The “Couch Potato Gene” vs. The Courage to Start

On my jog this morning, I listened to the Competitor Radio podcast interview with David Epstein.  David is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated whose latest book release is titled “The Sports Gene”.  During the interview, he surmises that some gifted athlete’s have a natural talent that no amount of training, dedication or willpower can ever equal.  And then he jokingly discusses the “couch potato gene”.  It’s not that couch potatoes can not be athletes; it’s just that, because of the way they are genetically programmed, they will need to work harder than everyone else to be in shape.

As a back-of-the-packer, this makes so much sense!  No matter how good I feel after I work out, no matter how I desire to be in shape, no matter how much I can quote the benefits of exercise…getting out the door remains a constant struggle.  If I don’t have a half-marathon that I’m training for, life intervenes and exercise is shoved down on the priority list.  It is a constant, frustrating battle.

Exercise has not been, nor will it ever be, easy for me. I find it immensely frustrating when new runners and non-runners leave me in the dust in spite of my being fairly dedicated to training for several years now.  And… I won’t even mention my reaction to the young business man in the suit, tie and dress shoes that passed me by in a blur, not even breaking a sweat, while I huffed and puffed at a turtle’s pace.

One of the tricks that keeps me going is keeping the John Bingham quote handy: “The miracle is not that I finished.  The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”  Three years ago, months before I actually took the first physical step, I had been reading about running, wanting to run, preparing myself to run – but too self-conscious to jog out the door.  I discovered John Bingham through his Penguin Chronicles in Runner’s World Magazine.  Then I received his book, The Courage to Start”, as a Christmas present.  The John Bingham quote was one of the things that got me started on my journey.  For us couch potatoes, this book is truly inspirational and should be required reading for every new, recreational and slow runner.

I still rely on the Penguin’s quote when I am feeling overwhelmed and tired, when I’m feeling as if I’m a running fraud (“well, I’m really slow” or “I take a lot of walk breaks”), If I’m feeling that my slow pace should exempt me from belonging to the running community, or if I’m feeling as if I’m starting to come up with too many excuses as to why I can’t run (“darn, too busy”).  

The quote got this non-athlete out the door.  It pushed me to download the Couch to 5K app.  It gave me the courage to press the “proceed to check out” button as my finger hovered uncertainly while I was registering for my first half-marathon.

Keep looking for me at the back-of-the-pack! I’ll be the one doing battle with the “couch potato gene”.   But watch out!  It may get ugly.  

Keep (slow) running! – Marji

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Back to the Basics – Couch to 5K

3 years ago, after standing on the street corner watching waves of marathoners go by while cheering on an acquaintance, I was so caught up in the moment that I decided I would try to run.  I initially didn’t tell a soul (…not even my supportive husband).  I felt self-conscious about not having a runner’s body and did not have faith in my ability to follow through.

The thing is, I’ve never been athletic.  Thoughts of running dredged up the old middle and high school feelings of always being picked last on the team, never being able to keep up with the crowd.  But, for some reason, I felt an almost embarrassed compulsion to start.  Must have been the shiny bling fogging up my brain!

Now, it’s been said that running is the easiest and least expensive of all sports – just throw on a pair of tennis shoes and shorts and head out the door.  (Ha….LOL….But that’s the subject for another blog!)  But I did invest in one product – the Couch to 5K App.  Truthfully, I don’t know if I would still be on this journey 3 years later if it wasn’t for my iPhone and gadgetry!  

For those who don’t know, the Couch to 5K (and now the 10K and Half-Marathon options as well) are a good introduction to running.  The app guides you through alternating sessions of walking and running with a warm-up and cool-down included.  Each week gradually increases the time spent running and reduces the time of the walk breaks.  This is a nice, gentle introduction to running that builds up tolerance slowly and reduces the risk of injury from starting too fast.

So I put on my old shoes, the baggiest sweat pants I could find to camouflage my hips, and away I went!  Those first 90 seconds of running…. oh, my, …. I would count down every second.  Sometimes I even walked through a few of the run sessions, needing additional time to catch my breath.  I’d do the same week several times in a row until I was able to move on.  But I gradually got better.  I don’t think I ever completed the entire 8 week protocol.  But I do remember following one session, 4-5 weeks into the program, that I was able to brag at breakfast that I had just completed 15 minutes straight jogging!  This may not seem like much to most people but for me it was a definite milestone and ego booster.  That was probably the time that I seriously started thinking about signing up for my first half.  And the Couch to 5K (or C25K) fell by the wayside as I started to train in other ways.

