The flabbiness of the short distance runner

Four months ago I started a running regimen. I had to do something, and bicycling just didn’t fit into my schedule. Running seemed like the best option, so I did some research, found a sensible training plan, got the thumbs-up from my doctor, and got started.

The plan began simply:

  • Run for one minute
  • Walk for two minutes
  • Repeat ten times for a total of 30 minutes

Easy, right? As out of shape as I was, though, it was just too much. Sounds pathetic, but it really was just too much. I got through five reps before having to stop--and even then I wasn’t able to run for the full minute each time. Once or twice, sure, but after that I could only muster about 45-50 seconds at a time. After that fifth rep I quit. It was a humid June afternoon and I could feel that my face was quite red. Better to stop than have a heat stroke.

But I kept at it. The plan was to do that 1 minute run +2 minute walk x 10 on day 1, then do a brisk 30 minute walk on day 2, then run on day 3, walk on 4, run on 5, walk on 6, then rest on day 7. For week two, the run time goes to two minutes. Week three? Three minutes. And so it goes for eight weeks until one is able to run for a full 30 minutes.

Let’s stop for a moment to reflect on an important detail: I’m fat. I’m really fat. I’ve seen people far fatter than I, but I’m still pretty damn fat. That’s the whole reason I started this thing. Not to become less fat necessarily (not that I’d mind, of course), but to become more healthy. I know from experience that vigorous exercise can do wonders for one’s internal health. Blood pressure decreases, cholesterol lowers, blood sugar lowers, etc. You name it, it improves. That is what I’m after.

Back to business. After my second week I realized that my fatness was getting in the way of my progress. This regimen I started was clearly devised for (and perhaps by) people who carry less mass than I do. For me, it just wasn’t working as written. I needed to modify it to suit the issues that my mass created. Long story short: It took me about three months to work up to running 6 minutes, walking 2, and repeating that 4 times.

Then I noticed something oddly interesting: I wasn’t dying at the end of the last 6 minute run. Early in this process I would get to the end of my workout and find myself barely able to catch my breath, hunched over, hands on my knees, trying to remember the last time I updated my will. Now I was able to reach the end of my 30 minutes with far less trauma. It was weird, but nice.

After thinking about it for a while, I wondered if I would be able to increase my run times without undue stress. Two days later I upped my runs to 7 minutes. Next time, 8 minutes. All the while I kept that 2 minute break between runs. In each session, I was able to finish as planned, all without the stress I had experienced in earlier weeks.
I was ecstatic! My cardiovascular system had finally adapted to the new level of activity! Today I am able to run for a full 20 minutes at a time–a feat which was unthinkable four months ago. Better still, I know I can add another minute next time, then another minute the time after that, and so on.

The only snag is that while my cardiovascular system may have adapted well enough, my leg muscles have not. After about the 15 minute mark, I start to get increasingly aware of their displeasure over what I am forcing them to do. I’m able to push through and finish the 20 minutes, but it ain’t easy! I’m going to take it a little easier for the next couple of weeks or so, adding one minute per week, rather than per workout. I feel like my legs could use the additional time.

I still marvel at the fact in the beginning I wasn’t able to finish even one minute of running, but now I’m able to add an extra minute with minimal additional stress. It’s pretty remarkable.

You’d never know it by looking at my physique, but I have made some pretty good progress so far–progress in which I take a great deal of pride. As I like to say: there’s a big difference between being fat and complacent versus being fat and doing something about it. And what I’m doing is working pretty nicely so far.