So I finished C25K. It's basically 8 weeks long, but I took 8.5; I stretched out the last week because it had been hot here and running is harder on my heart when it is hot. And I hate running in the heat, so there.
The program had actually had me thinking a lot about running when I was a kid, and how different it is now. I started running in high school, when I joined the cross-country team to hang out with friends. I don't know why I did this, because honestly I've always thought of myself as a fairly inactive person, but also I have this kind of closet jock thing going on.
I found I liked running, but running did not seem to agree with me. I'll spare you my extended-play rehash of every running injury, but suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time in pain, and eventually a doctor told me to stop running or risk not walking.
But I never really gave up on the idea that I might be able to run again. I replaced it with biking and swimming, and those are good and fine things on their own, but I really missed running.
While I was at Cal Poly it occurred to me that sports medicine had made some huge leaps since the eighties, and I was in a school with a football team and a clinic. So I saw a sports medicine doctor and he told me to go ahead and run, but to build up to distance slowly. The idea being that running is a contact sport, you and the ground, and you need to acclimate your body to the impact. I had been injured from the start and never really recovered because nobody told me I needed to start slow and acclimate my body to pounding the pavement (and all of my injuries were from that contact).
That fits with what I remember of the experience: my first day of cross country was an easy run, but our shortest run was still three miles long. Nobody ever talked about teaching your body to take the contact, perhaps because school sports were really meant to be for kids who had been doing sports of some sort since they were very small and had built up that base. Even in college when I got back into running for a while, I started out with runs that were really too long. I am here to tell you that any training program that suggests you can run a marathon in 12 weeks is misguided and will lead to injury.
So that's where C25K comes in. When I talked to the doctor at Cal Poly, he suggested I use it as a framework (it had only recently come out and everybody was talking about it, if I recall correctly). I got a brief start on it, but changing up your exercise routine when you are in the middle of doing a design thesis is not the best of ideas. Fast forward to my home-care physical therapy after the stroke, and when my physical therapist told me I could run on the treadmill (which we bought shortly after I left the hospital) at a very low speed as long as I alternated with walking and kept my heart rate low, I decided to give it a try again.
It was pretty good. The week or so before starting the program I did regular run/walks using the treadmill's "Hills" program. I found I preferred using C25K, because it has a nice structure to work around. I especially liked using the app on the phone and running on the treadmill, where seeing my stats was easy to do without nearly running into a lamppost, and where I had very fine control over my pace.
So when I was getting to the end of the program I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. And I decided to do it again.
Here's the thing: these beginning programs are hysterical to somebody who hasn't done any serious running in 20 years. They assume your starting pace is a 10-minute mile. A 10-minute mile is very respectable, and I'm sure it's a slow run for some people, but if you have never run before, or if it's been some real time, that is totally insane. It's not just the stroke; I'd been doing this fitness boot camp thing and running quite a bit, and I'd have been hard pressed to run the first C25K workout at even a 15-minute mile. I know a lot of people who start this program who have literally never exercised in their entire lives. Somebody who is honestly stepping off a couch into a running program is going to be closer to a 20-minute mile.
So I started doing C25K all over, only instead of run/walk I'm doing my running pace for the run parts and upping the pace by 0.5mph for the running part (that's how the treadmill handles speed). When I finished the 8 weeks I was running a 15-minute mile (I could go a little faster, but not for the entire duration), so that's 4.0mph, and my running parts are at 4.5mph, which is a 13.3-minute mile. Still not a 10-minute mile. I'm taking it slow and working up there.
(I also changed to using the the Couch-to-10K app for this session. I'm not sure if I want to do the whole thing; I'd like the mileage of the 10K training program, but I think I'd prefer it spread over every weekday rather than three times a week. I think I can do that. In any event, the really different part of the C210K program is just tacked onto the end of C25K, so I won't have to decide if I wanted to do that for a while.)
It's not 100 percent smooth sailing. I've had to walk some of the walk parts instead of jogging them. I've had to go slower. I'm still working on my heart rate and getting my breathing in order. And I'm still overall staying a little slower than I'd really prefer. But I know that if I just keep working on it, it will get better, and I am now further into a training program than I have ever gotten without any kind of injury or nagging pain. I hardly even ache the day after my runs. Yay for slow but steady training.
A bit ago I was talking about my terrible running and the experience of breaking the 15-minute mark with a friend who asked, basically, "aren't you embarrassed to talk about how bad your running is in public?" And no, I'm not. I am running because I enjoy running, and because I am allowed to do it. I'm not interested in racing, so I don't care if my pace is terribly slow, because in my opinion it's better to run really badly than to not exercise at all. It is sometimes hard to put yourself out there and talk about how much you suck at something, but if you never ever do anything except what you already are perfect at doing, you will never learn and grow as a person.
And yeah, I want to be the sort of person who is so good at running that they think a 10-minute mile is a light job that any beginner could manage. That'd be great. In the meantime, I'm just enjoying the running and trying not to get injured.