Saturday, January 26, 2013

Birth of a runner

My first experience with running wasn’t a “sign” by any stretch of the imagination.

I remember I was at the King West Cardio-Go, where my trainer had offered to introduce me around and teach me to use the various pieces of equipment.

As an aside…this made all the difference in the world when I went back to the gym on my own, because I knew how to use everything. As someone new to exercise, embarrassed and awkward – having help meant I wasn’t quite as anxious the next time I showed up…or the next…or the next.

It was January when I visited the gym with my trainer for the first time, but since I’d made the decision in November to become fit, I didn’t even think about January being resolution month. I just saw joining Cardio-Go as a way to start training for this 10k I’d been convinced to sign up for. And with Trainer Chris to hold me accountable, there was no way I’d be missing my sessions on the treadmill.

That first day, I think I ran for something along the lines of 15 minutes. And by run, I mean I went a tiny bit faster than a walk…and no, those 15 minutes weren’t all running. There was some brisk walking in there too. How much? I can’t remember. Who wants to remember how bad they were in the beginning?  (Okay, fine. There was a lot of walking).

Much as I joke, in hindsight, I realize I probably had it a lot easier when it came to the start of my running endeavours – at least compared to folks who decide to lose weight by running alone. I think because I’d been working with Trainer Chris for four weeks by that point (3 times a week), I’d established just enough of a base not to have to start right at the very beginning – like the Couch to 5k program would have you do.

Speaking of which, if you are looking to get into shape by running…Couch to 5k is an amazing program. I know several people who have used it to great effect. It is a very gradual step-up program, which is exactly what you want if you are working on your own and don’t want to get injured.

But I had a bit of guidance, garnished with 3 days of week of strength training, agility and general cardio work (like skipping - which I did a lot of once Trainer Chris realized it was the one tiny thing I was good at). That prep work meant I had more of a jump start than some when it came to putting on my running shoes. Any cardiovascular fitness is good when you have very little to start with.

So, that first run was 15 minutes long. From there, it was just a matter of building up time and frequency. I hit the gym three days a week after work to run on the treadmill. This, combined with my sessions with Trainer Chris, meant I was working out 6 days a week for 30-45 minutes at a time. I couldn’t imagine anything harder (probably good that I had no idea there was something called a two-a-day at the time).

At first, I focused on increasing the amount of time I was running compared to walking. Over time, I started to be able to run for longer periods at a time (Rather than run/walk). Looking back, I am pretty sure I violated every rule of learning to run (especially the one about not increasing your mileage more than 10% a week) when about six weeks later I did 10k on the treadmill just to see if I could. It took me 70 minutes (11:30 or so a mile), using a mix of running and brisk walking.

I was exhausted. Half-dead. And completely over the moon. Being able to run 10k in practice meant I could at least finish the race – and I still had a couple of months left to go to try and get faster.

Of course, Trainer Chris smartly told me I really shouldn’t have done that when I told him about my feat. Well, he didn’t actually say I shouldn’t have done it - but I am sure that’s what he was thinking, right along with “Thank goodness she didn’t hurt herself.”

Looking back now, I wonder if completing that first 10k on the treadmill should’ve clued me in on the fact that running was going to become a big part of my life. But the truth is, I was too tired to even think about what finishing that 10k meant.

All I knew was that I could do it. At the time, it was more than enough.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Once upon a time, there was a girl

