March 23, 2008

My Running History

I had a comment on a recent post that I was about to respond to, when I realized that my response might actually be relevant enough to merit its own post.

I am currently a senior college athlete- about to start the real world with a 9-5 and I’m wondering how you got into running and find the time! Also- I see you allot yourself calories for alcohol- how many total cals do you shoot for a day?? Thanks so much 🙂

Let’s start with how I got into running. A few years ago, I had never run except when forced to do so in gym class twice a year. The mile run… ugh. I could never even do one lap around the track without getting a stitch in my side. I think my fastest time with my run/walk pace was like 13 minutes, which put me in the “danger zone” for cardiovascular activity. It was strange to me, because I did a lot of ballet (at one point, I was dancing 20 hours/week), and knew that I was in great physical shape. I could dance for hours, but running just gave me a stitch in my side (no matter how I tried to alter my breathing). I chalked it up to the fact that I just was not a runner, and didn’t think about it too much (except to dread the days when my gym teachers would point out how slow I was).

In the spring of my junior year of college, I lived in an apartment that had a gym in the building. The gym was very tiny (think the size of a gym at a budget hotel), with just two treadmills, two ellipticals, a bike, and two BowFlexes. I had experience with the elliptical dating back to high school, so I worked out on that for the most part. I noticed that I could do 6 or 7 miles on the elliptical, so one day I decided to try running on the treadmill. That spring I worked up to a mile or so on the treadmill, shocked at how I was able to run what was to me a super-speedy 9:30 pace. I no longer got a stitch in my side, but I couldn’t figure out why. It didn’t really occur to me to venture outside to run at that point – working out was for the gym, and I think I thought that maybe running on a treadmill was the panacea that had made my stitch go away.

That summer, I took an internship in Florida, a state where I didn’t know a single person. I was friendly with my coworkers, but most of them had families and other things to do, so when I wasn’t at work, I was mostly on my own. To pass the time, I decided I was going to be productive in two ways: I would teach myself to cook, and I would get in ridiculously good shape. After doing the treadmill at the gym for a week or so, I decided to try the ultimate test and run outside. I used my car to map out the neighborhood loop, which was about 1.6 miles. I made it my goal to run the whole thing – and I did, with no stitch! I started doing that loop twice a day: once in the morning, when it was cool but dark (had to watch out for gators!), and once in the early evening after work, when it was light out but blazing hot. It made me feel so great to do that run, and because I was swimming and using the stationary bike a lot, I decided I was going to do a triathlon.

I headed back to school, bursting with big plans, but not having signed up for a race. (I think I had Laminator’s Commitphobe disease). After a few days back at school, I even met and dated a guy who listed “training for a triathlon” as one of his Facebook interests, and we thought we’d inspire each other. (8 months later, we finally broke up, with both of us way more out of shape than when we’d started the relationship). I ran a little bit in Ithaca, especially in my first few weeks back at school. I found the hills tough, but a cool challenge. However, that semester was when I was going nuts with applications and interviews for jobs, so running gradually fell by the wayside. Besides, I had more important things to do, like order Papa John’s Hawaiian pizza and lie in bed watching Survivor with the boy. We nicknamed my apartment “The Trap,” because once you got into it you just wanted to lie in bed and do nothing and never leave, except to get the door for whatever takeout we ordered. It was a very healthy lifestyle.

This past summer, with my first job on the horizon, some of my friends planned big trips, like backpacking through Europe. I had already been to Europe a few times, and I know I haven’t seen all of Europe (or even the majority of the countries), but I didn’t feel like that was what I needed to do. Other friends started their jobs in June, shortly after graduation, and I decided that what I really wanted to do was live at home, get some kind of part-time job so that I wouldn’t be mooching off my parents, relax, and get in shape. I had (and still have) about 10 pounds I wanted to lose, and I thought it would be great to start my new job looking awesome. I picked up running again, and every morning I would go do a loop around UAlbany, where I lived. I then did my first 5K race in June – a huge accomplishment. My goal was to get through it without stopping to walk, and it was tough, but I did it. After that, I had the racing bug, and started looking around online for other races to do. I felt somewhat guilty that my friends were doing all these cool things they’d be able to talk about in introductions at their new jobs, so my “cool intro thing” was going to be that I did a race every weekend. I figured that would be memorable, and also make me look dedicated and hardworking, which would make a good first impression.

I found myself unable to get any faster – I ran at a steady 9:33 pace no matter how hard I tried. I read a lot of books on running and tried all the tricks, but nothing worked. So in order to improve, I decided to go for distance. I gradually started upping the distance of my training runs until I was doing about 6 miles. Then I signed up for an 8 mile race. I remember very clearly my mom and I getting there, with her thinking that I was going to pass out on the course and not be able to finish. I was completely undertrained, but determined to prove her wrong. So I started running, and found myself running at about the same pace as a small group of men and women who were all chatting as they ran – they knew each other, and this informal club-sponsored race was a nice training run for them. I found myself chatting with them as well, and doing almost the whole race with two of the women, separating only for a final sprint to the finish. I couldn’t believe I had run an 8 mile race (and the morning after I had gotten really drunk at a beer testing festival), and I took their advice to sign up for the Boilermaker 15K a few weeks later. I completed that and a 10 mile race up in the Adirondacks (talk about hills!), but still wasn’t getting any faster. I started reading up on marathons, but just as I was about to start training more intensely with the thought of doing a marathon, it was time to move to New York. And that was where I lost it again.

