Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Run, Yogi, Run!

So I started a new running program about 6 weeks ago and it has been surprisingly great!

I've been doing the Couch to 5k program, which is designed for raw beginners, total couch potatoes, to ease into running a 5k rase (or about 3 miles). Now I am no couch potato, but the last time I did any sort of running was in high school and it was a moderate disaster, so I figured that this program might be a good idea.

Here is a visual depiction of the program which I've found super helpful:

You basically start off by alternating short intervals of jogging (60 sec) with short intervals of walking (90 sec), and then every week you run a little bit longer and a little bit more. It is a 9 week program designed to ease you into running.

I've always suspected that running was something people only did because they wanted to lose weight or they hated themselves, because those were always my reasons for getting on a treadmill! But I tested out the Day One workout in early March (just before I went to Baltimore), and I was surprised... I thought it would be easy and boring, but it was fun! Like, really fun! I enjoy being outdoors, I enjoy going fast, I enjoyed how the running got so much easier as I went along. I also like having a well-defined program to follow (hello, I've done the same yoga sequence every week for years now), and I like setting goals. So I decided that this program would be a fun and healthy thing for me to do.

It's been interesting to see the changes in my body as I go through the program. Running is notorious for wrecking bodies. As a yoga teacher, I have seen a lot of people who have virtually destroyed their bodies and joints after years of pounding the pavement. After years of running marathons, people have no choice but to start a yoga program and heal their bodies. A lot of Bikram yoga teachers are former runners and marathoners who turned to yoga when their bodies refused to run anymore.

For me, it's so cool, because I'm coming at it from the opposite end of the spectrum. I've been practicing yoga as my primary (often only) form of exercise for almost 6 years now, and I am just gradually easing into running. After every run, I go back and do a yoga class! I am only running a few days a week. After each run, my legs and hips are a little bit stiffer - I see the biggest effect in my hamstring, calves, and IT bands. But after a couple of yoga classes, everything is set back to normal, just in time for my next run! So I am doing this as a little experiment - I want to build up to running 3 miles non-stop at a good pace and still be able to touch my head to my toes. So far, so good. Last Saturday was my first non-stop run - 20 minutes with no walking - and I finished pretty easily, went to yoga immediately after, and had my head almost on my toes again by the end of class.

The main differences I've seen from running are that I feel stronger, it's improved my appetite, it tends to give me a ridiculous amount of energy (as if I needed it), it's a quick way to work out any stress, and I am going to get nice runner's tan. Running with a friend is fun because you can talk the whole time - my running buddy is basically my therapist. And wow, compared to a 90 minute yoga class, a 30 minute run fits into my schedule super easily. I can go in the morning before class, in the afternoon between classes, or at whatever random time I roll out of bed in the mid-morning. Even if I drive 10 or 15 minutes to get to one of my favorite running spots, it's still ridiculously convenient.

And just like yoga, running will knock you on your ass if you get too cocky or eat the wrong foods before a workout. My last couple of runs were especially awesome, so today I was feeling really good. I got a new app for my phone so that I could log my time and see how fast I am running - you know, because after 6 weeks I'm probably running like a 5 minute mile (I imagined). I also ate a bunch of cheese and crackers right before I went out. Naturally I died - I got a very unpleasant cramp in my stomach and had to take an extra long walking break in the middle. First time I've had to stray from the program. Whoops. I timed my last mile anyways, and went for speed. It wasn't my fastest running pace (being chased by a bear), but it was a lot faster than my usual jogging pace (still hauling ass), and I finished a mile in 8:47. This was not easy!! And there is no way I could sustain that pace over 3 consecutive miles! So I am not yet the speed demon that I thought I was, but I have a good baseline.

The biggest thing I've started to understand through this running program is pacing. I thought I understood pacing before, but not really. Most of the exercise I've done in my life - yoga and dancing - is essentially interval training. You work really hard, but never for more than a couple minutes at a time. The longest yoga pose we do in the Bikram class is only 60 seconds at most. Even that damn snow scene in the Nutcracker is only a few minutes long (although it always felt like an hour). So you're getting your heart rate up, but then you bring it back down. Running any kind of distance is totally different - it's endurance training. I keep comparing it to biking in my head because that's the only activity I've done that's comparable, where you measure effort in miles instead of minutes. It's not about giving 100% at all once. It's about giving maybe 60% and then sustaining that effort for a longer period of time. It's a completely different feeling, and it's something that running teaches you right away - if you start off running as fast as possible, you can't keep it up! So you have to slooooow dooooown. Very unexpected, than running is teaching me how to slow down, think long term, and be more patient.

There's a rule that I read about (when I was reading various training articles online) called the Rule of Ten Percent. It's a rule of thumb for increasing mileage. This rule says that you should never try to increase your mileage by more than 10% in one week. Even if you can, you shouldn't, because it doesn't give your body a chance to catch up. They emphasize this idea all over the Couch to 5k website.  Quote: "Too many people have been turned off of running simply by trying to start off too fast. Their bodies rebel, and they wind up miserable, wondering why anyone would possibly want to run in the first place."

I loooove this because you can apply it directly back into yoga! So many people want to do everything right away, and it's a mistake. After a week they overdo it, they're exhausted, they get discouraged, and they give up on the whole thing. This doesn't work! You have to start from your personal baseline, whatever that is, and then build up sloooowly, step by step, trying the right way, so that your body has a chance to adapt and you get maximum benefit. It's not a race. (Haha see what I did there?) Or more accurately - it's not a sprint. It's a marathon. You have to be patient and take your time.

Now that I have gotten you guys all excited about running, I need to clean up, eat some food, water my plants, and go to yoga! Hope everyone is enjoying the first day of May. Over here, it's finally looking like spring...