Two paths diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I was never a runner growing up.
I was never an athlete, unless you count my brother making me join the swim team in my last year of high school because he was an assistant coach – or joining the swim team in second-year university because I saw a sign-up sheet that said “All skill levels welcome” and believed it.
Just so you know, I wasn’t a good swimmer. But the one thing I had, even then, was perseverance. I didn’t give up. I stuck it out both of those years…and I had fun, because in swimming you are competing against yourself and your times don’t affect the times of others. I got better compared to me – even if I was miles (lengths, technically) behind everyone else.
In the years since then, I’ve kept busy. I spent a couple of great years working for the government, and then almost seven working for a large firm - first in consulting and then in marketing/communications. I loved every minute of it, but some of that work was at my own expense. I gained weight (like you do), didn’t exercise much (surprise, surprise), and ate a lot of meals on the go (okay, that last one was because I hated cooking more than anything).
I was successful and productive at work - but I wasn't paying enough attention to my body and my health.
And then, November 2011 came along. With a month left to use my annual fitness allowance at work, I suddenly realized I was sliding down a slippery slope. I was thirty-three years old, and if I didn’t get my health and fitness sorted, I'd have a much harder problem to solve in five years.
I knew I needed to fix things, so I made a decision right then to become healthy and fit – not that I knew what that meant. All I knew was that I couldn’t do it alone. So, I asked around and found a personal trainer in Toronto named Chris Cecile ( who was supposed to be good.  I sent him an email mentioning my decision and asking for help. I had no idea why on earth he’d want to work with me, but I still asked.
His answer was simple: “When do you want to start?”
…and that’s when I found myself standing at a crossroads.
 Two paths diverged in my life that day and I veered off the one I’d been travelling down for thirty-three years. I forged straight into the unknown with the same persistence that had me on the swim team way back when.
I knew I needed to change, so I changed.
What I didn’t expect was for the changes to be fun. I expected hard work, pain, and a whole lot of hating every moment of training. And yes, it was (and still is) hard work. Yes, there was (and still is on occasion) pain from sore muscles and the like. Yet, after a month or so, once I started to get over the sheer exhaustion of working so hard... I found myself loving it.
Sure, I felt horribly embarrassed just walking into the gym where I was meeting my trainer. Sure, I didn’t know what a squat was when I started. But you know what the best part of being a beginner is? There is nowhere to go but up!
About a month after I started, Trainer Chris (I need to differentiate because I know a few people named Chris) dared me to run a 10k. He said “being fit” wasn’t really a goal and I needed to pick something measurable. He suggested I sign up for the Sporting Life 10k in May. Having never run around the block, I suggested a 5k, thinking 10 was a bit ambitious. Somehow he convinced me that a 5k would be harder…because 5k races are more about speed than 10k races.
In hindsight, I know that argument makes no sense at all…but it worked at the time.  I signed up for the Sporting Life 10k and, despite spraining my MCL (a miss-step on a trip, not as a result of training) in February, I was healthy and at the starting line on that gorgeous day in May. Mother’s Day. I remember because two of my brothers entered the race to provide moral support and my parents came up to watch us. It was a family affair.
Emailing Chris might have been my first step down the road less travelled…but running that first race was my point of no return. I smiled the entire way, often remembering that just six months earlier, I would have laughed if someone had said I’d be running a 10k race. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am here.” The fact my family was there to share in the experience? Priceless.
I realized that if I could run a 10k, I could do anything. And so began my quest to prove it. Over the next few months, I finished a Spartan Sprint, the Fit Factory’s O Course (which I signed up for to train for Spartan – only to find out the training was harder than the race!), and the Loaring Triathlon (the beginner version).
In the fall, I ran the Run for Heroes Half Marathon and the Scotiabank Toronto Half Marathon...three weeks apart. And then, in December, I finally ran my first 5k (even if it was un-timed). A bit after the fact, but so much fun. I got to run fast.
So here I am now in 2013. I am fifty pounds lighter than when I started my journey, and in the best shape of my life. What's even better? I haven’t lost a single once of my joy and excitement from 2012. In fact, in 2013 - I want to raise the bar. I want to see what other once-impossible things I can do. Because now I know I can.
I’ve already signed up for the Run for Heroes Marathon in September 2013. I’m also planning to sign up for several triathlons. There will no doubt be more adventure races, running races, and a properly timed 5k. And who knows - maybe some surprises, too.
And that’s why I am here.
Recently, one of my friends suggested I start a blog so I could talk more broadly about my training, racing and everything I’ve learned (or will learn) along the way. She figured since I was writing about my journey anyway, I should write about it in a forum where more people could share the adventures, get inspired and, in turn, inspire me.
So, come along as I explore the road less travelled. Outside of a few big goals, I have no idea where this road is going to lead...but that's the fun part of any story: the journey.