Ouch, my toe.

For those of you following my running adventures: by the end of last summer, I had gotten up to running 5K in one go. Which is a rather significant distance, if you don’t mind my saying so. I was entered in my first race as a runner, the Zoo Run 5K in September, and I was looking forward to it. But something happened: when my wife and I were coming back from vacation, I was walking down the hall after having dropped the luggage off in the spare room, and I didn’t pay attention to the cat scratching pole in the hallway. I banged my left little toe on it – and I broke my toe. Oh, fuck. No September running for me.

I went to the doctor, who confirmed that yes, the sucker was broken. He said it would get better in four weeks. I began to panic. How will I keep my cardio fitness without being able to run for four weeks? Do I have to start over? What, basically, the fuck do I do now?

I hit on the answer: stationary bicycling. I couldn’t ride a regular bicycle – I couldn’t mount or dismount – but I could ride. So, three times a week, I rode. I went to the local gym, changed into bicycling shorts, put on my punk rock playlist, and bicycled diligently for 35 minutes at a stretch (35 minutes being the length of time that it took me to run 5K). By the way, I particularly recommend “Jesus Built My Hot Rod” by Ministry as an incentive to get your RPMs up.

In the meantime, my wife was running in the Zoo Run, so I hid my disappointment as best I could (which wasn’t all that well – I’m not gifted with a poker face) and went to cheer her on. I like cheering her on, so that was okay – it was the parts when I was on my own and not cheering in which I felt sad. That wasn’t the most fun day of my life. Life is not always fair, of course, and if the worst problem I am having is that I can’t run a 5K race when I want to, I am fortunate indeed. But I digress.

The good news is that my plan worked. Exactly four weeks after the injury, I gingerly put my shoes back on and headed out to the Belt Line Trail to see if I could run without pain. Naturally, I was extremely worried. But the doctor called it perfectly – I was able to run. I finished 5K without problems, and was only a couple of minutes slower than my usual time. And I got those back over the next couple of weeks. (My left little toe still feels a little weird after the break, even now, but it’s functional, and that’s the important thing.) My wife helped me get over my sadness about not being able to run my First Big Race by signing me up for a 5K race in November. “You’ll be able to do that one,” she said. Pessimistically, I wasn’t sure. But she was right: by November, I was ready to go.

(By the way: I now wear hard-toed shoes around the house, as I don’t want to break another toe. I think they’ve saved me at least one serious stubbing or breaking since then. Age and clumsiness do not go well together, people.)

Next up: my first actual race! Whee!

Couch to 5K.

So, I now have decided to run, and I have shoes. The next step is to start already.

Since running has become so popular over the last few years, there’s been a lot of time and effort put into developing programs for beginner runners. The most popular program is the so-called Couch to 5K program: it’s eight weeks, three days a week, and it gradually builds you up from being a walker to being someone who can run five entire kilometres in a single go.

Naturally, there’s an app for it. There’s several apps, but the one I got is probably typical. You put on your headphones or earpiece, start the app, and then it tells you when to run and when to take walking breaks between runs. (It also issues random statements of encouragement, such as “Great job deciding to run today!” and “Awesome! You’ve got this.” When it did that, I usually told it to fuck off.) In the first workout, it started me off nice and easy: after a five-minute walking warmup, I had a few bursts of running for one minute and then walking for one minute. One minute isn’t that long, is it? How hard can it be? Of course, that’s how they lure you in.

I stuck with the program diligently, gradually working up from one-minute bursts to 90 second bursts to two, three and five minutes at a time, and then longer. Along the way, I learned one vital truth about running – you don’t need to run fast if you don’t have to. In fact, you shouldn’t – and you can’t. Once I determined a comfortable pace for slogging along at intervals of greater than 5 minutes, I was able to get through it.

The science of this program was obviously carefully designed: after each workout, I felt that I had done exactly the maximum I was capable of doing that day. It was as if evil (or benevolent) geniuses had carefully calculated the most that I could endure each time.

My initial route took me down Soudan Avenue east of Mount Pleasant – I live west of Mount Pleasant, but for some reason always wanted to cross the street to start my run. As my distances got longer, I travelled on more and more streets in the neighbourhood, until I had hit just about all of them: I ran on Soudan, Hillsdale, Manor, Belsize, Millwood, Cleveland, Forman, and Davisville. Eventually, I branched out to west of Mount Pleasant, which was more of a challenge as it is hillier. After a while, I got to know my neighbourhood really well. How many people – he asked rhetorically – get to know their neighbourhood really well?

After the eight weeks was up, I reached my goal: I could run 5K! I was scheduled to enter my first race in late September: the Zoo Run at the Toronto Zoo. Unfortunately, something got in the way – namely, a blunt object. More in my next exciting adventure.

Purchasing the shoes.

So, last May, I finally decided to try running. This meant, I assumed, that I needed special shoes. But what kind to get? Presumably, I needed shoes that would support my feet and keep my knees from aching, but would these be easy to find? Was there likely to be pain and suffering ahead?

I figured that finding shoes would be especially difficult for me, since I am not easy to fit: I simultaneously have wide feet, high arches, and narrow ankles. This has caused problems for me before. For example, skating is never fun. To have a hope of being able to stand up on skates without bending at the ankles, I need extra-long laces that I can wrap around the heel of the skate at least once, and even then it is touch and go.

