Saturday, September 24, 2011

Reconnecting with Sprinting

I've never liked running. Of any kind, period. For starters, when you're not buff stuff jiggles a bit, not an enjoyable experience, especially when you're the sex that's not meant to have jiggly bits. Secondly it's boring as hell. I also admit to some negative associations because for many years I was dragged out of bed at 6am by my parents or my sister to sleepily dress and put shoes on followed by stretching, usually in silence. That sort of silence that indicates everyone would rather still be asleep and in a way still are. We'd then make our way out through this big opaque yellow glass door that was a quasi-secret entrance on the side of our house and proceed to jog in various places around the neighborhood. Sometimes it was the playing field other times it was just the local streets. My favorite was a nature reserve along the water although you had to jog a little way before you found it, so it had it's pros and cons to my childish mind. The overgrown paths and the view of the water let my imagination wander and the foliage offered some quiet, cool relief from the early morning sun. My family of course was trying to help me and themselves as well and I honestly believe it did. To this day I have a much higher level of cardiovascular fitness than many of my friends including those much thinner and I attribute that to those years of jogging and exercise even if I wasn't very keen at the time. I distinctly remember my sister practically dragging me out of bed and as I slogged around the streets I would feel quite sorry for myself. She would call to me to hurry up as I jogged up a hill and I would yell back "I'm coming!" in an exasperated tone. Once I grew a little older the jogging stopped, sometimes replaced by fast walks along the coast but I never returned to running, the closest I would get was the treadmill and even that was a fast walk, never a run. In my mind I wasn't really designed for running, more of a shuffle or a fast walk, others, those lean people with seemingly endless energy are the ones designed to run and as far as I was concerned they could keep it.

In my recent efforts to obtain better health I came to the conclusion that dragging my flailing limbs through hours of cardiovascular exercise wasn't the best way to lose weight either. My main concern has been retaining muscle mass while losing body fat so I focused on weight training. I tried the occasional jog and I used a jump rope but I hated it and in then end dropped them from my regular routine. Recently I started thinking it was time to shake up my exercise routine and I took another look at Primal Blueprint Fitness (PBF). I had skimmed it previously and it was interesting but sprinting? Yeah, blah blah, ATP, short and long muscle fibers, whatever. No thanks. More recently, my experiences with the Leptin Reset including many discussions with others on MDA, has opened my mind to many alternatives and it's expanded my universe in some unexpected ways. So last week I decided I would finally try sprinting as per PBF.

So on a Thursday afternoon, after quick final review of the beginner sprint instructions I strapped on the heart rate monitor, loaded the puppy (a 65 lb Golden Retriever) into the car and headed to the local park. As I walked onto the grass, the mutt sniffing the ground excitedly (ooh, squirrel poo), I wondered what the hell I was doing. Suddenly I felt way too big to even think about running and what if hurt my knee or worse? I could just see it, "Local man found dead in park, one hand clutching knee the other one his chest.". Skinny people sprint, fat people waddle and then eat a hot dog. Still, I was here and the puppy would not be happy if I dragged her back to the car so soon. The instructions were to start with 6x50m sprints at just a moderate pace as a warm up, focusing on your stride, getting comfortable etc. Then 6x50m sprints at 75% maximum. You do that for a few weeks before going all out. Sounded easy enough. I picked a spot where two benches were separated by a wide expanse of nice soft-looking grass estimating it to be about the length of an Olympic swimming pool. Before starting I sat for a moment on the bench to take in my surroundings. I could smell the grass and hear lawn mowers in the distance. The only other sounds were the rhythmic thumping of joggers as they sauntered past. By this time the puppy had found a home in the shade under the bench and was busily licking my ankle, salty I suppose. I decided I had to start eventually so I encouraged her out from under the bench and we started into a tentative jog that gradually increased in speed. I tried to focus on my stride although I belatedly realized I didn't really know what the proper stride looks like so I just took my best guess. This isn't so bad I thought and the mutt looked exceptionally pleased although she kept looking back at me as if to say "is that it?". I reached the other bench and sat down with no small amount of relief. Well, eleven more to go I thought and I don't feel so bad. The instructions were to rest one minute between each sprint so I timed myself as I sat there before standing up again ready for another run. I completed the warm up runs and at this point sweat was pouring off me and the puppy was looking at me like I'd just completely betrayed her. She is used to air conditioning and a bowl of cool water always on hand I suppose. I took a break for a few moments and suddenly it dawned on me, this is not so bad. In fact, this is kind of fun.

Courtesy of tangywolf's (Flickr)
I stepped up to the grass again taking a deep breath enhaling the scent of the recently cut grass and feeling the warm sun streaming down on my face and neck. I could feel the expansion and contraction of the Golden's panting as she sat, poised ready to run. I launched into a near full sprint, probably a slow waddle compared to someone actually good at it, but felt pretty fast to me. The wind was rushing past my face, the puppy was pushing ahead, the faster I ran the larger the gap widened, she was having a blast, you could tell she was in her element, her stride lengthed and I knew I had no hope but I kept up the pace and then suddenly almost before it began I was at the other bench taking big lung-fulls of air and wondering why the hell I didn't think to bring a bottle of water. I felt exhilarated, endorphins were obviously kicking in and it dawned on me why runners like doing this stuff so much (still think they are mostly nuts). As I completed the rest of the sprints it occurred to me that I had been a little to harsh, sprinting is not that bad, it's better than bad, it's actually good and better yet, it took me about 15 minutes and my calorie burn was off the chart and my heart rate stayed elevated for a long time afterwards. Way better than slogging away on a treadmill for an hour.

I've been back to the park two more times since and I actually look forward to it. Really. No kidding, I really do. I swear. So mum and dad, sis, big opaque yellow glass door, I've been too hard on running, it's just taken a couple of decades to come to appreciate it.

Mark's argument against chronic cardio:

Tabata sprints (I'm working up to these):

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