I finally understand what it’s like to begin running from scratch.
I have lost count of the number of people who have struggled with running over the years, asking me the usual questions; does running get easier? How to begin running? What can you do to make running not be painful? And the big one, how to enjoy running.
My answer was usually SLOW DOWN, back off a little and you will enjoy running more. I would then give them a talk on perseverance, and how running doesn’t ever really get easier as such, but you would get better at handling the physical and mental stress, and would fall in love if you commit to it and don’t go overboard too soon.
When people would ask me about how to get back into running after time off or how long it would take to get fit, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that one. I had never really had an injury requiring more than a month off running, and even that injury I had been able to cross train for 2-3 hours every day. The longest I had taken complete rest was 3 weeks, and even that was in 2010. Far out of my memory by this point.
A lot of that was down to learning to listen to my body, and yes, slowing down my easy runs. A lot of that was having an amazing coach who could hold me back enough to get me to race day in peak fitness and healthy (and who can now coach you through our training plans!). And a lot of that was working with my strength coach Drew, who made me strong enough in the weight room to handle the stress I was putting on my body.
But as you know, 12 weeks ago, I stopped running.
On a mission to get my menstrual cycles and my health back. I can officially say, mission accomplished. My body is fully functioning, and I without a shadow of a doubt know that I made the right choice by saying goodbye to running and going all in with the principles of No Period? Now What.
However, even though I knew I would stop running as long as I needed to, at some point, I would go back to it, and that curiosity had been steadily growing over the last few weeks.
Last week, as a celebration for my body being in a good place, and knowing it is at a healthy, happy weight for my body (15lbs heavier than I was before!), I thought it would be nice to go out for a short, easy run.
To make sure I didn’t overdo it, and scare my body, I was sure to keep my heart rate around my MAF heart rate (read more about what that is, here) and I had the heart rate only on the screen. I didn’t want to know how fast I was going, as I didn’t want any chance of that sucking the appreciation out of this run.
My husband was with me, and he would tell me when to start heading home, and I would run for however long I felt like, expecting it to be about 3 miles or 30 minutes, whichever came first.
So off we went.
In my head, I had envisioned a giant smile on my face the entire time, cherishing every second. Sure, I would be moving slower than before, and maybe a little stiffer due to the muscles that had laid dormant for 2.5 months, but I thought it would be a great experience, and how special to run it with my husband.
Instead, I was shocked how quickly my heart rate jumped to 170, sloooooowww down, Tina.
I had to really concentrate on my running form. My calves were hurting on both sides. My hip flexor felt tight. I felt flustered and frustrated.
This was not how it was supposed to be!
I knew I would have lost a lot. I know the 26.2 miles at sub 6:00 per mile pace is long gone (for now), and I was fine with that, but it was how bad I felt that made it uncomfortable.
I was going easy enough to breathe through my nose the entire time, yet running still didn’t feel good.
As I slowed to a walk, almost exactly 30 minutes (guess my internal clock is still right on!), I felt the endorphin rush flood my body, and I felt a sense of pride. A giant happiness of how far I had come. Sure my fitness had gone backwards. Sure I wondered if I would ever be fit again, but I was proud of sacrificing all that for something I knew was right, and now, I could slowly start incorporating it back into my life.
Nothing crazy, a few times a week, 30-45 minutes, but it would be bringing back the sport I loved. There is a lot about it I had missed.
My pace ended up being 10:21 for that day, and I felt strangely at peace with it. I didn’t care if that was my pace for the rest of the year, that wasn’t that part that bothered me, just how bad my body felt. I put it down to just being rusty.
Over the next few days, I looked forward to my next one, getting the itch back again. Three days later, I did do another one, once again, no pace on my Garmin, just heart rate.
This time I ran for 40 minutes, but once again, my calves were tight and my body felt uncoordinated and uncomfortable.
My breathing, always my weakness when I was training hard, was very calm, once again, breathing through my nose the entire time, but my joints just felt bad.
This time my pace was slightly slower, but I was keeping my heart rate very low, which was my goal for the day.
I started to wonder about how long it takes to get in shape. Not even for the running fast aspect, but just for running to feel good, for running to get easier.
After all these years, I finally understand what it means to say that. I know that my 10-11 minute pace is still cranking for many runners, and I hope you understand how relative running is. I used to run 26.2 miles at under 6:00 minutes per mile, and now I am running 10:30 minutes per mile for no more than 4 miles.
I know this is experience is going to make me a better mentor, a better person to the Running For Real Community as I continue to let my body tell me what it is ready for, and I will continue to share how this journey is going, now I have brought myself down to any other person who is starting from scratch (well, almost).
The road ahead is not going to be easy. The road ahead is not going to involve any hard training for a while, but the road ahead will be one that I will learn more about myself than I ever did training for a race.
How long does it take to get fit?
Well, that depends a lot on what you define fit as.
For me, that will be 3-4 runs a week of 5-6 miles, feeling GOOD.
Let’s see how long that takes…