Not having written here for a long while, I thought I’d start with a diversion from my previous writings, into my new spare time passion: Running.
After starting work at Opera a bit over five years ago, I let my more leisurely sides prevail, and put on some weight. I went from a bit over eighty kilos to, at the worst, 106. Without exercise, I managed to lose a few of those, with the scale tipping just below a hundred. Carrying that extra weight sucks, for so many reasons – going size 32 pants to size 36 doesn’t exactly do wonders for your confidence, nor does it do wonders for your body, having aches and pains that makes you feel like 76, not 36, your body begging for mercy. My resting heart rate had risen to almost 80, and my blood pressure on my check-up, while not being dangerously high, still was higher than I had ever measured.
So, I woke up one day, honestly fearing that this life of physical inactivity would kill me prematurely, whatever “prematurely” means in this case, tomorrow or in twenty years, so I decided I needed to do something about it.
While having owned a Wii for years, with both Wii Sports, Wii Fit and EA Sports active, I didn’t really feel it provided enough workout opportunities to really burn off all that excess weight, and definitively not being a gym guy, I wanted to do something, preferably something that wouldn’t take too much time away from my other responsibilities, such as my then-to-be-born daughter.
A brief history of running
So, I bought running shoes at a half-price sale, and geared up.
I always hated running with a passion. When I was young, I avoided sports that involved great amounts of running. I quit football (that’s soccer for you americans) when I was 12, because I didn’t particularily enjoy running. I did wrestling and played volleyball.
When I served in the navy, I passed every other physical test, apart from the 3000 m. On my first attempt, I would run it in seventeen and a half minutes, feeling like a complete wreck for days afterwards, with shin splints, and leg pains everywhere. On my final try, I would improve it to just below sixteen minutes, still being wrecked afterwards.
After the navy, I absolutely refused to run. I would ride a bike for aerobic exercise, and I also started practicing taekwondo, something I enjoyed for five years, before moving away brought an end to that. After that, sports faded into the background of my life, only doing occasional exercise, with occasions becoming fewer and far between.
So, I geared up for something I had always hated with a passion, and headed out. On my first run¸ I could barely run for a few hundred metres before being terribly out of breath, taste of blood in mouth, croaking over, and generally believing I would fall over dead before I got back home. I had set a goal for the run, getting around a particular course I had set out to do, which I estimated to be between four and five km. I would run as far as I could, then walk until I felt able to run again, finishing on willpower alone, because I was truly ready to puke when I got back home. I used something like 42 minutes on that particular run.
I probably should have hated running after that first run. Yet, I didn’t. I didn’t feel like an old, beaten carpet. I went out a few days later, being able to run for longer stretches before I needed the walking breaks.
So, I kept running. Before long, I wanted variations in my run, and added a route that’s a bit over 6 km long. On my first run of that route, I used 48 minutes, being completely dead when I got back home. And I still didn’t hate it. I still didn’t have shin splints, knee pains, painful hips or back aches.
Sometime during 2009, I decided that I wanted to run the half marathon distance in this year’s Oslo Marathon, and during last winter I signed up. My girlfriend bought me entrance into Sentrumsløpet, a 10km race through the streets of Oslo. I started the race with a goal of finishing in under an hour. I finished in 53:05.
This last Sunday, I got on my shoes, pushing over twenty kg worth of toddler and stroller in front of me, on that very same route. I finished in 39 minutes, 57 seconds, looking down on my phone sometime during the run, seeing that my pace was 4 minutes 30 seconds per kilometer.
In other words; I have become a runner. I’m looking forward to the half marathon. Next, I want to finish a full marathon. My ultimate dream is to some day run a proper ultra.
One of the things I enjoy most about running, is that anyone can do it. The only thing you really need is enough clothes to not get arrested on sight. Oh, and most people will probably want shoes in addition. Not that shoes neccesarily are a requirement – Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton has finished 74 marathons barefoot, and one shod.
So, on shoes: After all these years, I think I have figured out why I hated running when I was young. Back then, during the eighties and nineties, padded stability shoes with enough cushioning for an army were all the shit, and was really all you go if you went into a chain store that happened to sell running shoes.
While some people might need that kind of shoes, I’m not one of them. Upon buying my second pair of running shoes, I went to Löplabbet, a chain of running gear specialists in Sweden and Norway. They analysed my foot, and my gait by putting me on a treadmill, filming my foot as I ran: My natural running style is to land mid/forefoot, with neutral pronation. The padded-shoe hell forced me to run in a way that was not at all natural to me, causing all of the problems I experienced back then. By dumb luck, my first new pair of running shoes was a neutral shoes that easily allowed for midfoot/forefoot strikes.
So, my current shoes
- Adidas Response Cushion 17: While the Amazon page linked speaks of heel strikes, the shoe fits the neutral foot quite well, and won’t punish you for running midfoot. These were the shoes I bought at half price, giving me a low entry fee into running.
- Mizuno Wave Ronin 2. These were the ones I got after the visit to Löplabbet. At this stage, I had decided that I wanted to have less shoe. These are, for me, a truly amazing pair of shoes: They are light, and aids my running form, forcing me to be more careful about my step. I tried a lot of other shoes at the store, both lightweight trainers and XC flats, from Nike, Saucony, and others. Some of the pairs I tried felt like running on stilts. The Mizunos just mostly felt like a gentle extension of my foot, not prohibiting in any way, and felt closer to the ground. They are still forgiving of the occasional heel strike, yet they don’t permit constant heel striking, like I sometimes tended to have at the end of longer runs.
- Vibram FiveFingers Bikila. I got these only last week. My intent with getting the Mizuno racing flats was to eventually transition to a “barefoot” shoe. These are it. I will probably write more about these shoes later, but for now, let’s just say that they are amazing to run on. The feel of the ground, and keeping the foot’s natural tendency to spread the toes on landing makes these a very comfortable experience, forcing me to run correctly. The general advise on wearing barefoot shoes is that you take a good time to transition, just starting out with a few hundred metres on your first run in this, and alternating between using these and your regular shoes. Having trained barefoot for my years of taekwondo, and having run almost exclusively in the Mizunos for some time prior, I didn’t have much of a transition: I went 2.4 km on my first run, 6.5 on my second, I have only felt gentle soreness in my calfs after the first run, and only feeling great after the second. Running in these is a whole other experience.
As for other gear: I have provided a lot of RunKeeper links here: My phone is an indispensable tool for running – I use it as an MP3 player, and I use RunKeeper to track the runs themselves, providing me with training workouts through user-defined interval programs, or running on target pace. Recently, I have also incorporated training sessions where I switch the music in favor of listening to a 180 bpm metronome, downloaded from here, to try and sync to the optimal 180 steps/footfalls per minute.
Oh, finally. That seventeen-and-a-half minute 3km from my youth. I last ran 3km in less than fifteen minutes, on a crap day, having planned to run longer. If I prepared for it, I could probably push it into something like 13 minutes now. My resting heart rate is now down to 53 bpm, and I believe it may even drop a bit further.