but ‘how’ I run

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