Aug 4, 2009

Set backs for a beginner runner and overcoming them

Being a beginner runner is not easy.  There’s a lot of information out there on how to start running, but you quickly realize that it’s meant for people who are already in shape and can run 2.5 miles or a little less in 30 minutes.

I started nearly a month ago.  I had done a 5K run with my daughter back in May for Girls on the Run (GOTR) and running with other mothers and daughters was just exhilarating. I had the (wrong) perception that those kinds of runs were competitive.  I quickly realized that it was about sharing an experience with a community.  What an eye-opener!  I have been trying to find ways to be involved in communities and it never occurred to me that I could do it through running.

I used to run a lot in my teens and early twenties.  I always did it alone.  It was just something I loved to do.  I used to live in the countryside in Colombia.  Just for your information, you don’t see runners in Colombia.  It is a strange sight to see someone jogging down the street (in cities), but living in the country made it easier.  I would take country roads close to home and run for over an hour.  The sights were amazing.  Bamboo trees, beautiful Andes mountains, coffee plantations, etc.  It was a solitary thing for me, which is why the GOTR 5K was a new experience for me.

I hadn’t run in nearly 10 years… well, not run seriously.  I lived in Australia for a while back in 2006 and would run home from work every evening, but it was only about getting home because my only other option was taking three different buses to get home which would take longer than actually running!  When you decide to run just for running, it’s a whole different world. When you decide to run because you want to be a positive role model for your kids… well, that’s REALLY different.

So, at the beginning of July, I decided that I was going to get into running in a very serious way.  The first thing I did was go to Borders and look for books about running for women and I ended up going with this one (which is GREAT!). While at the GOTR run, I realized that there is a running technique involved that I was totally unaware of (but I was totally aware that I was totally unaware of it!).  It became obvious to me very quickly that you have to know what you are doing.  It’s not about putting some shoes on and some shorts and going out to run.  My daughter was not pacing herself and became tired (and totally unmotivated) very quickly.  I knew that just saying “you can do it!” wouldn’t work.  She (and I) had to train properly… that’s what I realized.

So… the process:

– I had just gotten to a weight that was considered on the low side of OBESE.  My weight was 162 lbs (BMI: 25.37) which was on the lower side of obese.  Before I moved to the USA three years ago I weighed under 130 lbs.  I put on 30 lbs within 6 months of living here.  I attribute that to not being physically active as much (I used to walking instead of driving) and the type of food you find in the US (you don’t find HFCS – High Fructose Corn Syrup- in other countries).  When you move to the US, you don’t realize that impact of these things until your butt is really big!  That’s when you go out there and become informed.  So, reaching an “obese” weight when I had always naturally been very skinny despite having three kids… I’ll tell you, that’s a wake up call.

– The food was a big change for me when I came to the US.  The food was obviously different.  The prices were different.  Healthy food is expensive, bad food is cheap.  I bought chicken when I first came and all I could think was “what is wrong with this chicken?!”  It was unlike any chicken I had tried in 4 other continents!  It was only when I got some organic chicken here that I realized that it was all to do with some weird stuff that was done to the chickens here.  I learned that water and hormones were injected into chickens, and meat was also a little weird to me too.  I quickly became a vegetarian.  Very quickly!

– The 5K run made me realize that I am not in shape at all.  Buying a book on running was the first step, but creating an account on Twitter to follow other runners was what motivated me the most.   Wanting to run is one thing, but finding the motivation is what makes it work.  When you have the motivation, you find all the information you need, you connect with people who have or are going through the same experience as you are.  It’s vital to connect with others, or this whole process becomes so so very lonely.  Being lonely is a place we just don’t want to be.  We are all unique, but believe me, people are going through or have gone through what you are going now.  We are all connected, so it’s important to find that connection.  On that note, I totally recommend reading Gordon’s blog (@disneyrunner on Twitter).  If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what would!!

