The Start of My Love Affair with Running
I have gravitated toward distance running since high school. I played soccer and also joined my high school track team, opting for the longer 3200 kilometer race. My tendency toward endurance sports likely means my body has more “slow twitch” fibers. Or perhaps I have a penchant for long, grueling processes. Whatever the case, I continued to run both in high school, and afterward.
Later, in college, I joined Naval ROTC, where running was a key part of “PT” (physical training) sessions and a component of the physical fitness test. I loved how much I improved with regular training exercises with my battalion. I also am a perfectionist and a habitual practicer, so I would run on the side to improve my performance at the PT sessions. This, of course, improved my physical fitness even further, and led me to further enjoy running.
Falling off of the Wagon, i.e. my Time Away from Running
As I transitioned to medical school and then residency, busy life took over. I blamed my degree of stress and overwork on why I fell off of my beloved hobby. However, as I have mentioned in other posts, I now realize I was also suffering from Graves Disease, which caused exercise intolerance, shortness of breath upon exertion, and palpitations. I was unaware of this, thinking I was simply “lazy” and busy, and blamed the symptoms on poor conditioning and lack of willpower.
My Return to Running, with a Vengeance
Fast forward now to fall 2016. This was the time of my Graves Disease diagnosis. Once the diagnosis was made, I realized my fatigue had a secondary cause. My mind was blown. And also, my confidence grew. I resumed running here and there. And then, January 1, 2017, I made a “New Years Resolution” to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. The longest I had run to that point was probably in the ballpark of 3-5 miles. I was nervous but also excited to challenge myself, and see how far I could go.
I carried out the training dutifully, finding a free beginners training plan online. I entered the workouts into my calendar, and tried to juggle these around my already busy life. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough, I will not lie. I admit I was embarrassingly out of shape. But I persevered, primarily because I had set a goal. I had also registered for the race furthering my commitment. Internally, as well, I did not want to shortchange myself – I wanted to know if I could do it, and do it right!
I finished my first half marathon at age 35 in 2:23. Not too bad for my beginner-level training and several years of couch potatoed-ness preceding this!
A couple of days after finishing, I was incredibly sore. I got Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness with a vengeance, mainly because I did not train on hills leading up to this hilly race. I did not incorporate any strength training into my Half Marathon training. I also ran faster in the race than I had been training (the adrenaline made me do it!). However, mentally, I was buoyed and very proud of my accomplishment.
About 2 days after my race ended, I was motivated to next take on a marathon. I logged on that day to the Columbus Marathon website and (wisely or unwisely) registered myself. My very first marathon will be in Columbus, Ohio, this October, 2017.
I have been training for this marathon now for 3 months. I have a little less than 2 months to go before my race date. The training is grueling and time consuming. I will admit it is not all gumdrops and rainbows. I have good days, and bad days! I have also begun more strength training this time around, as I have read several books and articles highlighting why it is important to be a well rounded athlete.
I admit I neglected strength training altogether with my Half Marathon training, as I am busy and like to cut corners where I can. But incorporating about 10 minutes/day of body weight strength training most days of the week has improved my health, my sense of accomplishment, and my physical fitness. I think my physique has also improved. All of those smart trainers and exercise physiologists are correct – it pays off to be well rounded!
Thought the training is hard at times, I have come to look forward to my runs. I have also opted to move my runs to the morning. This ensures I get the workout done. I also feel accomplished and more productive early on in my day. The runs are a time for me to focus on me. I push my body with my harder runs, and let my subconscious take over with my easier runs. It is cathartic, a form of mindfulness and meditation for me nearly every day.
Why Should You Exercise?
Now, I realize not everyone enjoys running. But I think there is something everyone’s body is inclined to doing, be it walking, swimming, cycling, etc. I challenge you to start doing this regularly, for example, 4-5x/week for 10 minutes a session at first. Pencil it in (electronically or physically) into your calendar. This will hold you accountable. You will feel guilty ignoring the event, or worse, scratching it off or deleting it. I also encourage you to consider working out in the morning. As I have mentioned, it gets the workout over and done. Also, your mind will be stimulated by the physical activity so early on in the day. I suspect you will perform better and be happier with the rest of your work and life activities later that day.
Most importantly of all, exercising regularly not only helps your mental health, it also improves your physical health. You will have lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. With the rising overweight and obesity epidemic in our society, I think these are all unfortunately becoming too commonplace in my day to day practice as a family physician. Please do your darnedest to avoid these diseases! It is so much better to avoid the diseases altogether, than to try to treat them once they are present. Part of your risks come from genetics, age, and sex, which I realize are not changeable. However, your physical activity and exercise habits are something you CAN change. Please do so!