Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear new runner...


Dear New Runner,

Let me congratulate you for making the decision to run. You may have taken this decision for various reasons but the usual and most popular one of losing weight is a good reason and it will surely make this extra effort of yours fruitful. However please remember that there are no quick fix solutions and you will lose weight gradually over a period of time with sustained effort.

You have decided to run and you may have joined one of the many mushrooming running groups across the city and one day you have actually joined them for a run.Hey congratulations on getting so far!!! Make no mistake that the most important activity of a running group is simply that, "running" everything else if not related to running are avoidable diversions. Here you must keep in mind that cross training and core strengthening activities are crucial to running. By now you must be wondering at the new terms that have come up and chances are if you are in a running group you will hear many new terms with acronyms like PB, HM, FM, cadence, heel strike, ultra and so much more leaving you puzzled. You can ignore them for now, jargons are simply used by some to save time, by some others to impress and few others to really convey something.

You may have thought that running is an inexpensive sport after all what could you need apart from a pair of shoes. Then reality bites; you will come to know that “good” shoes will cost more than, well let’s say cost much more than you thought they will. Then the funny bright clothes which made you shake your head in amusement earlier; you will realize that they actually serve a purpose and so they should also join your shopping cart. Women will require a good sports bra and if you have not been told that, please look it up and do get yourself a good one. By now you may wonder if you have got them all and then you will see fellow runners having gadgets and so many other things fixed on them almost like a battle ready commando. You can actually do away with all of them including the music systems which are hazardous in traffic. You will need a bottle of water which will be called hydration (jargon again!) and since you will not normally step out without your smart phone you will have an app to track your runs which is not bad because you can track your progress.

As you join the group you may find that the group is following various plans and having joined them you would be expected to join the plan (s). It can be very intimidating for someone off the couch being informed that the others are running X, 2X, 3X kilometres and you can run as per your convenience. You may start off very enthusiastically and find that you have been left far behind and your body is simply not cooperating with you. You may have mixed feelings from embarrassment at your inadequacy or annoyance at your speed or maybe disappointment that nobody cared but it will be good for you to hold on. Many have left running for a better alternative (in their minds) simply because they were left to themselves during their first runs.

I would suggest you to first decide that running is a great choice for your end objective and I can assure you that it really is but it may not be the only one so you should check for available and feasible alternatives. Once you have decided you must decide to ignore the noise around you because it can be disorienting; by noise I mean the excessive inputs, suggestions, advice that is usually handed out to new comers by the others in the group, no matter how well intended they may be, you must realize that you are unique and you cannot simply fit into their shoes always.

You must be aware of yourself and though it sounds very far fetched, apart from your family physician, only you will know about your body the best. Once you are aware of yourself you must listen to your body carefully and discern what signals your body is giving you. Initially it may be tough but hang in there you will get there. You will have to discern the difference between lethargy and weariness, difference between pain from an injury and pain from excess activity and many more subtle signals. Once you understand these signals it will be best if you listen to them. Like I mentioned earlier you know your body the best and if your body is telling you to really stop then you should STOP despite what others around may say.

A lot of things in running are relative and you will slowly understand that age, body types, sex and the usual differences that lend themselves to stereotypes will get thrown out of the window when you lace up your shoes and hit the road. There will always be a faster, stronger person before you and a slower, weaker person behind you irrespective of their age, sex, fitness levels etc. Never forget that all these are relative, in reality your biggest competitor is yourself.  You must realize that the ideals of “Altius, Fortius, Citius” will be best served when you compete with the person in the mirror every day.

I will go back to the running plans mentioned earlier, choose a plan wisely that will work for you. I have a strong suspicion that the body types of Indians and to an extent the South Asians being different from the Caucasians require localized and more focussed plans; this can be a cause for concern since many plans available online and many leading books are by Caucasians. If you are choosing an existing plan you can take the help of an experienced runner to tailor it to your requirements.

Runners are extremely civil people and you will see unknown runners acknowledging you, even appreciating your run as you conquer the roads. They are usually willing to help out a fellow runner with support or advice and the same is expected of you too. As you run with your fellow runners you will find that there will be at least one runner who is running at the same level as you, you can tag with this running buddy and train with the buddy. Running buddies are invaluable and a good buddy relationship will help the buddies to push each other in the right way. Among other things, a run buddy will give a wakeup call to ensure that you do not miss your run. Conversations during runs are quite enjoyable and they actually can help you run further. On days when you are supposed to run at an easy pace you will know you that are running too fast when you are find that you are unable to chat with your buddy beside you. 

