I just completed Week 5, Day 3 of Couch to 5k. I mean it–just now. I’m sitting on the couch, icing my knees while the baby naps in the running stroller. I’ve been keeping quiet about doing Couch to 5k here in case it didn’t go well. But man…it’s going well. It’s going really well. I understand now why you runners run. It feels GOOD, doesn’t it?
Today’s workout on the program was five minutes of brisk walking to warm up, and then running for twenty minutes without walking. I did it. I ran every step of that twenty minutes. When the alert chimed (I use the C25k app for my iPod) to tell me to walk for the cool down, it caught me completely by surprise. I could have easily kept going. And you know what? That was probably the first time in my life I’ve run twenty consecutive minutes with no walking. No shit. I’m so damn proud of myself. On Wednesday, Day 2 of this week in the program, I had to run two eight-minute segments, and the end of each of those caught me by surprise, but I wasn’t expecting to feel that way with the twenty-minute run. On the walk over to the park where I run I was feeling a little nervous about the workout ahead, telling myself that if I found I had to walk before the twenty minutes was up, that was okay. I would take it one step at a time and just do my best. Well…wahoo!!! I can run twenty minutes straight without pain and without wanting to drop to the ground from lack of oxygen! Pretty cool.
(Twenty minutes doesn’t seem like all that much to run, I guess, but it feels like a real accomplishment to me. I was so deconditioned after all the pregnancies and miscarriages, and then the pregnancy with Ladybug, and then the lead-up to my surgery over the winter and the recovery from that etc etc etc… I can run for twenty minutes. That’s super-hero shit, considering where I started.)
So there I was today, heading up a hill, feeling comfortable and not really wondering about how much time had passed, when the alert chimed in to tell me I was halfway done with the run. Then my darling iPod served up “Beginning to See the Light” by The Velvet Underground and I was all like “grrr!” and “fuck yeah!” and all-powerful charging up that hill on my good strong legs with my good strong lungs and heart and it was so, so good.
I’ve tried to run before and I’ve always ended up injured within the first couple weeks. Patellar tendinitis, to be specific. (It sucks. I don’t recommend it.) I used to think I had bad knees, but then I married a physical therapist and learned that I actually have weak ankles and tight toes, and those things combine to jack up my knees if not addressed properly. Billy was convinced I could run if I put a whole lot of work into my legs first. I pretty much decided I just wasn’t built for running.
I’d started doing the 30-Day Shred workout after the baby was born, and I liked it–it was fun and short so I could fit the workout in after the kids went to sleep, before heading into my office to do freelance or write. That was working for a while, but then I started to do work to heal a pretty severe post-partum diastasis recti (more on that in a later post) and many of the 30-Day Shred exercises were now off-limits. I was going for long walks with the baby–I love to walk–but as I worked the diastasis program and got some of my core strength back I started craving more intensity. And then some of my favorite people started doing Couch to 5k and having fun with it and it was working for them, and I thought, well…yeah. I want to do that.
Billy gave me a few exercises to do every day (squats and lunges and stretches) and I bought a decent pair of running shoes (Nike Frees. LOVE them–and no, not getting paid to say that and yes I bought my shoes. Weird we have to specify that these days in blogs. Strange times.) I did the first two weeks of Couch to 5k and my knees kind of hurt and my shins kind of hurt, but it was okay, and then…yeah. Jacked up my left knee. I was bummed.
But not completely crushed. Nope. I took two weeks off, went back to long walks with the baby and kept up with my lunges, but I laid off the squats because they seemed to aggravate my injured knee. Any time I saw someone running, I watched them. I noticed who looked comfortable, and who looked uncomfortable, and found something that all the runners who looked natural and easy in their pace had in common–something that almost none of the pinched-face miserable-looking ones were doing: The comfortable runners were all bringing their heels up behind them. Some moved fast, some moved slower, some shuffled, but they all brought those heels up behind them. Nearly all the uncomfortable-looking runners were reaching forward with their feet with each step.
After those two weeks, I went back to the beginning of the Couch to 5k program, and I focused on bringing those heels up behind me. You know what? Not a moment of discomfort in my knees or shins. No leg discomfort AT ALL for these past five weeks. And I’ve run every step of every running segment in the program. I’d always assumed running is a natural activity that my body should just know how to do right, that my form is my natural form. Well, no. Bringing the heels back engages my hamstrings, giving me push-off. Before, I thought push-off came from literally pushing the ball of your foot against the ground. You know what else is working for me? Thinking about the fact that my mechanics have to be different on hills or on the flat. The park where I run has hills, because it’s Portland and you can’t find two consecutive flat miles in this town. I bring the heels back on the flat bits and on the downhill (though I also lean back on the downhill because of the running stroller), but to climb hills I bring my knees up in front of me. Those mechanics may change once I’m no longer pushing a three-million-pound running stroller up the hills. We’ll see about that when that day comes.
I’ve got a good routine going that lets me get in my three runs a week while still meeting Ladybug’s needs. I run on the days when Kiddo is in preschool, so I’ve just got the one kid’s schedule to consider. I wait until she’s ready to go down for her nap, then strap her in and head out. She hangs out and checks out the scenery while we walk to the park, then falls asleep usually before I’m even done with the five-minute warmup. She stays asleep for the run and the walk home, then usually stays asleep in the stroller, parked in the hallway, while I stretch and ice my knees. (I’m icing as a preventative measure now. Plus it feels good to relax on the couch with bags of peas on my knees. It’s the most sitting down I do. Feels luxurious.) Once in a while she’ll wake up as soon as the stroller stops moving and I’ll have to bring her upstairs to nurse her back to sleep in the bed and my muscles will get all stiff from lying down for twenty minutes or so without stretching, but…hell. I’m home with a 15-month-old and I’m still managing to get out there and exercise three times a week, so I won’t complain too much about that.
I’m thinking I’ll sign up for a 5k race when I’m done with the program. Just for fun.
Hey there. I’m Cari. I’m a runner. (WHHHHHHEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)