Back on the run

I ran back in my 20s, back when my body was more tolerant of the physical toll of running 25 to 35 miles a week. I ran 10Ks (pr of 40:04) and a smattering of 5Ks (20:02 pr). Toward the end of my 29th year my knees and back had had enough. Do something else, my doctor advised. I drifted to the more joint-friendly swimming and cycling, my staples for the next 22 years.

Last fall, I began trail running once a week at Umstead. I can’t recall what prompted me to start — curiosity over how my body would react, perhaps. It went well and I gradually increased my distance. Currently, I run six miles at a pace of just over 10 minutes per mile. Well off the 6:30 pace of my peak years, but acceptable to someone simply glad to be running again.

I’ve been able to resume running because, curiously, running on uneven, bumpy, rooty, rocky trail is easier on the body. Running on pavement, your foot strikes the consistent surface roughly the same way every time. (By my calculations, for my stride that’s roughly 4,400 times per foot on a typical five-mile training run. Which, again by my crude calculations, would be more than 1.1 million strikes per foot a year running 25 miles a week.)

Trail running, on the other hand, is the snowflake of the sport: No two foot strikes are alike. You’re constantly dodging stuff, which affects your stride and thus where and how your foot lands. I’ve been trail running once a week for a year now, with few physical repercussions. I’m happy to be running again. But of course, I want more.

Last year, as the health and fitness writer for The News & Observer, I followed a group of runners through the Fit-Tastic running program offered by The Athlete’s Foot. The program’s goal: Take folks who don’t know a waffle trainer from a Waffle House and, in 12 weeks, transform them into 5K runners. I followed a mom trying to get back into shape after her first child, a young married couple eager to not repeat the mistakes of their sedentary parents, and a family who wanted to get into better shape together. Their final for the program was a Halloween 5K, the Monster Dash. It was during that race that my urge to run was rekindled. Or, more precisely, my urge to run in a race. For while I experienced the euphoric runner’s high any number of times, the real high was the races: the pounding music, the hundreds of competitors (or thousands, in the case of the Bolder Boulder where I was one of 16,000), the pushing to pass just one more person, the free T-shirt. If I could do it one more time, I thought.

Of course, doing a 5K this time around would mean doing it in a lot more than 20 minutes. To approach that time would require more road-pounding training than my body can handle. But for someone whose goal was to constantly finish in the top 10 percent, it doesn’t mean run-walking, either. I need to run the race and I need to run it in a respectable, to me, time. Arbitrarily, I’ve decided that breaking 24 minutes, or sub 8 minute miles, is a worthy goal.

I’m doing the Fit-Tastic program myself this year. Thursday night will be my first training session. Already, coach Tim Clark has sent me some training guidelines, which we’ll discuss on Thursday. Part of the allure of the program is access to experienced running coaches such as Clark, who listen to your goals then devise a training strategy to help get you there.

Over the next nine weeks I’ll report periodically on the program. I’ll update my progress, but I’ll also talk about the other folks in the program, about why they’re here, about what motivated them to run, about what they hope to accomplish and about how they’re progressing. And I’ll take you along on our final exam, the Monster Dash on Oct. 25.

See you back here after Thursday evening’s run.

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Officially, the Fit-tastic training program launched with a kick-off meeting Aug. 6, but TAF’s Mike Zimmerman says you can still register. “Reality is,” says Zimmerman, “if they are not in decent shape, they may have a hard time catching/keeping up.” You be the judge. You can find out more about the program here, you can register here. Fee is $50. And yes, among other things that includes a T-shirt.Back

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