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February 3, 2011 Fitness, Friends 3 Comments

Today is February 3. Where are your new year’s resolutions? (Actually, where are mine?? I haven’t set any this year!) They say you can’t win if you don’t play. I suppose that is true, but I don’t believe in the reverse: you can’t fail if you don’t try.

The way I see it, you fail if you don’t try at all. And there is success in trying!

I’ve seen statistics stating that 45% of the US population sets a new year’s resolution, and that the number one resolution is to either “get fit” or “lose weight.” Are you one of them? January itself can be a real resolution killer. If you live in a part of the country that has been hammered by inclement weather, it’s even easier to settle into your stretchy pants and surround yourself with hearty comfort food. Mac & cheese, anyone?

Here’s the reality: losing a few days or weeks doesn’t mean it’s over. Know that there will be setbacks. There will be write-offs. Super Bowl Sunday is this weekend, and I can see the Crock Pots full of Velveeta/Rotel dip and little smokies now…Mmmmm… Sample the wares, and just keep pushing forward. Tomorrow is a new day!

I have a friend who did just that in 2010 — she kept pushing. She wasn’t an athlete. She wasn’t overweight. She was bored. And she was determined to make a change. So, if you’re a reader that dismisses the crazy things I do — like Half Ironman triathlons and adventure races and epic ski weekends — and say you’re never going to be like me, let this story be an inspiration for you to stay on track.

Kirsten and I are friends. We enjoy our summer cocktails and lounging around in the sunshine (though her fair skin does not love the sun as much as mine does). She has always been a big supporter of my endeavors, quick to give a big Good Luck! as I set off to do something that was out of her reach. Until now, that is…

Meet Kirsten.

She has a full-time job (in marketing). She has a part-time job (as a Stage Manager for local musical theater productions). She has a husband and a dog. She has a life! She’s for real!

Last year, Kirsten went from the couch (well, from a ho-hum gym routine) to a 5K running race to a half marathon — the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, to be precise. She even got hit by a car during her last long run before the race and came back to finish! Kirsten’s story is inspiring to me, so I asked her if she was game to be a feature on my blog. I loved her candor during our conversation, so here it is — in her own words.

Were you always a runner? High school/college? As an adult?

I was never a runner! The only time I ever ran was for the Presidential Fitness testing in school.

What prompted you to start running? Did you do any other fitness activities besides running?

I started running because I was bored with my gym routine. I had been doing the same gym routine for over a year: 15 minutes on the elliptical, one circuit of weight training, repeat x3.  I was bored and started skipping workouts.  I read about the Couch-to-5K program on a message board, and that’s what prompted me to start running. I did it mostly just for something new to do. I thought my knees would hurt too bad or I’d get shin-splints and I just kept telling myself that if I started hurting, I’d quit and go back to my elliptical.

In 2010, you went from your first race — a 5K — to running half marathon. Did you start the year out thinking you’d finish with a 13.1, or did you build up your confidence along the way?

I secretly wanted to do a half marathon, but I never thought I’d get there. I wanted to do the event because it sounded fun – not because I wanted to be a runner! I really started out thinking I might quit before I got to a 5K. But I didn’t, and so my distances kept getting longer.

Did you set other goals for yourself — like finish within a certain time, or maintain an average pace?

At first I was just trying to finish each C-2-5K workout without dying… or more specifically, without walking when I should be running. Later I started paying attention to my pace, but I always set my goals too high so I stopped worrying about pace/time and just focused on finishing every workout “as designed” — meaning without walking, unless the workout called for walk breaks.  I guess I’m a rule-follower.

At the finish of her first 5K -- "the dorkiness burns"

Did you have an “outside” motivator to help you? Technology (music, software to track workouts/pace/progress, etc..) or a person or a weight or fitness goal?

Yes!  First, I found the Nike+ very motivating. I had the one you put in your shoe, and I was totally hooked beating my old records — jogging farther or faster than before.  I also need music. I pretty much wouldn’t run if it wasn’t for my iPhone. When the iOS 4 broke the Nike+ app, it totally wrecked my training for awhile. I could barely motivate without it.

Other than that, I started signing up for races. My motivation was to not look like an idiot on race day.

Did you follow a set training plan? How closely did you follow it?

Yes. I totally need somebody else telling me what to do, or else I slack. First I did the Couch-to-5K training plan, repeating parts of it. Then Couch-to-10K, again repeating the end several times. Then I used a program called Run Coach and followed its plan for a half marathon. I followed them pretty closely; I don’t trust myself otherwise. I’m pretty lazy. Now I use RunKeeper on my phone. It saved me after Nike+ app got broken by Apple’s iOS 4. And it’s free!

What was your ratio of running on treadmills versus outdoors? I personally HATE running on treadmills and would rather run in very inclement weather… but other people don’t feel the same. Did you find running outdoors harder after running on a treadmill?

I did the first six months almost purely on the treadmills. At first I was so winded, it took all my focus to stay on the damn machine so boredom was not an issue. I was pretty much staring at the time, thinking “how long can 90 seconds be?!?!”  Later, I would listen to music AND have a book in front of me AND have the TV on with the closed captioning turned on — all to keep me entertained while running. The turning point on indoor-outdoor for me was in July when the Nike+ app broke.  Suddenly, the only way I could get the stats I craved was by running outdoors and using the GPS in my phone.  So I did a few runs outside and discovered that it was actually easier than the treadmill. That’s not what it says in the books, but it’s true for me. So for the remaining six months, I ran about 90% outside and about 10% treadmill. Treadmill runs are killer for me now. I’m slower and more bored, so I’m less likely to run if I know I need to do it on a treadmill.

