Photo via Athena DeCrime.
First of all, I'm talking about the couch to 5K trope, or actually quite literally my progression from my couch to running a 5K, and not the Couch To 5K ™ program. I've never used or even read Couch to 5K, I've only ever been aware of it out of the corner of my eye and had a client once who used it to run one 5K and decided that he hated running. But also I'm aware of it as a frequently recommended training program, like 5x5 for weightlifting. Sigh, I wish I could think of these snappy names. But on the other hand, snappy names are kind of the opposite of what I do and I do think there's a need for what I do even though the long shaggy dog story tends not to go viral in this 140-character world we live in.
Anyway, I sort of instinctively felt that Couch to 5K would actually be too progressed for me and then I was reading this article about how to start running, and it was like "start with a small distance, like two miles" and I was like Eff youuu, two miles is not a small distance for me >:( ughhh it's even more insidious that it gives lip service to starting small, like it wouldn't have been half as bad if it had just said start with two miles! Instead it implants in your head that two miles is small and if you can't run two miles, you can't even run a small distance—that is just evil, if you ask me.
Luckily as a trainer I have a thicker skin than most that protects me from these sorts of arrows; but also as a trainer I feel bad for all the people who are not so arrow-proof, which is why I'm poking my head back in here for a sec. Personal training is personal, really, that's largely what you pay for, like a professional bulwark against the bullshit and mixed messages about body issues that you get bombarded with, and ideally a weekly bulwark because I'm teaching you to be your own bulwark and it's a process. One blog post isn't much up against an avalanche of fitspiration, particularly as blogs are mostly dead and hardly anybody reads them. But, I felt like my one blog post should at least be out there. And it should not go without mentioning that my one blog post is personal to me; this is how it went for me and my personal circumstances, the physical and psychological condition I'm in. It's not meant to be a turnkey solution for anybody; it's only meant to be one example, perhaps a little bit of a different example, and if I only get one point across I hope it's that the right way to "get in shape" is the way that works for you.
Okay but, before all this, there was this car dealership under construction at the end of my block for, idk, a while. And they took away the bus stop at the end of my block, which meant I had to catch to bus at North and Ashland. And it's weird, but that turned the most convenient bus to the gym into THE WORST, because if I was stuck on my side of Ashland and could see the bus pulling up, I had to fight the urge to run into traffic and then be consumed with rage as I helplessly watched the bus go by. So now planning to catch the bus was a thing, which I weirdly hate, I love to plan everything but I really like to spontaneously catch a bus, and actually now that I think about it, this started before I got my smartphone, which I got up and going at the beginning of last year. Anyway, it seemed much less stressful just to walk to the gym, and so I did that for like a year, a mile to the gym and a mile home, two and a half times a week (the half is because Nora always gives me a ride home.) The cool thing about this is, I used to think that the gym was sooo far, but now it's in my head that a mile is a short walk. I don't think I would have gotten started walking if they hadn't taken my bus stop away, I should send them a fruit basket. The car dealership is constructed and the bus stop is back, but now I prefer to walk.
Okay so, where was I: pretty salty about the two miles. Actually I think this starts last August, remember, I'm in the thick of a depression then, and kind of randomly I suggest a ten-minute cooldown run on the treadmill to my Tuesday client and the other treadmill is free so I run with him and actually run the whole ten minutes? I'm not sure if I did. I vaguely remember two things, rolling a joke along the ground and following it like Bluebell and Captain Holly to keep going, and thinking at the end, woah, I'm in okay enough shape that I did that right out of the box. But like, where "right out of the box" is having walked five miles a week for like a year.
So I sort of haphazardly start running, and not with a ton of success. I ran three times in August, six times in September, twice in October, and apparently just gave up in November. Well, October and November is when I started on antidepressants.
This is my brain on drugs: I decide to commit to running in December and, still salty about the two miles, I decide that I will run a half mile twice a week. This same month, Katie Jean is doing a fifty miles in a month challenge and as a joke I make my own five miles in a month challenge, and I come up with this really useful and truthful #nojobtoosmall hashtag. It's a pretty tiny goal but even with a tiny goal, you still have to make that choice to get off the couch and go to the gym and get on the treadmill, every Tuesday and Thursday. And really this is the proto-habit that I needed for the rest to follow, and I think it would have been less easy to talk myself into getting off the couch if I knew that what was waiting for me at the gym was some mountain troll and not just a garden gnome—annoying, but pretty easy to dispatch. Spoiler, I did it! You've seen this star chart.
Let's talk briefly about that star chart, I am very strongly motivated by patterns. If I can at all avoid a hole amongst my gold stars, I will walk in a snowstorm to the gym even if my client has cancelled. But also I had a fail-safe goal, the five miles a month; if I did end up with a hole in my chart, all was not lost and I could still make my mileage goal. But also I ran a little bit more than half a mile most days like putting away money in mama's bank account, which was more trickery! Because mainly that just got me used to running more than half a mile, though by the end of the month I had enough mileage socked away that I could take a week off for the holidays. Let's also talk about the gym, why not leverage that my body is already in a gym three times a week. And also later, that there's a gym in my building that my work will pay a one-time fee for me to access for free, that I have never availed myself of because I knew I would never go because I had derby and I avoid guilt debt; but of course, I haven't had derby for two years now. All of these things worked for me, though I've since outgrown the star chart. It was good for getting started, though, simple, and I think if I'm going to do something hard I have to get my inner child on board and what kid doesn't love stickers.
