Saturday, October 1, 2016

Running for Dummies

I took the summer off to polish my novel, work on query letters, navigate the needs of two teens and a three-year-old, and participate in some volunteer cosplay events. Oh, right, and I forgot--to start a new Couch to 5K program that I'm enjoying enough to buy an actual good pair of sneakers. If you know me, you know that thrifty is my middle name, so for me to willingly shell out cash to run is a pretty powerful testament to the effectiveness of the program.
  • some new to me Asics sneakers
Since I'm only in week four, and haven't actually run more than sixteen total minutes per session, I preface this with "research for yourself. I'm not a doctor or exercise professional." With that out of the way, I'd like to share some things that helped me in the hopes that it will give another potential runner a head start.

First and foremost, download a good program. There are tons in the Apple App Store, and I'm sure there are for Androids, too, but I went with Active Network LLC's Couch to 5K program. Why? Because I can pick a zombie or unicorn to be my coach.

Active Network Couch to 5K app

Runicorn is supportive, happy, and full of pep. I respond better to positive reinforcement than a drill sergeant yelling at me, but if that's your thing, the app has five different coaches to choose from.

The app is easy, telling you what week you're on, what session you're on, and breaking down your walking and running mileage and speed. Walking? You thought this was a running app! Well, yes, it is, but it's one that's designed to keep you going without hurting yourself--so you start off with a pattern of warm up, walk, jog, walk, jog, walk, jog, cool down, for a total of 30 minutes of activity.
  • Runicorn is the best!

Here's where I have to warn you. I did a lot of research after my first two runs--because I was in excruciating pain, and because I figure Google was made so that I could learn everything I want to know about anything. (Seriously, people. It's your friend. It's like a library at your fingertips.) I had spent two sessions in a row with terrible hip, knee, and shin pain--and I thought that was how running was supposed to feel. It's not.

In my research I found three problems--the first is that I wiggle my hips while I run--one drops lower than the other, and that causes undue stress on the lower legs because your hips aren't doing their job of supporting your upper body. So all 170 pounds of my body were crashing down upon my shins, giving me awful shin splints (yes, I just told you my weight. I'm going to tell you something about numbers soon, so bear with me.) I corrected this by consciously holding my hips even on the next several runs. Yesterday when I ran I realized that my body had finally succumbed to muscle memory and my hips stayed in place without me actually focusing on it.

My second problem was that I was crossing my arms over my body as I ran. All the people who look like they're having fun jogging do it. Apparently, it can also cause pressure on your lower body. According to your arms should go back and forth at a 90 degree angle parallel to your body, not across it. My knees, which don't like to pivot, we're very happy when I discovered this trick.

The last problem was my stride. Your body should be be above your foot as it strikes the ground, and if it's behind it you may find yourself with some pretty intense shin splints. I shortened my stride length to a very short one for now, and once I did the shin splints seemed to disappear. I also invested in a pair of new to me Avia sneakers which work with the way my foot moves when I run (you can check your pronation here:

Fixing those three problems gave me a good physical start on running--but something that surprised me was that running isn't only physical. I'm not even talking about the endorphins you produce while exercising--though those are pretty great! I'm talking about the difference I feel depending on where I run, as well as when I run and who I run with. Obviously, this will be different for everyone. But for me, I run much more effectively by the beach. While I can get my run done in my neighborhood, I'm thinking more about getting through the run and getting home to finish this, that, and the other whereas on the beach I'm focusing on the beautiful shoreline. I feel supercharged after running at the beach, as if I've absorbed the sun, wind, and waves through my skin.

I also find that my runs are different when I run with a partner than when I run alone. When I run with my brother, I'm motivated to go further and run faster because I'm competitive, and I also get to chit chat with him while walking. I find that when I run alone I have less motivation to match his pace, but that I also pay more attention to my own technique to make sure I'm creating good running habits. In my opinion, both running alone and with a partner are essential--and again, I know that it will be different for everyone. But I feel like I benefit from running with someone and running alone in completely different, equally important ways.

Lastly, I'm going back to that number: 170. It's the most I've weighed in my life. But while, in the month+ I've been using the Couch to 5K program, that number has changed little to not at all (despite eating healthy and under the necessary amount of calories to lose a pound a week), my body is absolutely changing. My legs are stronger and firmer; my arms are more toned; and my waistline is suddenly visible. I look in the mirror and see a strong person instead of the number. Each time I finish a session, I feel motivated to go run again. Don't get me wrong: there are some days I finish and feel like this:
  • I might be dead in this picture. I'm not sure.

I'm an injury prone woman with celiac disease, joint pain, and severe anxiety, I have three kids and am writing my second novel, so it's not inconceivable that I won't have a day here and there where I'm just glad to get through it. But I've stuck with this one long enough that it's become one of my favorite things to do. I hope this encourages you to try the Couch to 5K!
  • Feeling strong!

That Hamilton Thing

Image credit: Wikipedia

For months I didn't quite understand the Hamilton hype. I knew it was special, and that the unique decision to have women and people of color tell the story was groundbreaking, but I didn't get why so many people loved the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton. In fact I must confess, when Roffey began playing the Hamilton soundtrack around the house, I thought, "ok. This sounds decent. I don't hate it." I loved the concept of the play; I love Lin-Manuel Miranda....but I had nothing to connect it to my heart. Then my son Jason decided to sing "Wait For It" with his friend for the talent show. He began singing the lyrics to practice, and listening to that one song over and over. One line caught me: "If there's a reason I'm still alive when everyone who loves me has died, I'm willing to wait for it."
I've lost my Dad and two of my brothers, and lately, my mother has been sick. That line stabbed me, drove straight into my heart, and left me on my knees. I drove around bawling to that song, to that one line. I ran to it, slapping my feet to its rhythm.
I began to listen to other parts of the story. The connection between Burr and Hamilton began to dawn on me, where one of them took the loss of their family and turned that into driving ambition and no fear of what people thought, and for the other it led to caution and fear of wasting a legacy or a life. I could identify with both, they're both familiar kinds of grief.
Most people most likely fall for Hamilton for the drama, or the music, or the love stories or the history; I fell for the pain, that feels so similar to mine. And most importantly, the hope in the middle of that--"Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
How lucky we are to be alive right now.
Suddenly the story was so much more than a theatrical rendering of a founding father. It was a testimony to what we can do with grief-- let our light burn out, as it did for Hamilton after his son died, or use it to reach for the stars and go for it (so long as we don't stand still, a la Burr.) The moral of the lesson: do not throw away your shot.
Slay At Home Mom's Brothers