Running: 0 to 5K, in 4 years!
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How many times you have seen someone running around near your office/park/home and told yourself "I want to be this guy/gal". Me too. But you are still not that guy/gal. This post is an honest account of me turning from someone wanting to be "that guy" to "that guy". The only twist is, it did not happen over an 8-week program and by running at least 3 times a week. It happened over 4 years. Yes, it took me 4 years before I could run a full 5K! I consider myself to be an average person with not-so-strong body type and if could do it, anyone can.
There is only one key: perseverance (and discipline, make that two).
4 years for 5K is nothing to talk about, but this is for many people who start and then get disappointed because they could not keep up with the program or others with whom they were running. 3 times a week and 8-week program would not work for everyone. Even if one manages to run 3 times a week, he/she may still not run 5K in the 8th week. Everybody is different, one needs to understand this and tweak things accordingly. When I say things, there are many which I will talk about below.
Like everything else in life, running is hard too. Everyone is different and it is okay to take more than 8 weeks. It took me more time, much more than 8 weeks. Few important things though:
- I ran 5-6 months a year only and did not run during colder months (Oct-Mar).
- For the first couple of years, I could not run 3 times a week.
- I can now run 5K at will and can run 10K as well.
- Running a 10K burns 1000 calories at least for me.
- My best 1K time is 5:05 mins. (Still not worth my salt :-) )
- My best 5K time is just under 31 mins, while best 10K time is 73 mins.
Running a certain KM or with certain speed is a false start. An honest and more realistic goal is to become more active, fit and moving. Running helps you with that. Whether you turn into a fat burning machine depends on how much you can run and how often taking into account what you eat and how much.
If you are still interested, read on.
Everyone has different motivation depending on their personal circumstances. Many of them could be:
- I am X kg if I run I could lose several kilos quickly. (The Fat burning machine!)
- I want to become 'that' guy/gal.
- I want to join colleagues/friends/partner/ex on their runs.
- I want to become active, fit.
And much more. For me, it was a combination of everything above. I always wanted to be 'that' guy who runs in this attractive Nike/Adidas clothing with the latest shoes and other gadgets like headphones, shoulder straps, and even water bottles. I liked the sweaty faces that tell you a story of hard work, endurance, and supreme fitness. I always wondered if I could run for 2, 3 or even 5 KMs.
In 2012, I thought of giving it a try. The results were highly disappointing:
- I could not 'run' (in reality, would have been more like a jog to onlookers) for more than 15-20 seconds.
- I would breathe as if I was climbing a mountain. I could not breathe through my nose for long.
- I thought my shoes were not right.
- The front bone of my legs would feel like tearing apart.
This after the fact that I could walk for several kilometers fine. I like walking and have walked 4-5 KM daily for the most part of my life. I was not overweight, weighing 72 KG with a height of 5 feet 8 inches.
I decided to address one thing I could quickly fix; buy a new pair of shoes. And this was what I bought, a Nike Free 5.0.
That brings us to a key question: Do Running shoes really matter and make a difference?
Do running shoes really matter?
There are a countless number of shoes and countless numbers of sites, blogs and articles advising which ones are the best running shoes. They would even go into details for men and women separately. Shoes are important to the extent that they reduce the impact on your legs and knees while you run. From personal experience, it is equally important that you feel comfortable in them. I have used below different shoes over the years:
- Nike Air Pegasus (2010 Edition)
- Nike Free 5.0 (2013 Edition)
- Nike Free 5.0 (2014 Edition)
- Adidas Supernova Glide 7 (2015 Edition)
- Adidas Ultraboost (2016 Edition)
The general guidance around buying the best shoes for running are:
- Find your running style based on pronation
- People get this analyzed in store as well.
- Buy a shoe based on this analysis.
- show buying advice would go on into details like:
- If you are a beginner, intermediate or expert runner
- How much you run each week
- If you run half/full marathons
- Company/Brand preference
- Recommendation and choices if you are into barefoot running etc.
Personally, for me, weight and comfort are the two most important factors. And the price, obviously.
Pronation based advice may not work for everyone. The amount of cushioning used for all three types of pronation is different and one may not find those shoes comfortable. Based on my analysis (this was after I could run 1.5-2 KM in one go) I was recommended a Nike LunarGlide and I found it very tight, rigid and non-responsive.
