Running 101: Running Techniques for TRUE Beginners

I always had a secret dream of being a runner.

Growing up, my family took trips to the beach almost every summer. I remember lying in the sand on my towel, self-conscious of my chunkiness and my too-pale skin, watching with admiration as the toned men and women jogged along the shoreline. They looked so fit, so strong, so free. I wanted to do what they were doing. But I was too weak. Running made my legs hurt, and it always got my breathing out of whack.

Fast forward a few years later. I’m twenty-three, working in a busy doctor’s office, and I'm morbidly obese. I’ve given up on a lot of things in my life, especially that old secret dream of being a runner. Then I observe two of my co-workers. Every evening, when it’s time to go home, they slip into the bathroom to swap their scrubs for tech tees and compression pants. They come out looking like different people. They’re excited. They’re ready for something awesome. I hear them chatting about their upcoming races. They’ve done 10Ks, 15Ks, half-marathons, triathlons. I don’t even know what half of those are, but it all sounds so exciting.

I feel that old feeling again. I want to do that.

I decide to do a "3K." I do some research and learn I’m confused; it’s called a 5K- five kilometers, three (+0.1) miles. Guess that’s where I got the 3 from. I stumble upon the Couch to 5K program online and resolve to give it a try. My sister, who is willing to do it with me, accompanies me to the park. We walk briskly for five minutes. No biggie. Then it’s time to jog, to alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Confident and excited, I take off jogging. But I don’t make it to 60 seconds. Somewhere around 45 seconds, I stop. My chest is tight and heavy. I am gasping for breath, sucking in air so desperately it hurts, wheezing so loudly it's echoing off the payment. I’m completely humiliated, but I can’t control it. It won’t stop. My sister looks horrified. Her eyes dart around to see who all is watching as she tries to help, but there’s nothing she can do. When I finally recover, we walk. No more attempts at jogging that day. I leave deflated. I was supposed to do 60 seconds of that every 90 seconds for 20 whole minutes? And on day one?

What do you do when the Couch to 5K program is too advanced for you? Even though I had no disabilities but obesity, I felt like I needed a Bed and Oxygen Tank to 5K program. Maybe I could handle that one.

Well, it took over a year, but I went from that to running an entire 5K. The C25K promises it will get you there in two months. I surely didn’t do that, but I got the same end result. I just went at my own pace and set my own goals along the way. That’s what you have to do.

I feel a bit pretentious and what-not calling it a “plan”, so I’m just gonna list the methods I used to slowly get me from where I used to be to running a full 3.1 miles without stopping.

1.  Running Spurts - The Light Post Method

Running spurts. It sounds like a funny name for a medical condition you wouldn’t want to have, but it’s just interval jogging, like the Couch to 5K program calls for. The difference is that instead of measuring time, I measured distance. 

For example, my friend and I started running at an outdoor walking track. 42 wooden light posts encircled this round track (yes, we counted). Several yards separated each light post from the next one. So, we started jogging from one light post to the next, then walking for the next three light posts, then jogging again to the next post.

You see? Running in short spurts.

As we progressed, we ran the distance of three light posts and walked for one. Later, we ran for five and walked for one. And so on, until eventually, we could measure our distance in laps around the track instead. But we were so out of shape when we first started, counting laps was too unrealistic. So we counted light posts.

You could run from tree to tree. Or road signs around your neighborhood. If you’re on a treadmill, you can run a tenth of a mile, then walk three-tenths.

Call it interval training, call it fartlek, call it whatever fancy name you want. But we liked The Running Spurts because it made us giggle.

2. The Power Mile

Once we worked up to running a mile nonstop (this took my rotund self six months), we started doing something to increase our distance and endurance.

Once a week, we did running spurts until we had completed 3.1 miles.

Two days a week, we ran one mile as fast as we could, then walked for another two miles or so, doing running spurts as we felt like it. We could sort of half-butt it after that first big mile, but only if the power mile was killer.

This helped us prepare for an actual 5K. It got used to running a full mile, and it put us in the habit of not stopping altogether after finishing a complete mile, which we would need when we progressed to two and three miles of running without walking breaks.

3. The Don’t-Think-About-It-Just-Run Technique

When my best friend and workout buddy moved away, I had to do something to keep myself going. It was really different and sad running alone, but also kind of freeing at the same time. I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone else. It was just me out there. I was concerned with beating my previous time and going farther than I had ever gone.

The first time I ran two miles straight, I went to a park by myself, put in my headphones, and started running. I didn’t set a goal for myself. By that time, I had established a one-mile minimum for each running day, but this time, when that first mile was over, I didn’t stop to walk, I didn’t consider running spurts, and I didn’t think about how long I would keep running. I just kept going. I counted the laps, but I didn’t think about the mileage. I ran until I was too exhausted to do anything but stroll, and when I stopped to calculate it, I realized I had gone 2.25 miles nonstop.

Setting goals might not always be what you need every time. Maybe you’re over thinking it. There’s something very liberating about running without a time or distance in mind. Who knows how far you could go if you stopped focusing on your past times and your time goals for the future? Just run.

4. That Said, Set Overall Goals

I still feel that goals are critical for success. When I first decided to try running, when I gave the Couch to 5K a go, I knew I would be signing up for the Woodstock 5K even if I had to walk the entire thing. That goal of a 5K looming ahead kept me moving. It forced me to go outside and walk, even if I was still too fat to run. 

After Woodstock, when I caught Race Fever and signed up for my second 5K, I spent the next two months leading up to it running in spurts regularly. And guess what? I shaved off seven minutes of my time. That goal caused me to progress and get stronger.

Then I set a goal to do a 10K. And I did two of them. Plus four more 5Ks. Now I have a goal to run a 5K in thirty minutes. My PR is 33:00. Can I get to 30:00 in 2014? I’m certainly going to try.

Goals keep you striving toward something. They give you something to focus on, something to attempt, and something to accomplish. It is such an amazing feeling when you’re finally able to check something off and set a new goal.

Up next in Running 101: 5 Things To Make Running Tolerable


Jessica said...

I really enjoyed reading this and I agree with running spurts. (Although the name does sound weird...and kinda gross.) Sometimes we manage to even kick our spurts in the butt! (That also sounds weird.) Like "Let's run to the crack in the sidewalk!" But we are feeling so good, we don't stop at the sidewalk crack.

You have made so much progress in your running abilities since that first day. And I was not obese when we started and the C25k program was a bit unreasonable for me too.

Jessica said...

...and by a "bit", I do mean "completely".

Regine Karpel said...

Proud of you

Regine Karpel said...

Jennifer said...

lol Yes! Though I do recommend staying away from cracks in sidewalks, walls, or anywhere else. (sorry....I can't stop.)

Jennifer said...

Thanks, girl!

Anna Marie Schaefer said...

I loved reading this; it brings back some great (and rather humbling) memories.

Jennifer said...

Thank you. Doesn't it? I'm so proud of how far we've come!