Friday, 18 January 2013

Guest Post - A Step in the Right Direction

Today I am featuring a guest post from Darren the author of The Runners Knees, a running buddy from across the pond. This year he is committed to Going the Distance and is training for his first marathon. This is his story - all about getting started and taking a step in the right direction.

I’m a firm believer that you need to move onwards and upwards in life and, having changed career a few times, living in several countries, and having tried a lot of other things to give myself a sense of accomplishment (Serbo-Croat, Afrikaans, stained glass, SCUBA diving, horse riding, driving, snowboard, investment banking, writing, animation, theatre, painting, sculpture, interior design, you name it), I zeroed in on running as a real challenge. 

There is a side story where this lack of accomplishment and a ridiculous set of life goals gave me deep set hypochondria, but I won’t go into that here. Suffice to say, I have never felt challenged, and running would be a true test of my physical and mental resolve. After all, I had not run since high school (22 years earlier) and broke my left knee twice in the mid-90s, and left ankle at university. Those around me were challenging each other and a large group of friends signed up for the Amsterdam marathon in October and the Dublin marathon a week later and I was fast being left out, so took a leap of faith and signed up for the Amsterdam half marathon.
So I had a target, 13.1 miles in 8 months.
Day one of my training did not go well. The aforementioned breaks on my left meant I had over-developed my right, changing my gait so much that even walking fast would give me crippling shin splints. So, true to form, I got on the treadmill with my old Brooks Beast trainers, and tried to run. 2 minutes later my shins were on fire, and I limped off beaten.
Determined to pick myself up, though, I started to look at the problem in terms of; footwear, clearly I was not wearing running shoes, and pace, I didn’t know my pace, and as pace changed running pattern, I needed to fix that to fix my running pattern. I also knew that I couldn’t just run, that I needed to  work out these issues first and build up stamina and endurance.
So to shoes. I self-diagnosed my running style and have to tell you, this is a mistake. Do not try to diagnose whether you pronate or supronate, or mid-foot, toe or heel strike, then buy the shoes you think will correct your problems, as you will just cause yourself more difficulties. I misdiagnosed my running style and bought Nike Pegasus and Lunarglides. Now, having run for a year and developed joint pain in my second toe, ITB issues and anterior knee pain, the physiotherapist filmed my running and recommended I run in Brooks Adrenalin shoes. I now have these and ran the last 3 races in them without any pain, and quicker.
Pace and stride pattern are something different, and I think you need to slow down to get it right. Slow down to speed up, so to speak. So I purchased 50 Military Cadences of the US Military and put it on my iPod. My plan was to run to the cadences, as soldiers run forever. I also decided to follow the Couch to 5K program. So, I returned to the treadmill a week after my previous failure and tried again. “I wanna be an Airborne Ranger.” 8.5 KPH pace, focused, in new shoes. And, amazingly, it worked. I threw a towel over the display and just kept running. I ran and ran until the album had finished and restarted from the beginning again, somehow finishing 11 Kilometres. I guess the Couch to 5K was no longer needed.
I kept this up, deciding to up distance or time by 10% per week, running 3-4 times a week, with one eye on the race in October. But October was a long, long time away. I needed a challenge in the interim and so signed myself up for the London 10K, a wonderful race through the middle of the city, by all the landmarks and in a crowd of 20,000. The run was in May, and would let me know how far I had come.
And so I progressed on the treadmill, developing the toe pain and ignoring it, running all the time until the race. I ran it in1:07 and absolutely loved it. I was hooked, and quickly signed up for more races. I ran 10ks in London twice more (running 1:01 and then 0:56), in Sheffield (1:02), and signed up for another half, the wonderful Royal Parks half in London, one week before Amsterdam.
I could rattle on, but what I have done this year has been remarkable to me. I have never run before March, and yet in a 7 day period in October I ran two 2 hour half marathons. I find it astonishing, as even walking fast to get out of the rain would cripple me with shin splints. And I have run 3 more 10ks and the #virtualhalfmary since then, giving me a grand total of 10 races entered and completed in 2012.
2013 will only be better and more challenging, having signed up for six 10ks, 6 half marathons, a ten miler and my first full marathons, 2 of them, in Luxembourg in June and Berlin in September. The only limit to what I feel I can achieve is self-doubt, and running is fast removing that from the equation. I couldn’t recommend running enough. I have met some amazing people in this first year, and feel that I have accomplished something that was impossible in my mind as recently as March. To quote the Beastie Boys, “You can’t, and you won’t and you don’t stop.” And that is how I feel now when it comes to anything.
I guess, my summary would be that running can heal scars. For me, those scars are mental. Has running cured my hypochondria and lack of self-worth and achievement? Not entirely but every step is a step in the right direction.