As the days progress you will notice that you are running further, faster and stronger than earlier, you will know that you are on the right path towards your objective. I would like to offer you a suggestion that though it is common and fashionable to discuss how much you ran in terms of mileage, it will be better to focus on the amount of time that was spent running. Leaving aside the very important warm ups and cool downs the time on the road can be 40 minutes (with the distance being incidental to achieve optimum results) for regular runs, for the LSD (long slow distance run in case you are wondering) this can be around 90 minutes. As the days progress you will notice how much you are doing in the same time and how much you have improved over the days.

Remember to warm up and cool down every time, make time for strength training exercises and cross training which can be any other physical activity that you will like to do. Please run against the traffic; this is safe especially in the dawn hours, safe from vehicles and miscreants, run with company and have a whistle on hand if possible for any emergencies to attract attention. Keep your ICE (In case of Emergency) number on you along with other crucial relevant data. Be aware of the things around you and this is why music while running can be a distraction but it is a personal preference. If you feel discomfort at any point it will be good to pull over and assess yourself, drink water, rest and if all is well continue; if you feel that all is not well take an auto to your home or your doctor. It is good therefore to keep some spare cash on you for such emergencies.

The most important trick is ensure that everything is done in moderation so that you do not fall into the trap of boredom or monotony. Above all never let a day pass when you felt that running was not enjoyable. It is the joy of running that still makes so many to wake up at unearthly hours usually forgoing social outings the previous night, lace up their shoes and hit the roads every day. Running will give you a high; it is not the thrill of finishing a race with a new personal best, this is a temporary high that will quickly fade away but the high when you feel at the moment during the run when your self-awareness increases, your mind becomes uncluttered, you become one with nature and the milestones pass by in a blur. That feeling cannot be explained only experienced.

Once you have understood that the objective is now incidental and the secret lies in the journey towards the end, you will be a true runner. Then you will know that the weight loss and other benefits are like the cherries on the cake that you are relishing. By now you may wonder why I am writing this and what qualifies me to hand out some more unsolicited advice I warned you earlier, I am unqualified but having started out in the journey of running a few months earlier I am a little more experienced to share what I have done. Some runners shared their experiences to me and I am just continuing the chain and I know you will too.

Best wishes and happy running.                                                              
                                                                                                            P.S. From my other runner friends :
- never compromise on your rest, the body needs rest and a break from running may actually be good provided you get back soon.
- do not overdo your running, take breaks, 3 runs a week should suffice in most cases
- be selective in the races you sign up


Monday, June 29, 2015

Happy Feet



Yesterday I became another year older and hopefully a little wiser than the same time last year. Yesterday was also the second day of my restarted running journey after a long break. Running has given me a lot in the last 12 months and the break managed to undo some of the good; therefore it was good to get back.

I run because it is therapeutic almost meditative, a run can start off with self- doubts, negative thoughts, some aches and pains but slowly the body starts cooperating with the will and after some time the mind takes over and the body starts to move in auto pilot mode. I run early in the morning when the clean air and the cool breeze helps to get into this state faster though sometimes the sapping humidity can delay it. This state when I feel I am in “the zone” helps me to think clearly after I manage to empty my mind of its clutter. I meditate at times, plan my day or just soak in the moment while burning calories and holding a conversation with the fellow runners.

The fellow runners watch out for you and help to go a little bit more than when you run alone. It is fun to run with a group but it must be remembered that even with a group you still run alone. The rapid growth of running groups is a testimony to the benefits of group running. Having said that there are pitfalls of running in a group so new runners should proceed with some care. One size will not fit all, in some groups the standard template is extended to all which can be as comfortable as an ill-fitting shoe.

People feel that the high they get after finishing a race keeps them going and maybe it is true for many but for me it is the process the journey that helps in getting to the finish. The timing, the record, the standing are all incidental if you ignore the process that went behind it. The secret is to enjoy the journey because the destination is only the cherry on the cake.

The abundance of information on running and the various schools of running can be a little intimidating for a new comer but I have learnt over the last few months that everyone is unique and it is best to listen to one’s body before one decides on a plan. I also suspect that many of the plans many not be designed for Indians as they seem to be more for the Caucasians with differing body conditions, so it is good to proceed with care gradually. To eat an elephant you can only go one mouthful at a time.

I am now in the middle of a 7x7 challenge, which means I will run 7 kilometres for 7 consecutive days. These challenges have their own set of backers and naysayers but they have worked for me and so I choose to do it. The objectives for this challenge are simple:

·         To make early rising a habit again
·         To get used to running for an hour without a break
·         To rediscover the joy of running again

It is therefore clear that every run be it an easy run, an interval run or any of the other options needs an objective that is measurable so that you can know if the objective was achieved at the end of it. The lack of an objective can kill the intended benefit.

I am happy that the journey has restarted and I aim to have fun along the way. It feels great to know that there are some runners who are also having a good time running with me.

Happy Feet, happier runners!