As a Developer and general advocate of all things 'tech', most of my my time is spent stationary at a computer. Although this time is certainly well-spent and enjoyable, it definitely isn't the best with regards to my overall physical fitness. However, with restrictions on movement and time outside starting to be lifted as the threat of Covid-19 lessens; I decided a few months ago that after weeks cooped up inside that it was a good opportunity to give running a second shot.
My first foray into the world of running was about two years ago, I'd had this same notion back then that getting into running would be a good idea since it would help keep me somewhat fit and would offer a nice alternative to my preferred walks up until that point. As such I bought a cheap top, shorts, and sports shoes just to test the waters and decided to set out on my first run.
And that was the first of what could generously be described as a series of continuous lapses in judgement:
- I went running without any water.
- The path I chose was mostly uphill.
- On mostly uneven terrain littered with rocks, broken branches, and potholes.
- I went running with headphones meaning I couldn't hear surrounding traffic.
- Headphones also meant my pacing kept getting thrown out of rhythm by my music.
- I had no knowledge of how to pace myself and so assumed running meant pushing to try sprint for the entire run.
- I went running at midday in the middle of Summer.
- On what was later recorded as the hottest day of the year.
Needless to say by the time I returned home I was having second thoughts about this whole running thing. As with any physical activity however rest is important and after the various missteps of my first run I ended up taking a short break of about a year and half before I mustered up the courage to try running again however this time I'd be better prepared…and better hydrated.
Be The Tortoise Not The Hare
I decided for my second attempt that I would be just a little more cautious and considerate when it came to running; this time I would go earlier on in the day when it was cooler. I also got rid of the headphones so I could listen to, and control, my own breathing and general pacing. Most importantly however, I decided to start from the bottom and work up by doing short intervals of running with longer intervals of walking, slowly aiming to swap the two around over time. Overall, a far more methodical approach that my initial attempt.
The first few days were tough, even after just a couple of minutes of running I was finding myself gasping for air and, more often than not, stitching as well. The run itself may not have been particularly pleasant but I was always glad afterwards that I had actually done it, no matter how short a run it was. I stuck with this for a couple of weeks, gradually aiming to go just another 500 metres or so each day and aiming to always follow the same route each time in order to more easily measure progress.
However when I was out one day I came to an intersection, the same intersection I'd passed by in every one of my previous runs. I'd usually carry on straight ahead but this time I turned off the route I'd followed so many times before and decided to take a different path. It wasn't until some minutes later that I realised I had made this detour not because I was wanting to shake up my run but because I felt confident enough I could handle the further distance, and then it dawned on me:
I was running. No stitching, gasping, walking; just pure, uninterrupted running.
My subsequent runs started getting longer, more varied, and my walking intervals gradually faded until I could fairly confidently run for 20+ minutes without an issue. Certainly not marathon ready but enough that I still felt a sense of accomplishment for having completed the run. I've yet to experience the supposed "runner's high" but there is still immense satisfaction to be gained from watching your progress tick up day after day.
Thinking On Your Feet
Taking time to step away from screens and focus on something else can sometimes be all it takes to sprout a new idea or sort through whatever problems you may be facing whether that be project, career-related, or otherwise.
For me, having some activity or practice where I can solely focus on searching for new ideas or expanding upon existing ones is important however I've never really had something to fill that niche consistently. Walking didn't do it, meditation just wasn't for me, and journaling never brought forth anything that revelatory.
Running does. Consistently.
Maybe it's the added strain of forcing yourself to keep moving forward, the elevated heart-rate and breathing, or maybe it's just that I enjoy running. Either way running has quickly became my go-to when some task requires an extended period of consideration.
Of course the obvious question that arises from this approach is how do I make a note of these new ideas or solutions while I'm running? Stopping to pull out my phone would defeat the purpose and yelling a voice memo as I pass-by someone seems unsociable to say the least. Instead I just hold onto the idea and start refining or expanding upon it until by the time I finish the run, it's something concrete that is ready to be put into action.
When an idea first pops up, it's usually in the form of a question, a brief what-if:
"What if I did...?",
"When I'm working on...why don't I...?",
Although I appreciate the fact an idea has presented itself, it almost certainly won't go any further if it's just hastily added to a list of notes on my phone before moving on, left as a question unanswered. That's why I take the time to really think over whatever idea grabs my attention that run. By starting to piece and pull together other ideas and concepts at the time, I can save getting home and staring at my phone wondering what was so supposedly ground-breaking to the 'running-me' of prior when I'm no longer in that same headspace.
This process of building upon an idea can also, in some lucky circumstances, lead to a feedback loop, bringing forward another new idea which only compounds the benefits.
Here's to Another 160Km
Once you've pushed past that initial barrier of "I don't want to run" and actually stepped out the front door, there comes a sort of meditation in motion; A chance to push yourself both physically and mentally and be rewarded in both. Some of what I consider my best ideas have stemmed from simply digging for things to think about while I'm running. Blog posts, project ideas, workflow solutions; all stemming from simply putting one foot in front of the other.
So here's to another 160km, I hope this post may have piqued your interest in giving running a shot or offered some small motivation if you're currently in a rut with keeping running a habit.
If running sounds like it could be something you might enjoy, consider some of the tips I've picked up while starting my running journey; however do remember:
I am in no way qualified to offer fitness advice, any advice applied is done so at your own risk.
Do your own research before going running.
- Go running without music, it's easy to get distracted and forget to measure your pace or breathing. It might feel amazing to be darting along just as the chorus to your favourite song kicks in but that careless approach can quickly lead to stitching, inconsistent breathing, and an overall poorer performance.
- Drink water before your run. This supposedly can help reduce the risk of stitches.
- Once you're more comfortable running, if you feel you're getting out of breath, instead of stopping or walking, slow your pace to more a jog for 100 metres or so until you're back in control. An issue I found early on was once I stopped to walk, it was hard to build that momentum and mindset to get back into a proper running pace back up.
With these tips in mind, good luck on starting your own running journey.