That was the process I went through before deciding to start running.  I bought the book.  I bought some good running shoes. I made a twitter account and connected with runners, mothers, vegans, vegetarians and generally positive people.  I started to run.  YAY!  After ten days, I had problems.  My right leg started cramping up (lower leg).  I thought it was a muscular problem.  I stretched before and after running.  The cramping continued to be a big problem.  My leg was cramped throughout the day.  My mother is an osteopath, homeopath and generally into natural healing so I had always learned to listen to my body.  I became concerned, but continued to run.  It was only one day, after severe cramping during and after a run, that I did an exercise that I had been taught to release pressure on the sciatica nerve at the leg/hip joint and it immediately cured the cramping.  That was an “OH!!!” moment for me.  I thought the cramping was from tight muscles, but I quickly realized that it was because of my sciatica.   I had suffered from sciatica problems from my third pregnancy.  I had treatments from my mother (osteopathy) and from a friend of hers (shiatsu massage to align my spine and relax the sciatica nerve) and it had “fixed” it. (that was two years ago).  Realizing that my sciatica was a problem was a good  step.

I was also worried about my heart rate.  I had read blogs about running as a beginner and everywhere I read said that I should be running between 2 miles to 2.5 to start out with.  I felt I was pushing myself too much when I ran.  I became exhausted very easily.  I was sore for many days after a run.  It didn’t seem healthy.  You shouldn’t ache so much.  Your energy shouldn’t be that low.  It’s just not good for you.


My sciatica forced me to stop running and just swim.  It totally bummed me out.  It depressed me after all the motivation I had for the first two weeks.  It also forced me to re-think my running & training.  It just didn’t feel right.  I felt like I was forcing my body to do something it wasn’t ready to do… so the question was, how do I train to just get to the level that all the other runners are saying is the “beginners” training.

I’m not overly obese, just on the lower level, so why was running according the “beginner” level training I find all over the internet just practically killing me?  I knew there was no way I could continue the training I had started with.  It was killing my motivation!

What I did was:

1) Work on my specific problem with my sciatica my doing the exercises given my mother and the Shiatsu masseur had given to me (I’m going to make a post about the exercises later).  I also continued to swim at least twice a week because it didn’t affect my sciatica.

I’m planning to make a very extensive post on exercises to stretch the sciatica nerve.

2) Research more appropriate running/training techniques.

Now, if you’re a beginner runner, I have the following advice:

– Before you can even consider starting to run, make sure you can walk for 30 minutes without stopping at a 128 BPM (beats per minute), just for your information, that’s two steps per second.  If you are totally worn out by walking at this pace, you need to continue walking until you can get to this pace (at least!).

– Getting totally worn out doesn’t mean your “progressing”.  You really have to be kind to your body.  It’s a machine and should be treated as such, especially when you are just starting.  Getting to a really high heart rate is really not healthy and potentially life threatening.  You really need to work up to levels, and running is a level.  Starting to walk is a level, being able to walk for 30 minutes is a level.  Not feeling worn out after walking for 30 minutes is another level.  You just can’t go from not working out at all to running.  Trust me.  I’m “only” 30 lbs overweight and running for those first ten days did me more harm than good.  I’m just glad it didn’t kill my motivation.

– Interval training is just awesome.  I had read it in the running book (see above) that I bought, but it’s really hard to follow just on that information alone.  I searched iTunes for podcasts on running and found an EXCELLENT interval training podcast (for all levels).  iTunes has SOOOOOOO many great podcasts and so many of them are free.  As I said above, you really have to be able to WALK for 30 minutes without feeling totally out of breath before starting the interval training.  I downloaded the following beginners interval training:

You can find interval training for all levels.  This specific one (for week 1) is 25 minutes long.  I had planned for a 30 minute work out so I started the podcast after 3 minutes of walking.  Based on advice from my husband who completed a BSc in Sports Science, it’s best not to get your body used to working out for a specific amount of time.  So, work out for 25 minutes one day, 30 minutes the next time you work out and then 35 minutes for the following (or just mix the times to suit).  So, for the first week of the interval training podcast, if you plan to workout for 35 minutes, just walk 5 minutes before starting the podcast and walk 5 minutes once it ends.

I tried it out today and it was great.  It works on a BPM which is connected to running or walking.  So, when the music goes at 128bpms, you walk.  When it goes at 142bpms, you run (to the beat… so simple!).  There is an audio cue that lets you know when you have to go from walking to running, or running to walking.  So simple!  When I was running, just when I got tired, it would cue to walking, which I thought was great.  I didn’t push myself too much, but I had completed a workout that I know that I can do while also knowing that it will allow me to progress to another level next week.  Just perfect for my beginners level.  I must emphasize that it’s important to vary your work out times.  Either add minutes before and after the podcasts, while also doing workouts that just adhere to the podcasts.  It’s important to teach your body to work for different time periods or else it’ll just get used to doing just 25 minute workouts!

