Cross-Country Connections: Pocket »« Skeptech Game-A-Thon Is Now


You guys – I went running last week.

That’s not huge news. I used to be in a winter running club and track for one season in high school. I’ve started Couch-To-5K a few times (heck – even made it to Week 5 one time!) It’s just that I’ve never been very good at running. I’ve always been overweight, and I carry a fat girl’s baggage around when I run – yes, literally and figuratively. I’ve always been acutely aware of the extra jiggles, the way my boobs bounce, the pressure I’m putting on my knees.

But I do like the accomplishment of running, and I feel a special kind of awesome when I run. Of course running isn’t healthy for everyone, but rest assured: I’ve spoken with a doctor about me and running and I practice safer running.

I’ve started visiting the gym at my workplace over my lunch hour. I have a very simple goal: Be on the treadmill or elliptical for 30 minutes. That’s how I started it – 30 minutes, I don’t even care if I do a 30-minute mile; as long as I show up, I consider that a win. That was three months ago. I’ve only missed the gym on weekends, the occasional sick day, and for a couple of work days from hell.

I also started watching my steps and reaching for the 10,000 steps/day recommendation, which is a very tough goal! I work a job that has me on my feet approximately 40% of the time. If I clinic escort in the morning AND spend the day in the lab AND go to the gym, I can get up to the 10,0000. Most days I average about 6-7000. Lazy weekend days range from about 3000-5000.

I feel like this being mobile and active thing is only going to keep getting harder. I’m 34 years old and starting to feel the ol’ metabolism slowing down (which I really didn’t think was possible). My knees are starting to get a little crackly, and the bumps, bruises and pulls that I’ve acquired from falling on the ice this year have stuck around a few days longer than I remember from previous winters. I gotta be active now, so I can have the choice of being active later.

Back to last Wednesday.

I went to the gym as usual, but I was running late. I had a 1pm meeting and I didn’t get into the gym until 12:30pm. I knew I only had 20 minutes (planning for 10 minutes to clean up, change, get back to the office) and thought, “I want to do a mile today.” Hmmm… a mile in 20 minutes would be a nice walking pace, work up the heartbeat. But I’d have more time if I…wait…what I managed to jog the whole thing? Like without stopping? Woah.

You have to realize, I haven’t run an entire mile consecutively in YEARS. I do a lot of walking, and I’d been throwing in five minutes of jogging here and there on my treadmill days, but when that lung-burning sensation starts I usually move back into a brisk walk. I hate the lung-burning.

But the clock was ticking. 18 minutes, what to do? Should I go for the mile?

Let’s go for the mile.

I started the treadmill and walked at a 20-minute mile pace for about 30 seconds and then increased the speed until I reached a 15-minute mile. For perspective, a 15-minute mile is a brisk walk or a pretty laid back jog. But if I was going to try this, I wasn’t going to set myself up for failure by going faster than I could handle.

The first quarter mile was surprisingly easy, but near the end of it, I started to feel myself over-stretching my lungs – pulling air harder and longer than necessary; it made exhaling difficult and was screwing up my breathing pattern. Ack – the lung-burning! I grasped for a trick that my high school coach taught me – breathe in through my nose and slowly out from my mouth. I finally found my rhythm, and the added bonus was all that concentrating burned up the entire next quarter mile!

Third quarter was rough; the temptation to slow to a walk, to catch my breath and bring my heart rate down was with me for almost every step. It was so seductive I actually faltered a few times – if the fear of stumbling off of the moving treadmill belt hadn’t been there, I might have stopped.

The start of the fourth quarter sucked, but I knew I had it in the bag. There was no way I had pushed through the first 11 minutes and 0.75 miles to stop now. But then I started playing tricks on myself – was I landing on my feet correctly? Shouldn’t I be stepping more on the outside of my foot? Or landing more towards the front with each step? What if I couldn’t make it? The first long stretch of the “track” was taking FOREVER. I started to panic a little – I was so close! And then I started breathing wrong again. Ack! And then Pandora switched from a beat-heavy electronic song to a Walgreens commercial, which threw me off so badly that I almost threw in the towel. BAD TIMING PANDORA. But the funniest thought saved the day: “Just run five laps. You’re not almost done – you’ve got another lap after this, so you might as well calm the fuck down and settle in.”