In my first few weeks of work, I was ridiculously busy. I was working/attending work events for probably 90 hours/week, and I just totally lost my running. I ended up working on local projects for my first six months, though, which at least gave me some stability. I incorporated the elliptical/treadmill into my daily life, though it wasn’t until October or so that I started exploring the city and running outside here. I did a few NYRR races in the fall, and met a senior manager who did the NYC Marathon, for which my friend Kelly and I went to cheer him on. I had an absolute blast, and renewed my dream of running a marathon. NYRR has a policy where you get guaranteed entry to the marathon if you do 9 races throughout the year, so I started doing those, and I got hooked.

At the same time, I made it my goal not to fall victim to the “consulting 15.” Like the freshman 15 in college, it’s said that in your first year of consulting, most people gain about 15 pounds. I worked out hard and started “dieting” (more on that later), managing to lose 7 pounds from the day I started until January. I was working out every single day (though varying my routine), which I had time to do because I was working ridiculously short hours (typically 9 AM to 6 PM). Then, I got on a travel project in Boston, and everything changed.

There isn’t a Residence Inn in downtown Boston, nor any hotels with kitchenettes, so I eat all of my meals in restaurants. I work longer hours now – I’m in the office 8 AM to 7 PM, then we usually go to dinner as a team, and I get “home” (meaning back to the hotel) around 10 PM, with usually an hour or two of work. I like the flexibility of working from the hotel, because I can work anytime as long as it’s done by morning. Plus, since I usually get the WestinWorkout room with a treadmill, I sometimes walk on the treadmill while working. I know that’s not the same as running, and it’s definitely not a workout, but any kind of movement is better than sitting on my butt at my desk. My workout during the week consists mainly of strength training using my 8 Minute Fitness and Tank Top Arms, Bikini Belly, Boy Shorts Bottom DVDs and the in-room weights. I’m up to 15 pounds in each hand for bicep curls, which is way stronger than 6 months ago, when I was using 5 pounders and feeling the burn. I try to get at least 20 minutes of cardio in a day. My latest thing is downloading my favorite TV shows and getting up at 6 AM to watch them while leading myself in an aerobics routine (jumping jacks, jogging in place, mountain climbers, hamstring curls, etc). I also try to do short runs on the treadmill during the week, and then do long runs outside on weekends when I have a bit more free time. Finally, I bought a mini-stepper from Brookstone that I check at the hotel every week when I leave, so I’m able to get some stairstepping action in as well. I have to say, my legs are looking pretty amazing – sculpted, toned, and great. My arms are starting to get there, but they’re not swimmer’s arms yet.

Unfortunately, my tummy isn’t looking so great – I have to work on that. I’m starting to gain weight, and I’m almost back where I was when I started consulting. I know that’s a victory, because at least I haven’t gained any weight (unlike the rest of my analyst class, many of whom are up a clothing size from all the new suits we bought six months ago). Still, I would really like to drop a few pounds. I think my main problem is discipline when eating out, because I’m doing a fairly decent job with exercise. My project team jokes around with me about how much I exercise, though I think I could still improve if I put my mind to it. I’m also hoping that with the morning getting lighter, it will eventually be light enough that I can run outside from 6 to 7 every morning. As much as cross-training helps, I don’t think I’m going to get any faster unless I get disciplined about running outside, because I just can’t seem to do more than a mile or two on the treadmill.

Wow, I really didn’t think I’d have that much to say about how I got started in running! I’ll save the background on my diet for another post, but I’d recommend checking out DailyPlate for a great tool that will estimate how many calories you should be eating, as well as track your calories.


3 thoughts on “My Running History”

  1. Great post. I’m glad to hear that I am not the only one afflicted with the ‘commitophobe’ disease. It seems to target young professionals for some reason…

    Way to stay active on your consulting job. I have a few friends who are also in your field, and they tell me all the time how they have so little time to workout.

    Oh, and personal experience has taught me that the only way to run faster…is really to train faster, which is hard, but it really works, if you’re motivated and dedicated.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your running story. It was a very entertaining read.

  2. Wow, you must have really buff fingers after typing THAT post. Great recap. It’s always fun to hear how other people get into running.

    By the way, Ithaca is like our favorite place ever. We stayed there for a night several years ago while on vacation through Western/Upstate NY. Love the hills and scenery. Also love the “organic” Mexican restaurant in the downtown area.

  3. Awesome post!

    I know this is late, but was just catching up on your blog.

    Great story about how you got started. It’s motivating, indeed. Keep up the good work. I think you’re super speedy!

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