And it is physically impossible for me to wear loafers – my feet are just the wrong shape. I don’t really want to wear loafers anyway, so it’s not much of a deprivation, but just slipping into shoes is not a concept that I am familiar with. Usually, I have to loosen the laces to fit my wide feet in, and then tighten the laces at the base to enclose my narrow ankles. Feel free to pity me at this point, dear reader!

So, with some trepidation, I ventured into a nearby running store, and asked a helpful salesperson for help (it’s best to ask helpful people for help, as opposed to asking them for money or something). He asked me to run up and down the store in my normal gait, which I did, trying not to bounce too much, and hoping he wouldn’t laugh too hard. He didn’t comment or say something like “This is going to be a challenge” or “Oh, dear”, or “You’re probably not cut out for this, you know”. Instead, he pointed out that he was just about to put away a pair of shoes that were size 12, double E width, and would I like to try those on? I did, and they fit perfectly. Hallelujah! With that, and a pair of running shorts (I already had T-shirts), I was good to go.

For the record, my shoes are New Balance 860 v7 size 12 width 2E. I’m now on my second pair, and they fit perfectly too. But OMG OMG they’re discontinuing this model. When my current shoes wear out, I’ll have to either beat the bushes for another pair or cross my fingers and hope that a newer model works out. But I’ll worry about that later.

Next up: beginning the Couch to 5K program. Holy shit, I’m going to try this.

How I got into this.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually try running, or at least be curious about it. For one thing, my wife is a runner. She’s run seven road marathons, a trail marathon, and a trail 50K, along with 25 or so half-marathons. (She had to pause briefly to count them. I’m not sure how you lose count of how many half-marathons you run. My plan is to run exactly 0 half-marathons. More on that later. She says, “You say that now.” Feel free to laugh at me later. Or now.) My sisters are both runners – each has run at least one marathon, and one sister trained seriously at one time to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon (her effort and willpower were sufficient, but our family genetics were not). My brother-in-law is a runner, my niece is a runner, and at least one of my nephews is a runner. Our family’s total expenditure in shoes has probably kept several shoe stores functional as going concerns.

So why didn’t I try running before? Well, strictly speaking, I had run before: in junior high school, everybody had to run cross-country as part of the program. This involved a trip through the Deerlick Creek ravine northeast of the Don Valley Parkway and Lawrence Avenue, a grind up the (short) hill on Brookbanks Drive, and then down the hill to my school, Milneford Junior High (which no longer exists under that name – I wasn’t happy there, so I’m okay that the name is gone). And everybody also had to do the 12-Minute Run twice a year, which was basically a test to see how many laps of the junior high school track you could do in 12 minutes. Less than 6 laps (each lap was about a quarter-mile) led to effective ostracism – I basically struggled through about 6 laps each time, after reaching a resting pulse rate of over 200 (I counted it once). That was no fun at all. Did I mention that I am glad that my junior high school is gone? (And don’t get me started on the Canada Fitness Test. I got bronze once, and flunked out every other time. Ugh.) These aren’t the sort of experiences that encourage a person to become a future runner. Besides, this was the 1970s, and people weren’t running much yet.

But there are three reasons why I never considered running as an adult. One is intrinsic laziness – running seems like hard work. I like being active, but why suffer? The second was that I took up recreational volleyball when I was in my mid-thirties, which is about 15 years later than most people do it. I wasn’t exceptionally good at it, but I continued for two reasons: (a) it was fun, and (b) I am tall, which is a good attribute for a volleyball player. (I never really learned how to spike. Argh.) However, because I knew squat about training, volleyball destroyed my knees for a few years. It got so bad that walking for a few minutes led to two days of pain, and I went 13 years without riding a bicycle; eventually, it cleared up, and I went back to distance walking and eventually biking. The third is that my body is built weird. I have short hamstrings, so I bounce when I walk, I can’t come close to touching my toes, and I can sit cross-legged effortlessly. (I was teased a lot in junior high school. See earlier comment about being glad that it is gone.) If I tried running, would I irretrievably break something?

But, after a while, I realized that my knees didn’t bother me anymore, and anything I broke could possibly be fixed, so I figured, why not try it? If I don’t try it, I’ll never know if I like it! I was going to try it in the fall of 2015, but I pulled a leg muscle doing a stretching workout and then developed a blood clot in the leg (I’m fine now), so I had to put it off. But, by May 2017, the stars were in alignment, so let’s see how this goes.

In my next entry, I will write about Purchasing The Shoes. I’m sure that you can hardly wait.

Hello.

Hi. I turn 58 in June of 2018, and I took up running at the end of May, 2017. I’m told that this is somewhat unusual – most people start doing this sort of thing earlier in life.

This blog is about my experiences going from being a non-runner to being a 5K runner to maybe being a 10K runner. But don’t worry – this isn’t going to be one of those inspirational tracts about how running is a spiritual blah blah blah. I’m just going to write about some of the stuff that happened when I started, and what is happening now. It might be of interest to other people who are either thinking of taking up running or are still running despite being well into middle age or beyond and not actually being an athlete or anything like that. (By general consensus, I was the worst softball player in the Don Victoria Softball League when I was growing up.) Fair warning: I’m an obsessive worrier, so there may be more descriptions of minor aches and pains than you really want to hear.

I’ll start off by going back to last May and writing up how it all happened, and then I’ll continue intermittently with new stuff as it occurs to me. Thanks for reading, if you’re still here.