So, now that I’ve been poked and prodded and scanned and have learned that there is no medical reason for my poor endurance (Take that, Asthma!), it is time to make a game-plan to see if I can improve my running ability.  I’ll never be fast.  But I would like to get better.  Time to get back to the basics.

Fast forward to today…. I have downloaded the C25K App once again. This morning I started back at the beginning with Week 1.  During these first weeks, I’m going to push through the running segments, almost, but not quite, sprinting.  I’m also going to really try to focus on proper  running form.  I figure it will be about Week 4 that I will need to slow down.  Week 5 or Week 6 will likely become challenging.  Seems like after 3 years of walking/running that I should be able to do more, but I’m a back-of-the-packer and will always be a back-of-the-packer.  I’m just curious to see where I can go from here.

Anyone out there up for the challenge?  Let me know!  Happy Running! Marji

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(I’ve seen this posted on Twitter and Facebook multiple times.  It’s a good graphic.  Unfortunately, no source was given.)

 

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Endurance Questions – Unanswered

Yes, I’m a slow runner.  And I’m proud of that.  Even though it takes me awhile to cross the finish line, I’m persistent enough (or bull-headed enough, if you ask my sisters) to get there.

But, in spite of truly believing that being a slow runner is better than not being a runner at all, I’m here to tell you that it can really suck at times.  As slow runners, we experience depleted recovery refreshments; wrong size finisher’s shirts (even though we register our size early in the process); staff and volunteers showing impatience to pack up their stations.  And, honestly, I’m still upset about not receiving a tiara several years ago during the Honolulu Diva race (even though I’m not the princessy type… hey, I payed for that bling, just like everybody else!).

Although the vast majority of the running community is kind to and supportive of us slowbies, I’ve had a faster runner physically push me aside while making snarky comments about the race course being cluttered with slower participants.  And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve overheard conversations like, “I’m so slow, I’m only running 10 minute miles.”   So frustrating to hear when my all-time record is a 10 1/2 minute mile during the State Street Mile.  One Mile.  Downhill.  All out.

So, even though I’m okay with being a slow runner, I recently decided to try to figure out why I’m so slow.  Is it possible that my history of asthma is responsible?  Is there anything I should be doing differently?  I spoke with my physician who referred me to a pulmonologist.  Over the last several weeks, both my lungs and my heart have been scanned.  I’ve sat in a clear, sealed telephone-style booth and breathed into gadgets while the volume of the input and the output of my lungs was measured.  I performed one of those bicycle tests with electrodes everywhere and an oxygen meter on my finger and a mask over my face.

Got the good news today.  After a thorough and extensive (and expensive) work-up, all systems are looking great.  All the tests show I’m performing as well as others in my age group.  The pulmonologist says that he can’t give me an answer as to why my endurance is so bad.   The recommendation: if running is important to me, maybe I should hire a personal trainer and do some sprints?

So, my questions go unanswered.  Why do I poop out after running a half mile when I’ve been training for about 3 years now?  Shouldn’t I be able to run at least a mile straight?  Why do people who appear to be more out of shape than I am and who appear to be much older than I am pass me by as if I am standing still?

Although I’m thrilled that my almost 50 year-old body is holding up, I’m still at the back of the pack.  And, in spite of the earlier rant, I’m still okay with that.

Mostly.

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So, keep on (slow) running!

Marji

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My View of Recreational Running

3 years ago I recall standing on a street corner to cheer on my son’s teacher.  His teacher was running a marathon with her father in honor of her brother who had recently passed away.  While standing on that corner, I felt all of my stereotypes of runners being stripped away one by one.  To my utter amazement, the streams of people passing by were not all the young, super fit, anorexic with 2% body fat athletes I had expected to see.  No… these weekend warriors were the average Joe – people of all ages, shapes, sizes and speeds.  Never having been athletic myself, I felt an unexpected excitement and envy at the clang of the cowbells and the unconditional support given by strangers to the weary passing them by.

I recall turning to my husband and saying, “I want to do this some day.”  And my journey began in that exact moment that he took my statement seriously and did not fall down to the ground rolling with uncontrollable laughter.

I’ve been running, jogging, shuffling and walking my way through half-marathons since.  This has mostly been a solo journey for me.  Attempting to run with others, with friends, with family, or during a short-lived Team-in-Training attempt, bring back too many vivid memories of PE at school, of always being the slowest or the last picked on the team.   I find comfort in setting my own slow pace.  And yet I feel a camaraderie that can only be experienced by those who have trained for and are participating in an event such as this.

