Tag Archives: fitness

A primer on running

22 Oct

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You have seen them in parks wearing bright colored skintight clothing, happily swinging their arms and running peacefully as they listen to their favorite music.  They put one foot in front of the other effortlessly; their skin beautifully glows and their sweat drips on their body, which is tone due to the years of physical training they put themselves through. I am writing, of course, about runners.

You’ve probably made a new year’s resolution take up running as hobby to benefit your health, get your body in beach body shape or to attract a co-worker.   But alas, like many other resolutions and rookie runners, you failed−even after spending 80 dollars on sneakers that the salesperson promised will help you with your running form.  If this is not you, then perhaps you have been interested in running, building cardiac strength and losing weight.  Whatever path led you to take up a running routine, there is good news: running is the simplest and one of the most beneficial forms of exercise.

In my eight years as runner I have come across every single pitiful excuses for not wanting to run or giving up the routine:“I have trouble breathing,” to which I reply, “yes,  you are running, you will have trouble breathing-you are not dying.”

“My knees hurt,” others whine.  I remind them that they are lucky to have knees.   There are people that run with prosthetic legs, and double amputees that climb mountains that only able-bodied athletes dare to face.

“When I sweat, I get bump son my skin;” or my all-time favorite: “I’m going to start next week.”

“I got a foot injury 10 years ago which prevents me from causing stress on my feet, and now I must use a rascal to get around town and the food mart at Wal-Mart, even though I am 28 years young, and I can easily walk from my bedroom to the kitchen through a long connecting hallway to get more porkskin chips from the pantry; a routine I do every night after my wife divorced me, but it is not my fault I can’t give her what she needs.  I can’t be blamed for not being able to see my feet when I stand−it is my foot I tell you!”

To all of these excuses I say: I don’t care what ailments you have. Suck it up and run.  If you can only run for five minutes, so be it.  At least you ran for five minutes today and tomorrow you will run for six minutes, then seven, eight, nine, ten and so on and so forth.  Even if you’re feeling tire, just put one foot in front of the other for a sustained period of time.  In other words, run.  It is easy; let me show you how.

To be a good runner you will need four relatively inexpensive items: running sneakers. Aesics and New Balance make sneakers that are specifically tailored for running.  The mesh lining on running sneakers allows for air to ventilate inside, which prevents moisture build up that causes stench or athlete’s foot.  Pick a size that is ½ bigger than your normal sneaker size.  When running, your feet will swell, but the extra room will allow blood to circulate in your feet easier.

Secondly you will need a short or long sleeve gym shirt, gym shorts or sweat pants.  If you can, get shirts that are a mix of cotton and polyester.  The polyester material helps  absorb sweat away from your body and it dries faster.  Cotton shirts will make you feel like you are running with a towel on when all the sweat accumulates.  An inexpensive shirt will not make you run faster than an expensive shirt; any brand name shirt will suffice.

When possible buy shorts that come with a mesh lining, especially if you are a male.  Sweatpants should only be used in cold weather with long polyester underwear similar to biker shorts.  Cotton underwear will cut and rub on your inner thighs, leaving it prone to infection and discomfort.  However, if wearing mesh-lining shorts you will not need underwear.  Rejoice in the fact that running is one of the few activities that encourages going commando in shorts!

Third, you will need a digital watch with a stopwatch function.   Timex makes inexpensive watches that cost about the same as buying french fries every day for three weeks.  If you have a cell phone, use its digital stopwatch function to time your run.  The purpose of tracking your time and distance is to see your results.  Jot them down in a piece of paper or notebook. Whatever method you decide to use for tracking your time remember its purpose is to track your progress and improve it with due time.

The fourth and most important thing is a willingness to move past failure and pain and to push forward.  The willingness to succeed in this sport can not be bought like a pair of sneakers or a Gatorade bottle.  The runner’s will is the hardest thing to attain, unless it is already within a person.  If you were born with the heart of a tiger or a warrior’s mental fortitude then you are spared from the hard work of attaining such a strength.  For us mere mortals, we must work at developing a mindset that can carry us on through running’s physical rigors.  I have often been surprised at how people take up running and forget or ignore the mental process one must go through to develop herculean stubbornness.  To me, not having such stubbornness is equivalent to jumping in deep water without knowing how to swim.