Speaking of “becoming a runner,” do you classify yourself as one when the topic comes up? If not, you should! You are a runner!!

Heh, I have a hard time calling myself a runner. I stick with saying “I run.”  :)  I’m so slow, and I’ve read people saying that you aren’t a runner unless you can do a 5K at 10min/mile pace — until then you’re a hobbiest. I think that’s bullshit, but I internalize it anyway.

What surprised you the most about running… during your training, at races, about the people?

I was surprised at how addictive it is and how much I wanted to talk about it. I had so many questions.  At races, I was surprised about what people wore to stay warm pre-race. I had never seen somebody wearing garbage bags before!  I was also pleasantly surprised at how friendly most runners are at races. I admit that I had low expectations based on reading runners’ interactions on message boards.

Random thing: I remember being on a long run and having this mental breakthrough. It sounds so obvious, but I realized “All runs suck at first. Bad runs just get worse, but good runs only get better.”  Then I really tried to make every run a good one, by reminding myself at the beginning that it was going to start sucking less soon.

What did you like the most?

I like getting really hot, sweaty and messy and feeling like “damn I really worked hard!”  That was really the thing that kept me going. I also liked that I improved. It’s very reinforcing to do a run and be a total wreck afterwards, and doing the same run three weeks later, after more training, and finding my mind wandering because it’s so easy.

What did you like the least — besides being hit by a car?!

Well, bad runs pretty much suck. I just hate when I’m running and I feel as heavy as an elephant and totally awkward and ungraceful. Finishing a workout when you feel like that is really hard.  I remember I did a really long run (for me) of 90 minutes and it was before I realized that I needed to start carrying food and water. I didn’t exactly bonk on the run, but after I got home I didn’t feel well and didn’t feel like eating, so I didn’t. Then I went to work (rehearsal) and felt like crap.  Lesson learned – fuel is required.

There had to be those days when you just didn’t want to go out there and do it. Did you succumb to that instinct and give yourself a day off, or did you get yourself out there anyway? What helped you stay committed even when you wanted to give up?

I broke my toe in the early spring and for that, I had had to stop running (although I didn’t stop until two weeks AFTER I broke it) because it was getting worse and worse. I couldn’t wear high heel shoes to work or anything!  I was mad about that because I felt like I’d just gotten going (it happened right before my first 5K race). Resting my foot for three weeks was hard. But then there was the flip-side: plain old not wanting to do it. I basically gave myself permission to not go, make a plan for when I’d make-up that run, and for me, that’s a mental trick that works. For example, on vacation, who wants to go running? But I’d tell myself as I went to bed “if you don’t want to wake up and run, you don’t have to” and then I’d wake up and think “I can go back to sleep and do this run (tomorrow/this afternoon/Sunday)” and then I’d get up and run. But if I overslept, then I’d just figure that my body really, really, really didn’t want to run that morning, and I’d do my make-up run instead. I rarely skipped a workout, but it happened sometimes.  I never wanted to give up on running, I just didn’t want to go sometimes. But I knew that if I skipped runs, then other runs would suck more and I’d be more behind in my goal to not-suck at whatever race I had coming.

What is the biggest “up-side” to running? What did you learn or gain based on what you accomplished?

Biggest up-side? I can run up the stairs to the booth (at the top of the mezzanine at the theater) without being too winded to talk when I get there.

Okay, tongue-in-cheek answer aside, the biggest up-side for me is – mentally – knowing that I did something that was hard for me, but I did it anyway.  I’ve always been able to do hard things intellectually (that sounds snobby!) or organizationally…but not physically. I’m just not an athlete. My parents were not athletes. I’ve never been particularly strong, flexible, coordinated, or motivated to achieve things physically (besides losing weight).  So running proved to me that I can do physically hard things, too. In the scheme of “hard to do,” my achievements are pretty minimal. But for me, they’re extreme. I still can’t believe that I ran over 13 miles. Sure, I was slow. But I ran nearly the whole time! Me!  I’d never have thought it possible.

Did you see any physical changes as a result of your running? Weight change, size changes, etc..? Was this part of your reason for “becoming a runner”?

I didn’t see any changes myself, but some friends observed that I looked “tighter,” whatever that means. I pretty much maintained my weight, but I give running credit for the fact that I didn’t gain my usual “holiday 10 pounds” this year.  My weight/shape did play a role in me becoming a runner, but it was more about finding a form of exercise I was motivated to do, so that I wouldn’t gain weight while eating (mostly) what I want.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who think, “I’m not a runner” or “I can’t do that” or any other negative self-talk? What helped you?

As long as you’re running to prove something to yourself, you can’t lose. And tell that inner voice to shut up. The musical “Title of Show” has a song about vampires — not the Twilight-style ones, but the people and things that suck the joy out of life – including that voice in your head. Pardon me while I quote the song:

The last vampire is the mother of all vampires and that is the vampire of despair.
It’ll wake you up at 4am to say things like:
Who do you think you’re kidding?
You look like a fool.
No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be good enough
Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform
and said these things, I’d think he was a mentally ill asshole,
but if the vampire inside my head says it,
It’s the voice of reason.

My advice: fuck the vampire in your head and go running!  :)

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Meg says:

    I knew Kirsten rocked, but it’s still really interesting to see this from someone else’s directed questions. Nice interview!

  2. […] follow a set training plan and that is half the battle for me. Like Kirsten, I’m a rule-follower. If someone says to ride my bike 25 challenging miles and then run 2 […]

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