Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Running up that hill

Today I'm taking a break from VeganMoFo in order to write about something completely different: running. I have, since about half a year, taken up running. I really rather detest running. So why am I doing this, then? Well, let me tell you my story.

Last winter I was getting sick of not having trained anything at all for circa one and a half year. I was feeling tired and restless, and was fed up with getting sick all the time, so I figured it was time to do something about it. Ideally, I would have liked to take up longswordfighting again (I used to practise european medieval martial arts). I did miss it so terribly much. Unfortunately though, I was running low on both money and spare time, so in order to keep from going insane by stress and to be able to still pay the rent, I figured I needed something simpler. Something I could do alone, at any time, and for free. A bonus if it also got me out in the open air. Running seemed to fit the bill quite perfectly. The issue was just that I really hate running.

I don't want to hate running. I really like the concept in theory, and furthermore it would be very practical to be able to run more than a hundred meters without fainting if the need would arise. It's just that I've never been very good at it. Even back in the days when I was in great overall shape, training six days a week, I still couldn't run more than a kilometer or two without becoming thoroughly exhausted. I could never keep up with the others in school and at training, and it always felt so heavy. I went to doctors who checked whether I had asthma or leg injuries or anything else that might have affected my running, but they never found anything wrong. No matter how hard I tried, I just never seemed to be able to get the hang of running. I followed my trainers' advice on how to run with the "right" technique, but still it never got any easier. No wonder I found it terribly dull, and that's how I came to hate it.

Now, years later, taking up training again after an all too long hiatus, I just have two goals. I want to learn how to run, and more importantly, I want to learn to like running. My first attempt was quite pathetic, but now, having tried my best to keep up training three times a week for the past half a year, I'll have to say I'm getting better. I haven't bothered with keeping track of kilometers, times, speeds, steps and whatnot since I'm pretty certain doing so would only feed my obsessive tendencies and stress me out. Rather I try to focus on how I feel and how my body seems to react. I can now run more than six times as long as I could at first, and thanks to additional strengthening exercises, I feel stronger by the week. I don't get sick all the time anymore, and my physical and mental shape is starting to resemble that of a healthy human being. And as for motivation, I'm even starting to look forward to the next run, even though I still sometimes feel half-dead after completing my round. I'm still just at the beginning of this quest, but it might be interesting to reflect upon what got me this far.

First of all, music. I've noticed that I don't manage to push myself even half as far without some good music in my headphones. Preferably metal of some sort, but other upbeat or hypnotising music might work as well. Current favourites are Dream Theater, Epica, Florence + the Machine, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Sonata Arctica and Emilie Autumn. Also running alone helps; having to compete with someone or having people running past me or behind me is just stressful and demotivating. I know many would probably disagree with me on this, but everyone is different and this is how I function. I prefer to be able to vanish into myself, the music and my surroundings in peace, without the performance anxiety that comes with having other people present.

The most profound contribution to my success thus far is, I think, that I have changed my way of running. A couple of months ago I started trying out so-called barefoot running technique (though still keeping my sneakers on): putting down the front of the foot first and springing back instead of the heel-first-and-roll-forwards technique that I struggled so (but failing) to master as a teenager. I read some information about barefoot running and watched a couple of videos, then I simply decided to try it out on my next run. I haven't gone back to running in any other way since! Somehow, running like this was kind of fun. Sure, tiring to a group of muscles I wasn't used to exercising, but I figured since I was so out of shape in any case I might as well build up those as any others from scratch. The second time I could run further than I had managed thus far the old way. What a feeling! It felt lighter, easier. Simply put, it felt right, and I began wondering if this was the way running was supposed to feel. I still struggle with getting my condition back, heartache and dizziness coming over me towards the end of almost every run, but at least the running itself doesn't feel like having to push my feet through a river of molasses anymore. It feels like I can finally use my legs for running, not just pure willpower. Yay!

Last week, I bought new running shoes. Such ones without any padding and with a separate socket for each toe. They look funny, but in my book that's a plus rather than a minus. More importantly, they're wicked comfortable. Having worn toe-socks for many years and loved it I'd looked at these shoes, wanting to try them out, long before I took up running. I wanted to be as close to barefoot as possible, without having to cut my feet on glass shards and sharp rocks (which is practically unavoidable when living in Lund). So now I finally got the salary from my summer work and could afford them. It feels absolutely fantastic to run in them. It's very much easier to get the technique right in them than in my old, padded sneakers. Also the muscles on my calves and around my ancles got to work more than they were used to, as I noticed by the severe muscle soreness I woke up with the following day. Putting much more time into stretching took care of that during future runs, though. I don't know really what way of running is ideal for the body, maybe it differs between different persons. I just know that this way seems to work incredibly well for me, compared with my old way of running. My evil knee, weakened by an injury some years ago which comes back to haunt me occasionally, hasn't bothered me at all since I started running barefoot style.

To round off this monster of a blog post, I shall commence to tell you about my run this morning. It was fantastic in a very unexpected way. I set out with my new shoes on and was pleased to find there was a brisk wind blowing, making leaves fly all around me. I just love wind in my hair, especially when running. After only about a minute raindrops started falling, but I didn't think much of it and ran on, since it was just a light drizzle. By the time I had done my stretching, however, it was positively pouring down! But stubborn as I am I figured I might as well run on; keeping moving should keep me warm I thought. Shortly thereafter my usual running path took me out of town and in between the fields. The wind was blowing like crazy out there, and the rain was hammering down like needles on my face. It was a struggle just to keep moving forwards and not be blown into the ditch. But I ran, soaked through and screaming from the rain-induced pain, all the way I had set out to run. Towards the end I decided to push it a little and attempt a short sprint. So I gave it all I had, and... what a feeling! It felt like my body just floated forwards, although my feet were pounding the ground. I could only keep it up for a few short moments before I had to slow down due to dizziness and heartache, but those glorious moments left a smile on my face that lasted all the way back home. I just couldn't help laughing like a madman. The whole run left me completely exhausted, but I really can't wait to get back out again. There might be hope for me growing to love running one day, after all!

Love and running,

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