Wednesday, August 27, 2008

From couch potato to marathon

Running is one of the cheapest activities you will find. You need no special gear; you can just take off in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, you don't even need shoes if you are comfortable running barefoot. Or so I thought!

When I decided to train for the marathon, I turned to my Ironman and Boston qualifier colleague Paul, for tips. He was very helpful. He kindly stopped by my office one afternoon, and laid down on paper a bare-bones list of things I would need to get started.

1. Running schedule
- Run whatever distance you are comfortable with; increase mileage at a rate of 10% per week (at most).
- Start running 3-4 days a week instead of 2, preferably 4 (that meant a major lifestyle change for me - no lying on the couch, snacking and watching TV 4 nights a week. This was in the days when pre-dawn running was simply out of question)

2. Running gear
- get fitted with a comfortable pair of running shoes. He pointed me to a local running store (Eh? My strategy thus far was to visit the nearest Sports Authority and pick out their cheapest pair. If it was under the "Running" section, that was a bonus!)
- buy some moisture-wicking clothes (which of course, turned out to be at least thrice as expensive as regular cotton gym clothes)
- buy several pairs of moisture-wicking socks (what, I need special socks, too???)
- get a heart-rate monitor to monitor heart rate during runs (this will have to wait till later)

3. Nutrition - a healthy diet with carbohydrates, protein and fat in the ratio of 50:25:25 ( in the world am I supposed to count calories in the rice and curry meals I eat twice a day???)

Wisely, Paul stopped at that. He wished me luck and left.

I was determined to give this a good shot though, so DH and I made a trip to Runner's High, the local running store, where the friendly and chatty salesman fitted me out with my first pair of running shoes after staring at my feet intently from the front, back and sides as I walked self-consciously across the store. I paid $120 for it, the most expensive piece of running gear I had ever bought. I walked out importantly, clutching the precious parcel, only to return it the next day because the shoes felt stiff around the ankles. Of course, DH had a good laugh, but I was still a believer.

I went shopping for a few sets of dri-fit running shorts and T-shirts.

I launched into a calorie-counting regimen, watching my calorie intake, restricting grocery purchases to healthy ones and trying to avoid chocolates, sweets and fried stuff, carrying healthy snacks to work, replacing my rice and curry lunch with a salad that made it easier to separate calories from carbs, protein and fat.

As my training progressed, other accessories were added to my collection. I bought myself a heart rate monitor (which I still haven't figured out how to use), a fuel belt, a knee band, and got an i-Pod as a birthday present (I soon realized I prefer the sound of birds on a run to that of music). I also added cross training and strength training to my repertoire, which meant buying a reclining bike, a few pairs of dumbbells and a stability ball.

I learned the hard way that running shoes needed to be changed every 300-400 miles; and that there is a reason why people need to shower immediately after a run. I found out that it is important to fuel up after a long run. I also quickly saw the benefits of adding various stretching exercises to my workout, pre and post run. As well, cross training and core strenghtening exercises. I had to switch to running in the mornings to avoid endorphin-induced sleeplessness at nights.

Upping my endurance has helped me enjoy other activities that seemed like work before. I look forward to skiing and hiking trips; plan activity-filled vacations; and can survive long days with little sleep, if I need to (though sleeping is still one of my favorite pastimes).

As I look forward to my first marathon 2 weeks from now, I feel I am no longer the wimpy couch potato of 2 years ago. But ahhh...what a long way yet to go!

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