Running 3.1 Miles (Or My First 5K)

I used to have a motto that it was pointless to run unless being chased. Thankfully I’ve rarely found myself in a position where I needed to run for safety and therefore rarely ran unless caught in the rain.

I’ve already noted the weight and exercise changes I’ve made over the last couple of years, but running is a pretty new experience. I spent most of the spring training for a backpacking trip planned for June out west. That meant lots of long hikes in hilly terrain worried about distance and not time. I did several hikes of as much as ten miles, but rarely worried about a pace greater than a steady walk.

The backpacking trip didn’t quite go as planned and now will take place in early November. Shortly before that fell apart though I had decided I needed something to work toward once I came back. I was looking at coming back in mid June with the main goal I’d held for my spring gone.

Why I decided to try running I do not know, but somehow it felt like a change of pace. Shorter distances in faster time which sort of flipped what I’d been doing. I figured given the condition I was in I could train about six weeks and have a decent result so I looked for something around the end of July and found it in the Bele Chere 5K in Asheville, NC.

Then shortly afterward June happened. The trip fell apart on me at the last minute. And shortly after I got back from it my father had an accident at work breaking his hip. Several weeks of hospital and rehab for him followed and my training time was the victim. I trained, but not as many days as I’d hoped. I got what I could in, but my goal went to simply finishing. I felt I could walk ten miles without a break still, I worried about being the last person to finish just over three.

Bele Chere was a festival held in downtown Asheville at the end of July that everyone in the city seems to either love or hate. No, the locals I know mostly either hated or ignored it. I use the past tense as it appears this year’s was the last one. I heard more love than most years this time perhaps for that reason. Interestingly I’ve been in the city the last three years during the festival, but this was my only time actually going to it.

I get downtown early. It’s early morning in Asheville and I’m walking around Pack Square park warming up mostly by just walking. My test 5K shortly before the race had been run when I was really tired and a bit under the weather, but my time had been terrible. My goal as I walk around the park next to the start and finish areas is to finish at a pace of twelve minutes per mile or a bit over 37 minutes for the race.

It’s been a cloudy morning and drizzly. The night before had scattered some rain around the city. The calls are for us to start to gather around the start/finish line. I settl toward the back of the middle of the pack figuring it’s about the right spot for me on my pace. Shortly after getting there a noticeable flash occurs in the sky. A lot of cameras have been in use, but this ain’t that. The thunder a bit later confirms this. I take a moment to enjoy the irony that coming over the speakers is AC/DC’s Thunderstruck before wondering how they handle thunderstorms.

Lightning flashes a couple more times in the ten minutes or so before the start. Only the last is close enough to be concerning, but it’s not repeated. What does follow though is a downpour of rain a couple of minutes before the 7:30 A.M. start time.

There are almost 1,200 people there at the race start. I work through the largely empty streets of downtown. I’d had the luck and foresight to wear a cap, but even before I cross the start line it, along with my pants and shirt, are soaked to the skin. It’s a cool morning for July, but the movement means I never feel chilled.

The rain last probably the first five minutes of the race. Water runs down the street and there are puddles everywhere the asphalt dips even slightly. My socks get soaked along the way and I’ve no idea if the splash that did it came from me or another running hitting a puddle.

At the same time the race feels like it takes forever, and seems over in minutes. I cross the finish line 37:03 after the starting gun putting me 941 out of 1,177 people listed on the results site this evening. My official time from start line to finish lines of 36:32 matches my own tracking pretty closely for a pace of 11:56 per mile.

I’m not happy with the time, but already see how to improve. More training of course would have helped, I had to walk an uphill section around the two mile mark that likely cost me at least a minute off my time and I lost probably another minute dealing with my shoe laces. I’d not tired them well and had to stop and retie both along the way.

So the question then is will I do it again? Probably so. I’m looking to train better now that life has gotten a bit less crazy and would like to hit something around thirty minutes for a time. When I don’t know, but I’ll probably start looking at area races toward end of August or into September. Be interesting to see what progress I can make in between.

My Simple, But Not Easy Weight Loss Plan

When you lose over 100 pounds of weight people notice. Especially over the last few months as I’ve moved to pretty close to a normal, healthy weight. Up until a couple months ago when asked I pretty much gave the rather boring answer of “I ate less and exercised more.” That’s really true, but misses a lot of the details. Everyone know that you have to eat less and exercise more to lose weight, but most people, including myself many times, fail to do it.

So what did I do differently this time? A few months ago I wrote a bit about the process, but now let me describe a bit of the daily things I did that worked for me. These I think are the things that I did to lose weight and feel that I’ll keep it off going forward. I’m a lot of things, but not a doctor, trainer, or nutritionist or any other professional at this so take this advice as just what worked for me. I’m not trying to sell you anything, but some of the links to products below might be affiliate links, but they’re the things I’ve used myself.

