Getting on Track

Three years after I started playing tennis, I noticed that my shot making skills had improved yet my fitness levels remained the same. I would start getting tired towards the end of the first hour and then get progressively worse with each passing second. I blamed the heat, the lack of food, too much food and even my desk job for not being able to outlast my training sessions. I do hit the gym once in a while and do about 20 minutes of cardio and another 20-30 minutes of random strength/weight training. I have a BMI of 22 and i can still fit in pant from my college days, these trivial reasons made me believe that I was fit enough. It took a few more rubbish sessions and a fitness assessment to make me realize that I lacked endurance and my mental focus was absolutely ridiculous when under duress. The fitness assessment report was not very flattering, most of my “numbers” were in the slightly above or average category. My blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat percentage, strength test result numbers looked shaky for the most part.

I am not a competitive person, but I do like to believe that i like to do a thorough job. i was not honestly impressed by my numbers and i did want to know ways to improve them as well. Running I was told was the best way to improve, so I decided to put myself up to it. I signed up for a race as an incentive to train. The 20 minutes of cardio that I used to do in the gym did include running on a treadmill, so I was not exactly worried about completing a 5K race. The first few days felt good, I was so excited about the prospect of winning the race that I ran every other day. I finished my first 5K in 34 minutes and was in the 30th percentile. The guy who won the race did it in 15 minutes. While I was happy that I finished, the finish time bothered me. I signed up for another race and trained even harder. I took off a few more seconds from my finish time and somewhere along the lines I fell in love with running. I enjoyed the activity so much that tennis became my second interest.

I stopped worrying about the finish times, I ran for the feel. I ran along parks, sidewalks, asphalt roads, dirt trails and boy did i feel good. It was very different from running on the treadmill, the scenery, the broken pavements, twigs, lizards on the sidewalk all somehow contrive to help you move. I started to work on a breathing pattern, I would take breath in for a two count step and breathe out for a two count step. I started to work on exercises to improve my stride length, and cadence. At the end of my first year I had run 180 miles, finished 3 5k and 2 10K road races. I only lost two pounds from the last year, but i did lose 5% body fat, and my tennis sessions no longer seem to be brutal anymore. I ran a 5K in 30.31 minutes, a 10 K in 72 minutes. I know these numbers are not great and I am still so far away from the winner but now I have edged myself to the 50th percentile.
So if you are like me and want to get started on running here are a few lessons that I picked up along the way

  • Wear the right clothes, do not wear tight/loose fitting clothes, do not wear cotton, wear dri-fit shirts that fit. Ill fitting clothes cause chaffing, will make you hate running.
  • Buy a pair of running shoes, a good running shoe will provide comfort, cushion and prevent injuries so get to a shop that watches your foot strike and get you shoe-fitted.
  • Hydrate – Running is hard on your body. Drink water and hydrate yourself before and after every run.
  • Fuel – Like I said before running is hard on your body, if you do not provide your body with the necessary food, your body will break down. Choose food that is a combination of high fiber (greens), with high protein (lentils, beans, meat, dairy). Carbohydrates are essential but do limit the amount of rice and bread you take. Try to avoid processed food and reduce sugar intake. Remember Nuts, Fruits and vegetables are your best friends.
  • Breathe – Sounds silly, but remember to breathe through your nose. Taking in air through the mouth will cause bloating and well gastrointestinal difficulties.
  • Effort – Watch for the effort that you are putting while you train. If you have difficulty breathing or if you feel discomfort at any level the please stop. A reasonable indicator of effort is if to try talking sentences without gasping while running. If you can then the effort level is good, if not try to slow it down a touch.
    • Warm up and Cool Down – Every run should be preceded by a warm up and finish with a cool down
      • Chris Henshaw warm up – Best warm up routine out there.
      • Cool down stretches, walk until your HR is low, or until you can talk without difficulty
      • Foam rolling is another great way of relaxing your muscles.
  • Alternate – Running is a very mechanical activity, once you get your posture and technique right you end up exercising the same muscles over and over again. Do something else like strength training, swimming or play a sport like tennis, basket ball that exercises other parts of your body.
  • Rest – The value of rest is often overlooked. The body needs time to recover from a run. Over training or over working will not help you in any way.

Go ahead tie your boots and get on a track and run see if it makes you any wiser and stronger. Either way If you pass me on the road I will say this to you Good day!.

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