When people discover that I’m training, I find myself discounting my attempts.  Yes, I’m training for a half marathon… but I’m slow, but I’m usually one of the last to cross the finish line, but I walked most of the distance.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to qualify my accomplishments.  Perhaps it is because running is the only sport in which the professionals, the elites, and the everyday riff-raff all participate on the same course.  So, I make sure that others know that my ego is not big enough to consider myself to be a “real runner”; that I know my place.

What is surprising to me is that I only now, 3 years later, have discovered the term “recreational runner”.  What a relief!  There is a whole group of runners out there that are running for fun, for personal accomplishment, to improve their health, for the social aspects.  They are not running for time records, or to qualify for Boston, or to win.  These are the runners whose only goal is to cross the finish line before the course closes.  These are the runners who, like me, may jiggle a bit as they jog.  These are the runners that make an event of the race, wear the costumes, dress alike as a group, have cute slogans on their t-shirts, or are celebrating a milestone birthday.

With these people, I stand at the back-of-the-pack.  We provide encouragement to each other, tell each other that we can finish in the allotted time, swap stories about training.  These are my sole-sisters (pun intended; and, yes, generally women as I very carefully choose mostly female-centric races that are likely to have fewer die-hard, aggressive runners, the “real” runners that intimidate me).

While writing this blog, I searched unsuccessfully to discover the definition of recreational runners versus competitive runners.  Unless you are one of the elite who is able to make money running, the line may blur for the faster runners. It truly becomes a matter of attitude, competition and goals.

So, I decided to define recreational runners in my own terms:  those who understand the need to stop and take a picture at every single mile marker to commemorate this amazing journey.

Happy Recreational Running! Marji

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Dumbo Double Dare – Disneyland Half Marathon (Part 2)

This blog could also be titled Staying 1 Step Ahead of the Disney Sweepers!  11 Minutes ahead, to be exact. At least, that was the timing being called out at about the halfway point.  If I had been in Corral G instead of Corral F, it would have been a very close call.  Seeing all the sweeping buses lined up after leaving Angel’s Stadium certainly put an extra zip to my steps.

It was obvious that a good time was being had by most.  The heat affected us all, and I think the medics were probably working overtime.  There were quite a few costumes although not as many as the 10K.  I believe the runners took the half marathon a bit more seriously (and rightfully so).  But, it was a Disney race, and the mood was quite supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (defined by google as an informal adjective meaning extraordinarily fine, wonderful).

As with any Disney race, the course winding it’s way through the parks and the opportunities to take pictures with characters are a blast!  And running through the Castle is always a highlight!  At mile 2, the course paralleled mile 12, and us late starters had the opportunity to see the soon-to-be winner zoom past us.  Rallying us on somewhere around mile 8 and 9 was a classic car party with Beach Boy music and old-fashioned horns honking.  Sprinting through Angel Stadium not only gives a much needed boost at mile 9.5, but makes you feel like a superstar as you run onto the field with row upon row of scouting troops screaming for you.  And seeing your picture flashed on the Jumbotron! – well, it just has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.   Deserving a good chuckle, close to mile 11, was the sign that read “$175 For A Half-Marathon?  Smile.  Only $37.40 To Go.”  And throughout the course, the cheerleaders and dance teams representing local schools provided energy galore.   Sometimes the crowds, the characters, the environment are what get you through the miles.

But even with all of the above, sometimes the focus in completing a half marathon needs to be more internal –  you and your thoughts and just putting one step in front of the other.  Whether it was the worry of finishing in the allotted time, of wondering if the back-to-back races would be too much for this non-athletic body, of knowing that my husband was concerned about the heat (he was absolutely convinced throughout the entire weekend that I wouldn’t hydrate enough and that I would  be hospitalized for heatstroke), or perhaps just my mood upon waking on that Sunday morning… for me, this happened to be a more privately-focused race.  Because of that, I’m sure there were many amazing events that I overlooked.

However, a few Back-of-the-Pack moments do stand out:   the two sisters walking together with matching shirts and sparkly skirts – “A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”  (Particularly poignant for me because my sister, my Alice in Wonderland, had just texted me that she wished she could be there with me). Or the mature woman with the cute warning on her back – “Caution: Slow Runner.  Pass on Left.”   But very best of all, after collecting my medals, taking my pictures and walking back towards the hotel, was watching the last few runners coming into the chute towards the finishing line.  Those who had used up everything they had over the last 3 hours and 45 minutes to get to mile 13.  The one that made a huge impression on me (and I’m really hoping that RunDisney got some video) was an elderly gentleman, supported by his daughter, surrounded by race staff on bicycles, literally stumbling his way the last 10th of a mile, DETERMINED to complete the race at all costs.  An inspiration to us all.  I’m sure that moment in time will be engraved on his daughter’s heart forever.

