Friday, February 3, 2012

How I got here and why I'm doing this

I am a non-runner...or at least I was for the majority of my life, the first 23 years to be exact. Not only was I a non-runner, I loathed running. I found no joy in it, and really never understood those maniacs who strapped on a pair of running shoes and ran everyday...EVERYDAY! Who does that? Sounds like torture to me. Now, thats not to say I wasn't active. As a child and well into my teens I was an avid soccer-nut and martial artist. I also dabbled in swimming (which would eventually become a staple in my daily routine, but more on that later) and cross-country skiing. As I finished high school and transitioned into adult life, my activity level slowly decreased and by the time I was 21 my activity level was non-exsistent. It would take 3 years before I would get my "wake-up call." 
At 23 my mom hands me a book called "Slow Fat Triathlete." This book would change my whole perspective on running and life in general. After years of obesity, poor health, and self-doubt, the author, Jayne Williams took part in her first triathlon in 2002 to prove something to herself and became hooked on the rush of the race. I found that I could relate to this funny but sincere "fat girl."  Today she is a self-proclaimed "slow fat triathlete," unafraid to overcome humiliation, laugh at her foibles, have fun and accomplish impressive goals. It only took a chapter to convince me. I was ready and excited to run a triathlon. Along with funny stories and an account of her journey, Jayne also includes training schedules and advise. A week after I started reading her book, I went to the store, bought my first pair of "big-girl" running shoes and started (what would become) a long and rocky journey...pun intended. 
Needless to say, I started slowly. My first run was literally to the end of my street and back. That was really the first time I realized how out of shape I truly was. By the time I got home, maybe 5 minutes later, I was gasping for air. It was discouraging, but Jayne helped me through it with encouragement and reminded me that I wouldn't become a triathlete over night. So, I kept running. Every few days I would add a little bit more to my run. After about four months of consistently running, 5-6 times a week adding a few more feet to my run every few days, I was up to running 3 miles. I decided it was time to sign up for a 5k. This gave me a goal and helped keep me motivated. I fell in love with racing. It was something about the atmosphere. Getting up early, eating a hearty breakfast while shaking off race day jitters, driving out to the start line and being surrounded by  hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people of all different running abilities. There was something so exciting and exhilarating about the feel of it all. Knowing that all these people are kindred spirits, no matter if they were at the front setting the competitive pace or at the back walking, we all shared something...a desire to get out there and push ourselves. That summer I ran 3 5ks, a 5 miler and a 10k. 
Finishing the 10k event in the
Mayor's Marathon.
I started adding a mile to my training run every couple weeks and got up to 6 miles a day. I was well on my way to a half marathon. Then I disaster struck.
Ok, disaster is maybe a little dramatic...I moved from Alaska, where I grew up and parents still live, to Portland, Oregon. My running (and basically all recreational physical activities) came to a complete stop for the year that I was there. The only redeeming aspect was that I was to poor to be able to afford gas or insurance, so I walked or road my bike every where, which in some aspects kept me more active than I was even running 6 days a week in AK. I ended up moving back to Alaska (Portland economy and job market was/is brutal). It took me a bit to get back into my old, better habits, but eventually, much like the first go, I would get a swift kick in the pants.
In the winter of 2009 I made the fateful decision to join the Navy. I went through the entire recruiting process, was cleared physically and mentally, all I had to do was pick a job, which ended up being much trickier than it sounds like it should be. You see, I had chosen to enlist in the Navy at a time when the Navy didn't really need me. They were already over manned due to the ailing economy, which meant that jobs were limited. When my recruiter asked, "So, what is it that you want to do in this 'global force for good'?" (I may have taken creative freedom with his wording, but the message is the same) I responded, "I want to work in helos (pronounced hee-low or helicopters, for those who don't speak military lingo)." He informs me that, "well, the only way to work in a helo as an enlisted Sailor is to be a rescue swimmer." (Of course later I would come to find out that was a blatant lie) Picture Ashton Kutcher treading water while holding a brick over his head and Kevin Costner yelling at him. Now just replace the Coast Guard logo with a Navy logo and you'll get the full impact of what my recruiter was telling me. Naturally, as a logical, rational thinker I responded, "Where do I sign up?"  
In order to be accepted into the Rescue Swimmer program, you have to pass a physical standards test (PST). There are specific numbers in a plethora of different physical activities that a person trying to get a rescue swimmer contract must meet in order to get offered said contract. Every month I had to take a test consisting of a 500 meter swim followed by pushups, situps, pull ups and finishing with a 1.5 mile run. All had numbers you had to meet or beat. I through myself in. I was at the gym 6 hours a day (at least 2 hours of swimming, at minimum an hour of running, as well as weight lifting and muscle conditioning) while maintaining a full time job and full time school schedule. My life revolved around training, to say the least. It took me four tries to pass the PST, but it's not like once you pass the PST and get your contract you can start slacking. Once you pass you are required to meat or beat your numbers every month until you leave for boot camp or you get dropped from your contract. So, my gym time became my life. By the time I left for boot camp, six months later, I was in the best shape of my life (understatement of the century). It seemed my original goal of being a triathlete would finally come to fruition. I had every intention of running that long awaited first triathlon as soon as I graduated Rescue Swimmer School (RSS). I made it through boot camp and aircrew candidate school and was finally facing the notoriously hard RSS. The attrition rate is 75% and thats just for males. In the nearly 30 years women have been allowed to go through RSS only 31 have ever graduated. The odds were against me and I was feeling the pressure. 
All the hard work and fret ended up being moot. My knee had started giving me trouble back in boot camp, but I had fought through it. A week into my RSS experience I could no longer ignore the pain. I put on "Light Limited Duty" meaning I wasn't allowed to do any physical activities, with the hope that my knee would heel and I could continue on. Unfortunately, (but fatefully) this would not be the out come. After months of trying to rehab my knee the Navy docs finally did an MRI. It turned out I needed surgery. They would have to shave down a park of my knee that was stretching out the tendon over my knee. I was dropped from RSS, due to the long healing process. 