I prefer a shoe in which there is enough space for my feet to move. My feet should be able to move sideways or slightly to the front when needed, that is why I never liked running in my Nike Air Pegasus. I bought those for general walking without doing any research. You would need to try different shoes before you could tell which one you feel most comfortable in.
I kind of liked the idea and concept behind barefoot running and minimalist shoe and that is why I went with Nike Free 5.0. The number in Free, 3.0/4.0/5.0, signifies the thickness of the sole in the shoe. 3.0 is the most minimal Nike Free shoe. I got lucky with this first researched purchase, I liked running in them. First bought these in 2013 and continued with them till 2015.
Shoes are important and one should invest in a good one based on personal preference. I would not recommend spending too much (>70-90 £) if you are trying/learning to run. I have found over the years that the sole and cushioning becomes weaker over time and would recommend anyone running regularly to:
- Change shoes often depending on how much you run. Mostly between 1-2 years.
- Not to use your running shoes for general use.
Now that we know what to look for when buying shoes, we come to another important question.
Would a good running shoe make you run better or faster?
The answer is no. The answer becomes yes only if you are an experienced runner doing half/full marathons. At that level you would need all the support you can get and a better shoe can make that difference. For a beginner, even the best available shoe would not make you better or faster.
As a beginner, your goal should never be running faster. Your goal should be one and only one: Keep Moving.
Good shoes would help you with preventing and reducing chances of injury. It would also help in reducing stress on legs thus allowing you to run longer and farther. It would not make you faster by just wearing them. Running faster and better depends on several things:
- How you land. A front to midsole landing is the safest. A back foot landing would invite a lot of pain (especially on knees and back) and increased chances of injury or problems.
- How light you are while running. Lighter steps would make you move faster with less impact and stress on legs.
- Your posture. An ideal posture may vary from person to person but a good one is where you are slightly slanted and your upper body/chest remains ahead than your legs when you run.
- Strength in your leg muscles.
- Your general fitness level.
Okay, so we know a thing or two about shoes now, How do we run? How do we get to 5K?
How do I start running?
Before you can run, you must be comfortable walking several kilometers in one go. Depending on your body type, check and decide how much you can walk. If you could do 3-5 KM without much trouble you can start thinking about taking on running. But if you struggle to walk then walking is something you should do first. Walking every day would help you reduce some weight as well (provided you control your diet and reduce processed carbs intake). Once you are lighter, take on running. Again, each body is unique and different. If you feel you can carry your body weight fine, you can try running.
Between 2012 and 2016, with personal experience and some reading online I believe these are important to know before one takes running seriously:
- Starting small
- Only target: keep moving
- Walk Breaks
- Correct Posture
- Route where one runs
I also started using an app that would provide clues for running and then walking, then running and so on.
Here is a sample of one my first runs:
As you can see, out of 34 mins, only 9 mins are for running. If i remember correctly there was 1 min run with 2 mins walk to begin with. Sounds too easy, but this worked like magic in longer run.
It is very easy to get carried away when starting to run. You read on internet things like:
- One needs to run 3 times a week.
- One can run 5K in 8 weeks.
- Any runner worth his/her salt, can run 5K in 30 mins or can run 1K in less than 5 mins.
One can start following these bits of advice and soon discover that none of this is doable. Especially statements like "worth his/her salt" make one discouraged.
I tried running for several minutes in the beginning and failed miserably. I just could not. And after my first min or two, the only thing I could manage was to walk. Setting a target of running for 15 seconds or 30 seconds, in the beginning, is more realistic. Use any of the running apps and they would have such a run/walk session.
Each person has a different recovery cycle. Once you start to run, you would discover that you have trouble walking/running again next day. For some people, recovery of broken muscles happens in a day for some it may take even 3-4 days. I found out, after several painful 3 times a week trials, that my recovery time is about 2.5-3 days. I could not run well on the 2nd day after my run. So I could not do 3 times a week schedule, ever. Learnt that the hard way.
You should run as much as you can. Try to find a recovery time for your legs. But run with some regularity. It is fine to run 2 times a week.
Only target: keep moving
Setting a goal for time, distance and/or speed is getting yourself into negativity. For beginners, the only target should be to keep moving. Keep moving based on certain criteria: either for a fixed time, however small and slow or for a fixed distance however small and slow. The idea is to build endurance first, to teach muscles to take the pain and become stronger over time.