And boy howdy, hardly anything is motivating like success. Which is sort of the fitness equivalent of needing job experience to be qualified for a job, but not as annoying because for fitness—at least for Fitness alla Poppy, anyway—you can succeed at something you can succeed at. Though this might be easier for me to grasp than for a gen pop person, because of my aforementioned thick skin and because I have pretty well dismantled the idea, well, that some jobs are too small. Remember in the eighties when they told us that you had to do forty minutes of cardio to burn fat, and anything less didn't count? Like all the fat cells are gathered at the edge of the lake of fire looking at their watches and trudge dejectedly back to your thighs if the clock stops at thirty-nine minutes. No, you don't remember, don't tell me, because you were born in the eighties. Or maybe they're still saying this and I'm finally old enough to wear purple and not give a shit. Maybe I'll tell you that no job is too small to no avail until you're my age, some stuff my mom was always trying to tell me I just got like six months ago. Sorry mom.
So anyway, I was feeling good about my five miles in a month under my belt (seven, actually) and Katie Jean started a 50 miles in a month facebook group and invited me and I said LOL okay but I'm only running ten miles. And she said that was fine, so I accepted her invitation. Here's the thing about that, I had intended just to keep an eye on the group out of the corner of my eye, as inspiration, but not post my piddly little runs, and then I thought that was sending myself the wrong message that what I was doing was something to be embarrassed about. Not cool! So I decided to post my little runs along with everybody else's... and everybody was so supportive and nice! And nothing at all is motivating like success and support. Like I finally signed up for the work gym and everybody was like GOOD JOB GO YOU, hell yeah I was gonna get up there Friday after work and make everybody proud. So in January I ran just short of 25 miles.
Somewhere in there Tami peer-pressured me into signing up for the BT5K. Which I was going to say no to, I felt like the slow and steady approach was working for me and I didn't want to shoot myself in the foot by biting off more than I could chew. LOL, I am the best at metaphors. But the race wasn't until April and I was already able to run for a mile nonstop after a month of consistent training, it was reasonable that I could get into 5K shape in three months. If I kept at it consistently! They always say Always Train For Something and I have mixed feelings about that, I'm not extremely pro The One Validating Event, but I do think it helped keep me even more honest, being that I'm basically honest.
But I did have to work with this idea of validation, because I was running with Katie Jean who I was seeing do nine and a half minute miles to say nothing of Tami who just started running last year at an eight and a half minute pace, sheesh. And of course there's the nice roundness of the ten minute mile. But my treadmill work was pretty consistently clocking in between eleven and twelve minutes. So I had to make a decision about what I was chasing for now, I had to remember that I started just barely being able to run a half mile and to run a 5K at a ten minute mile was really two goals. One goal at a time, please: run a 5K, full stop. So that became my goal: run the whole thing, and then I added don't get sick afterward. Because the last and only other time I ran a 5K, I came down with a cold the very next day—that's recorded in this blog, as a matter of fact, in July 2010.
And that was basically it, I ran 26 miles in February and 35 miles in March. Along with not stressing out about running faster than I am, I did have an additional epiphany in March about running slow, up until then I had been running intervals and cranking them up to tolerance. So like after four months of being a self-taught runner, I finally looked into a running program. Actually I was sitting on a bench waiting for Maul and Rosito Polito, googling "how to run faster" and I came across this how to get started running program by Runner's World, and the steps were:
- Start Walking
- Start Running
- Run Non-Stop
- Run Longer
- Run Faster
...where I had been trying to run faster before I could run longer. And how to run longer is, run slower. And running longer helps you run faster. I think this was the point where I really got into running, but I'm not sorry that it happened four months in. I basically figured out the first three steps on my own: walking to the gym, then running intervals on the treadmill, then I got bored walking and just ran slower between intervals until I was running non-stop, and then I started running outside which was all non-stop and building up to that two miles, remember the two miles? So basically it took me four months to build up to the two miles that that first article said I could get started with.
Anyway, goal accomplished! I ran the whole 5K, and I'm not sick. Sick can happen when you overstress your body, and it wasn't at all stressful to run that race. It was a very comfortable race. I ran a twelve-minute mile, for the record. And I still like running, and plan to run more, and I'm pretty sure that's because I figured out that being in physical distress doesn't have to be part of the plan. YMMV, but if something hurts, I do it less. If it feels good, I do it more. And if I do it more, I can do it better and and it feels good. And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo bee doo bee, but that's just the physical part. I think the harder part is weeding out psychological distress when it comes up, where you let yourself enjoy yourself and be proud of what you can do, and that's the part that I think I got right this time.