Many people have tried to run with me and there have been more instances of failure than success story. Before you discredit my expertise based on others’ short comings, please consider this: I train people to be good disciplined runners, but I can not and will not train them to only run when being pushed by a trainer or friend.  Eventually, I will let a person run paths alone.  In the animal kingdom, no mother or father of an animal fetches food for their children until they die.  The parent’s role in the animal kingdom is teaching their children to be self-sufficient.  Similarly, I tell my students that I am not their running partner I am merely your coach and will not be there to push your feet uphill.

Gio, a friend of mine who use to sweat from eating one slice of pizza, asked me to train him.   Gio’s request surprised me because at 220 pounds and 5 feet 9 inches he did not seem like the athletic type-in fact I have never seen him take the stairs.  Gio’s new found interest in running came from having been rejected at bars from too many women.  One drunken night he decided to sign up for the New York Marathon to raise money for Autism Speaks, a charity that raises awareness and money for autistic children.  ‘It is a noble cause,’ I thought to myself, I only wish he had made the decision while he was sober.  Nevertheless, I agreed to help him in hopes that he would quit within the first week so that I would not waste my time.

On the first day of training, I attempted to break his spirit and test his will. I needed to see if he possessed a willingness to succeed or if he would have to work on getting one.  The first exercise was deadlifts, which is lifting a weighted barbell with from the floor to the hips.  This exercise utilizes every muscle in the body and develops leg strength needed for running uphill.  I set 135 pounds on the barbell, taught Gio the form and told him to do it.  Gio’s squeamish grunts and skimpy legs did not lift the weight even a mere .  I emphasize that the barbell weighs less than him; if he can’t lift himself up the ground then he is a loser.  Gio failed the first exercise.

For the next exercise I lowered the standard a little bit.  I told Gio to lift the same barbell, but only with 115 pounds of weight on it, over his head utilizing his hip muscles and shoulders to get the weight up.  Yet again, Gio failed. I made sure to rub in the fact that he can’t even lift up his brother if he needed rescuing.

Gio did accomplish sit ups, but with the worst form I have yet to see.  Correction, I have never seen somebody with a bad sit up form; I had to explain to him that he is not suppose to push his neck up, but he is suppose to push his chest up towards his bent knees by engaging his abs and hip muscles. Gio had heard about hips, but apparently he had no idea that humans like himself posses such an evolutionary trait that allows one to forcefully lift up rocks, jump, kick, squat and run from the bulls in Spain.  While Gio was bending down to do a front squat I yelled, “Use your hips and press down on the ground to lift up the barbell.” Gio fell and the barbell followed.  I did not lift the weight up; I let it lay on top of him.

“You’re absolutely pitiful,” I said to Gio as I stood over him, like a victorious boxer.  I bent down a little closer to his ear and told him, “If your mother was in a burning building you could not lift her up to save her life.  You’re mother will die alongside you.  Give up.  There is no hope for you.”

“No!” Gio yelled.

“See that bar over there?  You’re going to do some pull-ups.  If you can do one, I will apologize.  Otherwise, you will have proved me right again.”

Enthusiastic and eager to prove me wrong, Gio walked over and jumped to the bar.  He wiggled, kicked and panted trying to push himself up towards the bar.  It’s called a pull up for a reason; somehow he did a strange looking push up on the pull up bar. He failed.  I won.

I was proven right again.  Gio rushed to the bathroom to puke his lunch.  The stench of regurgitated pizza sauce filled the bathroom.  “You can’t lift yourself up over a bar and yet you want to run.  Don’t waste my time,” I mockingly yelled.

Bent at the knees and gasping for air, Gio used the back of his shaking hands to wipe the sweat off his forehead.  He had made it halfway through my test.  In my head I knew that he was not going to be able to do any of this, but I wanted to teach him a lesson: running is not something that anybody can just decide to do without first igniting your inner warrior spirit whether one has it or not.

“Now we run,” I said.  “You’re going to die today.”

Gio triumphantly squared his chest to me, lifted his chin up and welcomed the next challenge.  I knew then that Gio naturally possessed the willingness to get through this training regiment.  I also knew that now I am faced with the daunting task of teaching a rookie the fundamentals of running.