Keep moving many times would feel like stretching it when you see people walk past you. Keep going until your set goal for time or distance. I did it so many times, some of my initial runs have super slow times even with breaks. I understood that my legs and muscle were weak and I need to work on them so they become better.
One of the most important things, in the beginning, is to take breaks while learning to run. All the running Apps do an excellent job in helping with that.
It is only after starting to use a running app, I truly realized the importance of running-walking-running. It builds stamina. One of the apps had this 8-week program and it started with 30 seconds runs with 1 mins walks! This start and stop actually help build strength.
Another important aspect of running for a longer period of time is getting your posture correct. Too straight or leaning too much forward could lead to unwanted pressures on legs, back, waist, shoulders, heels and many different parts. Initially, I ran with a too straight posture and had severe back pain during and after the run.
After several runs and some research online, I found out that I ran my best and most relaxed if I put upper body slightly leaning and use soft landing consciously. Also, keeping my hands, fist, shoulders relaxed helped as well.
When I started running, I concentrated on breathing from the nose And I ran out of oxygen very quickly. I had irritation in my nose just after few seconds. I switched to breathing continuously from the mouth while running and it helped. Also, building a rhythm in taking steps and breathing in/out impacted how well I ran.
In fact, breathing in a good consistent rhythm is key to running for a long period of time. Breathing too fast/slow or intermittent bursts of taking too much air would slow you down.
Exhaling air through the mouth from time to time also helped me relax during a run.
Some of the advice one gets online is to run on grass and not roads/pavements. Running on grass reduces the impact on the knees and prevents injury. It may very well be true. As always, each individual would not find running on grass easy or enjoyable. Or you may not even find enough grass to run on!
But your running route would impact your running. Uphills/Downhills or with many curves would require you to adjust your speed, posture, and speed. I started with flat surfaces and after I could do a 5K moved to a park where there was a nice mix of uphill, downhill and flat surfaces.
Problems during/after a run
There are several pains, soreness, irritations that may occur during or after a run. Some of the common things I have had are:
- Heavy and sore shoulders
- Sore Neck
- Back pain
- Knee pain
- General leg muscle pain
and much more. In general, most of this is down to two things:
- your running posture
- your overall fitness
Running is a full body exercise. It is natural to have some pains all over the body after a long run. Even during a shorter run for a beginner, one would have soreness, aches. I got over most of it by correcting my posture over time and some by improving my overall fitness. One good example is cramps. I used to have cramps in my left leg whenever I tried running for more than 10 mins, in 2014-2015. From 2015 end, I started playing squash once or twice a week. And this, I guess, improved my fitness a lot and I do not have cramps anymore. Not at least for 5Ks. I may have this odd cramp if I am running a 10K.
But if one searches for cramps and its remedies, one would get medicins, supplements and what not. some of which I took as well. Like isotonic drinks. For me, it never worked. The only thing that seemed to have worked is doing a different type of exercise.
Going to the gym, joining a sport would have an overall positive impact on how well you run. If your back, neck, shoulders are used to a lot of stress, you would not have much trouble during or after a long run.
Why it took 4 years?
I was not regular during winter months and I did not give much importance to my general fitness. So each year I would regress a bit from where I was last year and would need to start again. It happened for 2014 and 2015. In 2016 I could move faster and actually ran my first 5K in only the first few runs of the year. Playing squash throughout winter is one of the main reasons behind this sustained muscle strength, I guess.
Could it been quicker?
It could have definitely been. I did a lot of repetition for time, speed and distance for the first 2 years. I was not regular and did not keep some form of exercise going all year around.
There is no silver bullet/magic wand to any success in life. You need to work hard, be systematic and scientific. Accept failure and continue to work. It may get depressing at times but keep going.
I remember going for a run for the 3rd time (or even 2nd time) a week and I could not run after first 2 mins. My legs would just not move. I would have pain, niggle and everything else. I used to stopped running and used to walk instead!
There were times when
- I would have cramps after 10 mins
- My legs would just give up after 3 KMs
- I would have irritation in my lungs
- I would be too slow to even call it a run
All such times, I would have to stop running midway. And try again next time.
Keep going, keep on doing it again and again and again. You would get there. Be an Ant.
Hope this helps.