Exercise feels lousy when you first start, but eventually you do start to actually enjoy it and feel better afterward. Even now though when I’d consider myself in the best shape of my life, I still often feel that nagging laziness when it comes time to work out. At some point just telling yourself to do it and doing so really is everything. I’d developed an enjoyment of hiking early in my weight loss process, partly tying into an interest in outdoor photography, and did a lot of that over the last couple of years. Late last fall I started training for my backpacking trip this summer that didn’t quite work out as planned and will now take place in the fall, but the process meant three to six mile hike much of the winter and spring. Together these meant I spent much more time outdoors and active. After getting past the initial “I hate exercise” adjustment I did also found it burned off stress nicely. I’ve had a few rather stressful periods in the last year and I found that going for a hike or getting onto the elliptical during the dreary weather days when getting outside didn’t seem a great plan worked wonders for my stress and at the same time helped me lose weight and feel better. Gradually exercise stopped always feeling like a chore or work. So I found a way to make exercise, while not always enjoyable, at least not something to dread. I always enjoyed getting outdoors for a hike, but when not I was at least able to remember that while the first few minutes on an elliptical were rough, I’d feel better at the end.

And that’s the first element, just deciding to do it and sticking to it. It’s not easy to make time, but in the end I valued it enough to do so. You don’t get more time, just allocate what you have differently. I found that audio books and podcasts worked well for me while exercising giving my mind something to focus on when on the elliptical other than somewhat dull routine. A nice pair of headphones for some of the less wild and more boring trails in the area also let me take those same things with me on hikes.

The second element really comes down to awareness. I started paying attention to how much I ate and what I ate. I paid attention to how much activity I did and what type of activity I did. When I decided to make a good final push last fall and get beyond the slow weight loss I’d seen to that point, I started tracking things. Doing this can be a nuisance, and it’s easy to get bogged down to a level where you want to give up in frustration.

I began tracking everything I ate and it’s nutritional value. For packaged foods this is simply on the label. Many larger or chain restaurants provide nutritional info on their web sites. And sometimes you just have to guess based on that you had a salad with Italian dressing and grilled fish. Doing this made me think a bit more about what I ate before I ate. It’s one thing to overindulge on cookies, but another to then look at what you ate and see the effect they had on your diet. Seeing I’d had a hamburger at lunch made me a little more likely to pick something healthier at dinner. So I became more aware of what I ate. Reading the nutritional info for restaurants was very eye opening. I was especially surprised how often the healthier looking or sounding option at a restaurant wasn’t any less caloric or more nutritious than the hamburger.

There are web sites that can do this or simply paper and pen, but I mostly used apps on my iPhone to track my food. I started with using Lose It! on my iPhone, but ended up using the app from Fitbit since it tied into the activity tracker I’ll mention in a moment. I still use Lose It! for the ability to build custom recipes for meals that I create when cooking at home and it ties into Fitbit so anything I enter in Lose It! shows in Fitbit.

For tracking my activity I started with a now discontinued Fitbit. It worked pretty well, but after a couple months I sold it on eBay and bought the newer Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker. I loved this thing so much that when I lost mine on my trip to Arizona in early June I ordered a replacement the same day. The small size is nice in that it’s pretty discreet while being worn, but it is easily lost, especially as the case become more lose over time. I lost mine while clipped to my belt as I worked to get myself and too much luggage from the rental car center to the airport in Phoenix before returning home. I now wear it clipped in a pocket most of the time so if it does fall out it’s not lost, something I wish I’d started a bit sooner. This device tracks steps taken and floors climbed during the day. I can also monitor how well I sleep. It’s not perfect, but does give a decent determination of how many calories I burn and how active I am during the day. I found that knowing how many steps I took helped me realize what led to me being less active (see winter weekends) and adapt for them.

In December I also added in a heart rate monitor for exercise. The Fitbit does well with walking based activities such as walking, running, and hiking, but doesn’t work as well with stationary activities like weight lifting, the elliptical, and cycling. For those I found the heart rate monitor gave me a more accurate number. I ended up using a Wahoo Fitness Blue HR Heart Rate Strap for iPod/iPhone that connects to my phone using Bluetooth. I’ve tried a number of apps, but settled on the Digifit iCardio to use while indoors on the elliptical or any other inside workout. I found it less useful for outdoor exercise as the GPS seems unreliable. For tracking outdoors I use RunKeeper which tracks and maps my hikes. I also like MotionX GPS, but find it more useful for hiking than as exercise tracking. I’ve mostly use RunKeeper for anything outdoors.

None of these are perfect. That’s not a problem. I really don’t worry about getting every calorie to the exact amount or exercise to the exact calorie matters. The key is that these tools made me more aware of what I did and that seemed to be enough for me. There were days I went for a walk in the evening just to get a few more steps onto the counter before bed. There were many days I’d have a salad for lunch so I could feel better about the hamburger I’d be eating for dinner at a cookout. I tracked as close as I could and tried to keep a steady deficit between what I ate and what I burned.