Something about Running

@daniel.labelle How Different Actors Run. #running ♬ original sound – Daniel LaBelle

I’m a runner. I get to say that because I do run. I’m not very fast, and relative to folks you may know who you think of as “runners,” I don’t run very far or very often unless I’m training for a half marathon. One time a neighbor mentioned seeing me out for a run and having the thought, “That poor guy.” But over the last 2 years I’ve run about 500 miles each. That’s half as much as I’d like, but it’s still about 500 miles more than most. And for the last few years, at least, it’s been about 500 miles run incorrectly.

What’s kept me from getting to my goal of 1000 miles in a year has been the aches and pains associated with running, plus a mid-40s body, plus quite an accumulation of old sports injuries, bad habits, etc… All that and math.

To get to 1000 miles in a year requires overcoming some basic math. Let’s say you can find 5 days a week to run every week of the year. That’s 260 running days. 1000 miles over 260 sessions is about 3.8 miles a session. When you’re a slow runner like me, that means, with stretching and cooling down included, every session eats up about an hour a day. Five 1-hour sessions every week is tricky to come by for a dad.

So let’s say instead I aim for 3 runs per week. 3 sessions x 52 weeks = 156 sessions. 1000 miles completed in 156 sessions is about 6.4 miles. My knees kinda hurt just thinking about it. And while it’s only 3 sessions a week, now I’d be carving about an hour and 20 minutes out for each session. Again, tricky for a dad.

Fast dads don’t have these issues.

Anyway, as I mentioned, the limiting factor for me is really aches and pains. I can probably cobble together the time for 3 to 7 mile sessions over the course of a year to hit 1000 miles. But to get my aches and pains to cooperate is an entirely different matter. Any run, be it 3 or 13 miles, usually requires me to recover for a day or two. Or so I thought.

Turns out I’ve been running wrong for possibly my entire life.

I grew up being told I had a really good running stride by coaches. And it’s possible I did, I suppose, but when you grow up hearing that, and then you move into adulthood as a hobbyist runner at best, you don’t tend to think you need to “learn” much about running. After all, the last time I ran with any hope of winning anything, I was 17. I just wanted to be healthy. You don’t need to obsess over running for to be healthy right? And those aches and pains that develop are all just because I’m getting old and have a lot of old scars, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. My daughter is also a runner – the kind who people look at and go “Whoa, THAT is a runner.” She’s not elite, but she’s good enough that it’s not insane to end this sentence with “yet.” And so we’ve been learning a lot about running lately; How to get stronger for running, how to get faster, how to recover from one event in the late morning so you can run again in the afternoon. Originally I’ve been applying all the learning to my daughter – the one with potential. But after a while I finally started to read and hear knowledge and advice that could be applied to me too: How to run without pain.

Turns out what I thought was my “relaxed” stride is awful. I’m an “over-strider” when I run the way I’ve run for probably 20 years. And over-striding is basically a way of fighting physics every step of the way. Turns out doing that is terrible for things like knees, shins, ankles, and the will to keep running.

A little over 2 months ago I finished another half marathon. I finished with a really disappointing time. Maybe that bit of failure helped me finally accept that I could do something to improve on my running, even deep into my 5th decade of life. For the last few weeks, I’ve been practicing a few new techniques: paying attention to my footstrike, pulling my counter-arm back quickly on every stride, and leaning forward no matter the terrain. And today I feel great. I just ran my fastest 5K time in my dad-life, and while my legs are a little tired, nothing hurts. For the first time in probably 15 years I no longer feel like I’m running simply to slow down mortality. I’m running to get better at running.

Because I’m a cliche middle-aged dude, this entire experience has me wondering what else I’ve been doing wrong for 20 years. Rather than look at it from that negative perspective, I’m asking myself, what else could I still improve on? That and, should I buy a sports car? But while I figure all that out, I’ll keep on running.

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