My Running Story – Part 1: The First Weeks

Wednesday 13 January 2021 - Filed under Default

At mile nine running next the San Francisco bay I chewed on sour patch kids and reveled as their sweet energy entered my blood. I was going for 13.1 miles, a half-marathon, inconceivable just a couple months prior. When I finished I was dizzy, utterly exhausted with aches all over. Feeling this way I wondered if pure sugar was the best idea for a mid-run snack but, hey I completed 13.9 miles in all and that felt great!

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

The first several weeks of running are a special time. A time that began when I was doing the dishes, listening to Lex Fridman describe his 6-mile daily running habit, and how he was going to punish himself with thousands of pull-ups. Having exercised more regularly over the previous two years but never on a steady schedule, the podcast sparked something inside and I resolved to run daily.

The first week, the goal was to run 4-5 miles a day. The first day I made it 4.6 miles, walking a 1/2 mile of it. Over the next few days, my legs generally ached with slightly sharper pain around the calves and achilles tendon as I pushed toward five miles non-stop. To reduce injury, I walked inclines and sought out flat land.

Five miles felt like an eternity. When it became too much, I focused on my breath, my legs, a tree, anything but the doubt. After the first week I traded running for crossfit some days. Most important was to get uncomfortable each day and to continue conditioning my body and mind.

Out on the road, I explored every conceivable route, finding parks, little free libraries, construction sites, and getting more connected to the local environment. That includes the smells of barbecue ribs, garlic in olive oil, and seafood near meal times plus the ever present fresh-cut grass, sprinklers, and car exhaust of suburbia.

By the sixth week, I started reading David Goggins and found a marathon training guide. I bought a Garmin watch and started to follow the guide as it laid out distance and pace for each day with long-runs on Sundays. That’s how I worked up to the 13.9 mile run, slightly overshooting the half-marathon goal. After that punishing experience, I realized there was no marathon and wouldn’t be one for a while so decided to work on form.

Three components of form stood out: cadence (steps per minute), breath, and posture. High cadence reduces both stride length and the waste of vertical motion. I configured the Garmin watch’s running screen to show cadence along with heart rate and mile-pace. For breathing I felt out various numbers of steps per breath but ultimately decided to forget about it. My posture needed probably the most work as I could see every time I passed a storefront. Basically I need to stretch my hip-flexors, reset by periodically by standing up straight, and keep my chest high.

It’s amazing to think back to those first weeks. It was impossible to know that running would stick when I “lacked a runner’s build”, or when injury flared up, or when wildfires hindered runs for weeks. Almost 800 miles later, I’m still working on form, running more-or-less daily and finding new joys out there.

In part 2, I’ll share what I’ve learned about gear, some finer points of route selection, weather, and more.

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2021-01-13  »  David Sterry