Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Long and Winding Road - My Transition to Minimalist Running, Part 1

I don't have a picture of me on a
long and winding road. This picture of me
on a long and winding wall will have to do.
In late 2009, I decided to learn to run again after a very long and injury filled running sabbatical. This is the story of that transition.

Born To Run
A lot of things have been said about Born To Run, and I won't rehash any of the arguments for or against the basic premise of the book. What I will say is that I agree with a good portion of McDougall's hypothesis about the "running man".

Reading Born To Run, I could truly relate to Christopher McDougall's description of himself as a broken down runner. I felt truly broken down, and not just as a runner.  I had decided that this would be my last attempt to run again. My previous attempts to run again had failed miserably, so with some trepidation, I launched into minimalist running.

New Year's Resolutions Suck
I stopped making new year's resolutions decades ago, after I realized that I never kept them. I was just lying to myself. Promises to "really start writing that novel" or to "finally learn German" were never kept, and dogged my conscience for months. Life is full of enough disappointment without intentionally inflicting it upon myself. So, I stopped making resolutions, and just tried to enjoy the party.

Twenty years later, I found myself making a new year's resolution to start running again. At least this one would be easy to keep. I could "try" to start running again, and if I failed, the resolution would be met (at least in my mind).

The First Run
So it was, that on a cold 45F day in early January 2010, I found myself at the track during my lunch hour wearing shorts, a long sleeve shirt, and $9 pool shoes. This was really "out there" for me. I had a perfectly good (although very old) pair of Nike Air running shoes, but had left those at home, determined to give the minimalist route a try. Standing on the track, the low grey sky seemed more oppressive than usual. A cold, gusty wind  ripped over the field, tearing away what little heat that still clung to my body. I shivered involuntarily.

"Stupid new year's resolutions!" I thought. "Damn you, McDougall!"

"One lap. One third of a mile." I promised myself. "I'll give it one lap. If I feel even the slightest pain in my crap left knee, I'll bail and head back to the warm locker room."

The extent of my knowledge about the minimalist form was "land on the balls of your feet, not your heels". So, off I trotted, looking like some sort of pudgy, deranged, half clothed ninja, searching for a heated pool.

One hundred yards into the "run" I was breathing hard. My heart was pounding and I felt the vein on my forehead throbbing in time. Crap! Was I really this out of shape? Half way around the track, my legs began to burn. There was no way of knowing how fast I was going since I hadn't bothered to start my stop watch, but it felt too fast. I slowed down before my heart exploded. My pain levels receded from "gunshot to the chest" levels to mere "prisoner of war torture" levels.

Managing to finish the lap without dying, I sat down on the steps next to the track and tried to recover. My heart was still pounding. I was sweating (in 45F temps!). I had finished! Once my heart rate had settled down to only a dangerous level, I stood up to take stock of the knee damage. Previous attempts had left me with severe knee pain. This time, no pain! I was shocked. I jogged in place just to make sure. I was certain there would be pain. Nothing!

I walked back to the locker room with a huge smile on my face. I didn't notice the wind or the cold anymore. I could do this!

Next installment - Too Much Too Soon.