I had knee surgery March 11, 2011. My surgeon was so sure this would be so non-invasive  that I would be up and going within 2 months of my surgery. So, when that 2 month mark rolled around and I could barely lift my leg still, my surgeon finally put in a referral for physical therapy. It would be another 2 months before PT could fit me in. So, in those 4 months my body was healing itself however it saw fit. I would end up with a tendon that healed all wrong. You may be thinking, couldn't they fix that with surgery. If you think after all I went through I was going to let another Navy doctor come with in 30 feet of me with a scalpel, you're delusional. So, because the Navy sees me as "permanently" broken, they decided it's in their best interest to give me a check and the boot. Now I am biding my time until I get out of the Navy on a medical separation. For the last year and a half I have been relatively sedative (with short spurts of trying to get back into shape). Up until a few months ago, running was to painful, but since then my excuses were just a mask for pure laziness. The truth is I miss being in great shape, but my lack of motivation, but specifically a goal to train for has added to my laziness. 
For my birthday I bought myself a road bike, which has become my main mode of transportation to and from work. It felt good to be active again, and now that my legs are feeling toned I realize how much I miss being in shape and striving for goals. I also realized I miss racing.
I can't honestly tell you what led me to it, but last week I find a website raving about this book, "The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer." Now, I have had many goals in my life but running a marathon has never been one of them. I hear about people running marathons and I think, "Wow, thats great that you have that kind of dedication, but that does not sound fun to me, and I have no desire to put myself through that." I've never even had a brief inkling in the back of my head that maybe someday way down the line...nope. So, as I read the description and the reviews from fellow non-runners who were transformed by the program, I was shocked to find myself starting to get that itch. You know, that stirring when you start thinking about something and begin to image actually doing it and how awesome it would feel to achieve that goal, and then it starts to get deeper and more rooted into you, and before you know it, it has become a full fledged desire. Well, thats what happened with this book. The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer is about a program that these 2 professors in Iowa started that took ordinary people who didn't have formal training, most of which didn't particularly enjoy running, and trained them for 16 weeks to run a marathon. Out of 200 participant who took the "marathon class" at the University of Northern Iowa only one failed to complete the 26.2 mile race. 
I'm thinking those are some pretty good statistics. So, wednesday of this week I bout the book. I've read the first three chapters so far. The program starts with "pre-training." Naturally, if you have never been a runner or it's been a long time, you can't be expected to run 3 miles straight off the line, so to get everyone who does the program on (somewhat) equal footing the authors start with pre-training. For a month or a couple of weeks or however long it takes you, you do a run/walk program until you can run 30 minutes without stopping (and preferably relatively comfortably). They don't want you to keep track of distance to start with and they don't expect you to run fast. They just want to you be able to run/jog for 30 minutes straight. Yesterday I started pre-training. It had been a while since I'd run, so even though I was pretty sure I could still jog for 30 minutes, I just wanted to be positive. I have tried to run now and then throughout the past year and sometimes I would keep a regular running schedule for a couple weeks at a time, but inevitably I would always give up. Last night I used all the techniques that they teach in the book. I took it nice and slow, just over a light jog, controlled my breathing and used the "come run with me" jedi mind trick they recommend. For the first time for a VERY long time I actually enjoyed running. I'm usually so caught up in running a certain distance in a certain time that I'm miserable through my entire run. I am exhausted and miserable by the time I'm done, that I associate that feeling with running, and of course that really doesn't make me want to run. But last night any time I felt like I was huffing and puffing to much I slowed my pace and caught my breath. This allowed me to actually experience the run instead of just bare it. I enjoyed my music and I noticed the small of flowers and sea air as I ran along the sea wall. I admired the bright moon lighting up tiger stripe patterned clouds and I smiled and waved at people who past me. I actually had fun. No, wait...that can't possibly be right. Running isn't fun. It's miserable and painful. I realized that running isn't fun for me because I'm making not fun. I'm pushing myself to hard to fast. When I stopped trying to be the me that was in great shape, the me from 2 years ago and just accepted the me that I am now, I stopped feeling like I needed to push myself, and in turn I was able to enjoy what I had deemed unenjoyable. So, even though I've just started and haven't even finished reading the book, their techniques have already helped me. Last nights run has inspired me. I am so excited about the next 16 weeks and even more excited about running a marathon. A MARATHON! I am going to run 26.2 miles, and I'm excited about it. 
My only complaint with the book so far is that it is clearly dated. They published the book in 1998 and were teaching the class from the mid-80s to the mid-90s and some of the technical running advise isn't accurate. Like, they teach improper body position when you're running and that you should land on your heels when they've proven now a-days that you should actually land on your mid to front foot, and they teach static stretching before running instead of dynamic which of course we all know is much better, but I just take it with a grain of salt and file the good advice that I didn't know and is still relevant, especially the mental tricks. 
Overall, I'm impressed and very excited. I'm not planning to run my first marathon at the end of 16 weeks because that would be mid summer and I live in Florida, which does not mesh well with a marathon, so I'm planning next fall, Octoberish. I'll still train the exact same way but instead of running the marathon at the end of 16 weeks I'll continue with the training until next fall, which I think will benefit me any way. 
So, thats where I am. This is my blog to document my journey. I'll update whenever I feel compelled. I'll document what I like, what I struggle with, I'll post pictures and generally just keep you all posted. I hope you'll take this journey with me and maybe inspire some of you to go out there and try it yourself. So, welcome! Come run with me.

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