When running there are basic fundamentals that must be followed.  Most people will differ on their order of importance or if they are important at all.  My opinion is this: follow the fundamentals stated here and do not be afraid to try out other tricks that you might read or have heard about.  These fundamentals are not listed in order of importance because they are all equally important.

First, when running do not land on your heels or tip toes; instead land on the middle of your foot, the spaced in between the foot’s arc and the toes: this is called the midfoot strike.  Landing on the midfoot will prevent foot injuries and make you run in a straight line.

Second, do not raise your arms to your chest.  You arms will weigh after a few minutes and the pain will make you loose focus.  The arms should be dangling down with a slight bend at the elbow.  The hands should be swinging in close proximity to the hips.

Third, develop a breathing pattern.  The person that taught me to run had a pattern of inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.  My trainer’s pattern did not work for me because my nose gets stuffy with the first minutes of running.  Instead, I inhale steadily through both my mouth and my nose.  Try your own breathing patterns, keep them simple and be consistent in order to succeed.

Fourth, lead with your knees. By this I mean when running picture your knee slightly striking forward and leading your body across the path.  This technique will help  you run in straight line and lift your knees up while engaging your hip muscles.

The fifth fundamental is to pay attention to your posture.  Over time your running posture will improve, but in the beginning remember to keep your chest elevated, your chin up with your eyes looking at the road ahead, not at your running sneakers, while steadily swinging your arms.  The swing of the arms will help you propel one foot in front of the other.

Not everybody is like Gio, who was born with the willingness to go through hard physical work.  I find that those not born with a strong will should consult people that will give them mental support in order to develop a strong mindset.  The process of attaining such a psychological fortitude is akin to being hard-headed.  This is a fair warning, I am not endorse by Nike and do not care too much about the politics of global corporations. Nike has quite possibly the best slogan for any endurance athlete: Just do it.  These three words succinctly state the defiance that all seasoned runners share.

‘How do you run a marathon?” Just run until you reach the finish line.

‘How do you withstand the foot pain from after running three, 10 or 20 miles?’   Just endure it.

‘How do you run for so long?’  Just do it!

There is no secret formula, magical words or sneakers that will push your legs.  A baby does not consult physicians when learning how to walk.  Babies develop the ability to walk naturally by first learning to crawl and then walking: They jut do it.

 In the movie Forrest Gump, Gump shares his interest in running beautifully:

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.”

 If you are looking for reason other than health benefits to run, then consider Gump’s words as a way to live simply and just do it.

Rookie runners that have no innate will to succeed in running need special attention and support.  My girlfriend, who has managed to stay skinny all of her life without ever exercising, did not have the will to run.  Nevertheless, her curiosity led her to start a running routine with me.  While teaching my girlfriend how to run, I gained a newfound respect for diplomats and politicians that can juggle being corrupt and appearing nice to their constituents.

On our first run, my girlfriend coughed out the question, “how long has it been?”

 “Three minutes,” I said.

“Shit!”  She gasps.  Her lungs were being stabbed with every breath of fresh air, and she felt like she was having a heart attack.  She stopped to catch her breath.  Drool was dripping on her mouth.  In my time in the Marines I came across a few drowning victims, but never had I seen a person come near drowning on dry land.  I told her to keep her chin up and walk with me.  The first run consisted of frequent walking pauses and lots of water drinking for 15 minutes.  She was surprised how difficult it was.

After our first run, a sigh of relief came over me because my girlfriend and I had previously made a beat that I will allow her to put on make up on me if she can run for 10 minutes straight without stopping.  I regret having made this deal.  Currently, she is inching her way closer to her goal and I am enabling it.  Her training routine consist of climbing every stair possible while running in Central Park, sprinting up hills and doing kettlebell exercises to develop her upper body strength.  She has started to develop a strong will to continue past the pain and misery that is beginner’s running.  After every run, she tells me that her legs fell loose and she can breathe better.  Her lipstick and foundation stand on the bathroom sink next to my shaving cream.  I fear my time is coming.

Running is more than just a sport reserved for the young and skinny.  It is the reason we have leg muscles; it is how the heart knows it is alive; it is the best way to learn new routes around any neighborhood or park.  The roads are the only playgrounds we adults truly have.  Relieve your childhood: run like you are young again.

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