And it worked. I calmed the fuck down and crossed the finish line. I didn’t, incidentally, run the fifth lap. I was just tricking myself into calming down by psyching myself out. And I knew it  at the time and it still worked. Weird brain.

It did however, take all of my willpower to not jump of the treadmill, pump my fists in the air, shout WOO-HOO! at the top of my lungs, and start running Rocky style around the gym. But if I had I’m sure all of my fellow gym-mates would have been like:

Aw yeah.


  1. says

    I’m an infrequent commenter on FTB these days, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever commented on your blog before, but I want to congratulate you on getting this going, Brianne. I started from about the same point you’re at now about 5.5 years ago, and, although my progress has been rather halting and I’ve occasionally stopped exercising for months at a time, I’m now completing half marathons (albeit very slowly) on a regular basis. I hope to do a marathon at some point in the next couple years.

    I also wanted to share with you a few things I’ve found helpful/inspirational, in case they might be of use to you and you haven’t already encountered them. The first is the thing that got me started in the first place — my little brother had recently announced that he was going to do a marathon, and I was sort of toying with the idea myself, and so when I happened to see this NOVA episode, I decided I was going to try to do it too. Basically, they took a bunch of ordinary non-runners and, in less than a year, trained them up to run the Boston Marathon. I think they must’ve gotten special dispensation to bypass the qualification requirement, since most of the participants were still pretty slow by the end of the training program, but they all finished. The training schedule they propose on that site is still more runs per week and a faster ramp-up than I can really handle without burning myself out physically, and I have trouble keeping a regular schedule anyway, but it still provides a useful framework — I can decide to do only half the suggested workouts in a week, repeat a week, go back to an earlier week if I’ve been slacking for a while, or whatever, and it gives me a way to think about where I am.

    There are also a couple other media depictions of running I’ve enjoyed and found myself thinking about when I’m trying to push through the painful part of a race. For example, there’s the sweet/silly Simon Pegg movie Run, Fatboy, Run. And there’s also The Oatmeal’s The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. But I think the biggest motivation for me now is that I sometimes have dreams where I’m just running effortlessly forever, and I’ve finally gotten to the point (after five and a half years!) where I get occasional brief moments of that feeling when running for real, and it feels great. The notion that I might eventually feel like that most of the time is what makes me want to get off my butt on workout days, or even to just break into a jog sometimes when I’m in a hurry to get from point A to point B, even if it’s only for a short distance. I’ve even started to get sufficiently used to pushing myself through the tough parts that I can do those more automatically, and the feeling of accepting the struggle and getting through it is starting to be rewarding in its own way (“this is the part where it starts to hurt a little, here’s the systems kicking in to handle it, look, I’m doing it!”). And on the days when those things aren’t happening, I can always still remind myself that I signed up for such-and-such a race in a month or so, and I want that damn finisher’s medal for my collection.

    Anyway, the final comment I want to make is that if you ultimately decide to go for longer distances, you’ll find that your diet and your choice of shoes start to matter more and more. For example, I’m vegetarian, and I also am trying to lose weight, so keeping track of things like total calories, protein, iron, B vitamins, and so forth has been really important for me to make sure that I don’t (almost literally) run myself into the ground. I can tell when I’ve been managing my diet poorly relative to my exercise because I start to feel achy and run down all the damn time, even though I’m getting enough sleep and not otherwise stressed or sick. On the shoes front, I had to do a lot of fiddling to determine what shoe choices don’t result in knee pain, hip pain, ankle pain, etc. from every damn run. I’ve finally mostly settled with Vibram Fivefingers (those silly-looking “barefoot shoes”) because they force me to pay very careful attention to my gait, and because they just make me feel so damn light and free and wonderful walking and running in them. There’s a certain adjustment period, where you have to toughen up your feet, strengthen certain muscles, and get used to walking a bit differently, but for me it was totally worth it. I still have some gait imperfections I need to improve, but these shoes have been the best thing I’ve found so far. I’m not gonna say they’re for everybody, but the point is that there’s typically a fair bit of experimentation and fiddling required to find the thing that works for you, and when you find it, you’ll be glad you did.

    Anyway, good luck with wherever you end up going with this, and please do keep blogging about your progress. :)

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