I must also add that this workout almost coincides with the advice given in the book I mentioned above (Running for Women), but the great thing is having a podcast with a beat that coincides with the pace you should be taking.  Of all the “Couch to 5K” programs that I’ve read on the internet and books, I must say that this podcast does a much better job of them all.  And again, please make sure that you can walk for 30 minutes without feeling totally out of breath before you try the podcast!

I can’t tell you how depressing it was to start out with unrealistic goals.  I was so depressed until I realized that I had to be more smart about the way I started this whole fitness/running routine.  Having a high heart rate when I ran really worried me, but I initially tried to ignore it so I could reach training sessions that were detail in “beginner” running blogs.  It’s really important to listen to your body.  It’s OK to push it a little, but you really don’t want to stress your body and heart out.  There must be a balance.

So, today I started the Interval Training podcast.  I was able to stretch before and after to reduce pain my sciatica and it worked!  I felt that the intervals in the podcast were just at my capacity and didn’t push my body too far.  I really felt that this was a more realistic training for running than what I tried before.  I ran/walked 2 miles in a little over 30 minutes.  I think that if I had walked the whole thing I would have done it in 35 minutes.  Below are the details of the BPM in the podcast: (128bpm for walking, 142bpm for running)

Podrunner – Intervals (First day to 5K – Level 1 – Week 1)

5 minute warmup @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 143bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 142bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 142bpm

95 seconds @ 128bpm

65 seconds @ 142bpm

95 seconds @ 128bpm

65 seconds @ 142bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

65 seconds @ 142bpm

90 seconds @ 128bpm

60 seconds @ 142bpm

95 seconds @ 128 bpms

65 seconds @ 142bpms

3 minute cool down @ 128bpm

I really hope beginner runners read this.  I was really depressed by the other beginner runner training schedules out there on the internet and felt that they were unrealistic.  It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself too much.  I am posting this as a beginner runner who is out of shape.  I must also add that I am a smoker, but planning to quit soon, so even though I may not be VERY obese, I have my lung capacity working against me at the moment. :(

And, of course, I’ll keep you updated on my progress and what is working and not working for me.  The important thing is not to lose motivation, because you can do whatever you set your heart to, you just have to decide to set your heart to it!

Much love



  • Very interesting blog…I was shocked that chicken is so different! I live in Canada and our chicken can taste weird sometimes, almost rubbery.

  • This is a very honest and inspiring post. I consider myself a beginner in a lot of ways too (just started in October of 2009) and had very similar wake up calls w/ weight and goal. Look forward to following your training!

  • Something else beginning runners need to keep in mind: Your body is different from any other. You can read all the running books in the world, and you’ll still have to adjust your training to YOU.

    And watch out for Runners World and their ilk. They aren’t much better than Cosmo when it comes to photoshopping and unreal running or dieting plans.

  • @Carol: You’re right… I’ve been taught to listen to my body (my mom is an osteopath and homeopath, etc etc)… I read through that book and got the basic information that I needed. It’s so much more intimidating online with so much information, but the book, in the first chapter, gave that same recommendation: to listen to your body and recognize that we all have different genetic makeups.

    I didn’t end up following the running plan because I found the podrunner intervals podcast which I am so happy with. Once I get through the whole Couch to 5K program from podrunner, I’ll write another update to see how it REALLY went for me (if I could really run a 5K without walking). So far I feel like it hasn’t pushed me beyond my ability.

    I’m also hyper aware of these things because of my previous back and sciatica problems. I’ve been meaning to make a post about the sciatica exercises but it’s so full of information and I need to take a whole load of photos of the exercises that I haven’t gotten around to it. My sciatica isn’t giving me any problems at the moment and I also don’t feel so sore after running anymore, which I think is great!

    I have been sleepy during the day now that I’m running in the mornings, but mornings are so so so much better than any other time of day, especially with this heat and humidity!

  • The other day when I was in Spinning class (my first ever, and what an “experience”), I had the idea of “if I can spin, why not try running?”. I know the two aren’t really related, but it’s a fitness challenge that I’d like to try, and I mean the running part.

    I’ve never tried running before. I’m surely a beginner and it’s something I want to try. But like so many others, I have no idea where to start. I’ve been looking for motivating blogs and Twitter’s whom I can read for inspiration, not just with the running, but to continue my path to healthy eating and overall fitness.

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