We all run for different reasons, with different motivations.  Disney races give us the opportunity to play with a sport that can often be taken too seriously.  They provide us with the opportunity to try to do something larger than ourselves that we might be intimidated to do in another setting.

2 Races, 2 Days, 19.3 Magical Miles.

And, best of all, I avoided the sweepers!

All the best, ImageMarji

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Dumbo Double Dare – 10K (Part 1)

Today was Part 1 of the Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare.  6.2 Magical Miles in the heat and humidity of Anaheim through California Adventure and Disneyland Park.  80 degrees this morning at 5:00 AM!  Tomorrow is Part 2, the Half Marathon.  Supposed to be about 10 degrees cooler.  One can only hope!  By this time tomorrow, I will have completed a total of 19.3 miles and come home 3 pieces of bling richer (assuming I can stay ahead of the sweepers – today would have been a close call)!

Some of the best back-of-the-pack moments during the 10K?  A 40ish year-old woman holding her mom’s arm while they walked the race together, her head tilted toward mom and offering encouragement.  The 10ish year-old girl walking with arm crutches stopping to take a picture of her mom.  The determined-looking woman with a bowed left leg that wanted to collapse with every step.  Many couples of all ages running or walking together with one providing the emotional support the other needed to keep going.  Those walking or running with memory ribbons, most with one or two, but at least one carrying a heavy burden multiple ribbons pinned on her shirt.  And those who were not obvious runners and one can only imagine the personal reasons they have taken on this journey: changing a less-than-healthy life-style; perhaps signing up on a dare; completing a new year’s resolution; or running to ease a loss.

And, of course, there were the fun moments. So many colorful and creative costumes today!  Most of these costumes were based on the race theme of Alice in Wonderland.  One Mad Hatter was particularly handsome!  However, the Superman & Superwoman couple were also quite magnificent.  How people are able to run in these costumes is beyond me (I can’t even stand sleeves on my running shirt); but I’m very glad that they do!  It makes the course all the more fun.  And the course signs!  The award goes to: “Run Away from Twerking Miley!”  Several of the Disney references were pretty good too, such as the Little Mermaid’s: “I wanna see you runnin’ on…., oh yeah, feet!”  And the miniature cow in the Disney back lot – so cute!  The Disney races are the ones that I really do wish I was a bit faster so I could stop and take pictures.  But I don’t – don’t want to risk those sweepers!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the Disneyland Half is like tomorrow.  Please take a moment to share any back-of-the-pack stories and encouragement you may have.

Taking on 13.1,

Marji

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10 Weeks to Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare

Today is my first day back to running after a break of about a month.  I didnʻt mean to take that long of a break – life just got in the way.  But now I have to be uber-dedicated to the next 10 weeks of training as the Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare is looming on the horizon.

The Inaugural Disneyland 10K is on Saturday (August 31), followed by the Disneyland Half Marathon on Sunday (September 1).  This should be quite the event!  My husband encouraged me to sign up for this weekend event when I was in shape (well, as good in shape as I get) for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon.  Now I just have to get back to my 15 minute pace so I wonʻt get picked up by the Van of Shame that scoops up all of us slower runners if we struggle to maintain the pacing requirement.  It hasnʻt happened to me yet…. but during the Disney World Princess Half Marathon, it was a near thing.  I looked to the course behind me (as we ran over the clover leaf right before entering Epcot) and those sweepers were too close for comfort!

So, 10 weeks to go!  I am out of recreational running shape.  I am on vacation.  And I am back in training!  Being the slow runner that I am, I resumed my training with a 2 miler at about a 15 1/2 minute pace.  2 minute jogs interspersed with 1 minute of walking.  And, since I am on Kauai, I needed to take a few photo breaks as well! And a brief stop to pick up some Kauai sea glass!  40 minutes total for my 2 leisurely miles.   I certainly didnʻt set any speed records – even for me!  The weather is much more humid and warm than I am accustomed to but the setting is gorgeous.  So I took it extra slow!

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So, fellow recreational runners, slow joggers, those performing running events for reasons other than fitness, and those worried about being swept – time to get our run on!

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