Running, Sickness & Health

Interval Training with Runkeeper

I love running, like love it, love it.  I love the sense of freedom I feel when I’m trotting down the road, an easy breeze in my face, a powerful playlist in my ears.  I love it.  But I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  As you may imagine, the two things are somewhat at odds with one another.  That being said, it’s important for me to stay active.  Though doctors don’t know a lot about how to help CFS patients, most agree that regular exercise is vital.  So I walk every day.  I’ve noticed that although I don’t always feel good doing it (and sometimes I feel downright awful), if I don’t do it, I won’t necessarily feel any better, and often, I’ll feel worse.  So there has been many a day when I have shuffled through my neighborhood getting blown past by friendly, speed-walking grannies and gazing jealously at runners bouncing down the street.  But there have also been times over the last 20 plus years, during which my body has been able to run and—praise all that is good and wonderful—this is one of those times.

When I began in August, I determined to do it slowly. I have the tendency to go whole hog on things.  I always want to push myself to do more, achieve more, but my long experience with this stuff has taught me: that way ruin lies.  In light of this, for the first few weeks, I simply ran on the days I felt up to it for between 10 and 15 minutes and then walked home, always making sure that I was covering at least the same amount of ground that I would have during a regular walking day.  I was using the Nike app to track my runs, but after several annoyances in the past and a recent update that caused still more irritation, I finally threw in the towel.  I decided it was time to shop for a new workout tracker.

After looking at a few, I finally settled on Runkeeper. It tracks my runs via GPS and gives all the statistics one would expect—time, distance, pace, calories burned, etc.  There are even a selection of fun voices to choose from to give you those stats and to cheer you on—such as Boston Fan (think Good Will Hunting) and Yinterval-training-with-runkeeper-dianaklein-comour Conscience (somewhere in the realm of a goofy Tony Robbins?).  My favorite is Mademoiselle—a spritely French lady who tells me that I am fast (though, clearly, I am not) and maybe not completely helpfully encourages me to “Think of all the pain au chocolat now you can eat!”(I have thought about it—a lot.)

Runkeeper also offers a series of challenges to help motivate—one of which was that if I did a mile workout in the following two weeks, it would give me a month free of its premium service.  As I generally walk more than 2 miles a day, this was not too difficult.  Among other things, the premium service offers a series of workouts for each week based upon your previous running experience and the goals you are looking to achieve. Cool, I thought, let me try this.  It only took a quarter of the way through a 30-minute workout, for my thinking to change to: Argh!!! It wasn’t the length or the intensity of the workout that had me swearing, it was its interval nature.  What I hadn’t realized prior to the “run” was that each minute I would be alternating back and forth between walking and running.  I would just be getting into a nice groove with my running when a signal would come though my ear buds telling me that it was time to walk. Never again, I thought.  And then, Yeah, this kind of sucks, but maybe you should just keep with it and see where it goes.

I did stick with it. In the last four weeks, I’ve been following the prescribed four workouts a week and doing my regular walking on the other three days.  As I have progressed, the intervals of running have generally become a bit longer, while the walking intervals have stayed the same and while I don’t particularly like having to stop and walk, I think it’s been good for me.  It’s demanding that thing that I am so often reluctant to give myself—rest.

When I began running as a chubby middle-schooler, things were different. Those first few weeks of cross country practice our coach would lead our team of seven, five girls and two boys, over the lovely grounds of a local college campus.  I huffed and puffed at the back of the train, knowing I was holding every one up and hearing about it once or twice from the cute eighth grader with the floppy brown hair—as if my face hadn’t been red enough from the exertion.  It got better.  I got faster and stronger, and though I never made it to the front of the pack, I ceased to feel embarrassed by my every step.  The problem was that I always seemed to be dealing with some pain or other—knee, ankle, what have you—probably because I had gone from doing nothing to running somewhere between nine and fifteen miles a week.  That’s the way they did it back then.  You started running and just expected the first two weeks of training to be a hell during which you hobbled everywhere as your legs continually screamed about how mean you were.

In contrast, interval training eases a person into the process of running. And, as I’ve said, it seems to have been useful to me as I attempt to rebuild my running practice, but a few weeks ago, I discovered there might be even more to it than that.  I found out that the Runkeeper training program is based, in part, on the work of Jeff Galloway—an Olympian who trained with all the greats in the seventies during the last golden age of American men’s distance running (though, if the last Olympics are any indication, we may be on the verge of another).  Interestingly, despite the fact that the old school version of training dictates that walking during training is a fate worse than death, Galloway’s Run Walk Run Method advises one do just that.  He claims that not only does it help to reduce injury, but it also produces faster times.  He even suggests walking during races.  Doing so helps physically, by allowing the body to recover slightly, instead of going deeper and deeper into oxygen debt, and cognitively, by giving the runner a series of smaller goals to reach (just run these next two minutes, then you can rest) rather than an overwhelming one (run a whole 10k).

My month of free premium service on Runkeeper ended last week. Will I continue?  I’m not sure.  I have to admit, I would get a little excited each Sunday morning waiting for the notification that my workout schedule had been delivered to my app. What’s in store for this week? I’d wonder, What’s next? The drawback for me is that I fear the workouts will progress too quickly for me—demand too much.  As I am not a regular healthy adult, I can’t just expect that I will be able to continue upping my mileage and exertion.  There will be a cap, and I have to be careful that I don’t get caught up in the excitement and do too much.  It would be nice if the app offered a maintenance program or that a user was able to indicate how fast he/she wanted to increase.

Regardless of this, I think I will stick with the interval training. It seems to me that I am running more than I would have if I trained the old way.  I am certainly running faster—which hopefully improves my muscle development.  The big test will, of course, be longevity.  I am hoping that the interval training—if I’m cautious with it—will help me keep my compromised body running (and walking) for several weeks (months? years?!) to come.  We’ll see.

Now, about those chocolate croissants . . .

What about you? What running apps do you use?  What do like and dislike about them?  Have you tried some version of the Run Walk Run Method?  What do you think of it?

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Louisiana, Running, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

A 5k in Southeastern Louisiana

a-5k-in-southeastern-louisiana-wwwp5k-dianaklein-com

This week, I took part in the World Wide WordPress 5K, during which bloggers are encouraged to complete a 5K and blog about it.  I walk, and sometimes even run, every day, but I don’t always quite get to the 3.1 mile mark.  Yesterday, however, under the guidance of the Runkeeper app (more about this next week), I went for a 3.5 mile run/walk—alternating a half mile of running with a quarter mile of walking.  Here is an approximation of that excursion. 

I start just after 6 am. It’s gotten a little cooler lately—only 73 degrees.  Of course the humidity is still at 95%, so I know I will be doing some serious sweating.  As I run out of my apartment complex, it’s still quite dark.  Only a few people are stirring.  I bounce across the squeaky wooden bridge that is slowly rotting away as everything wooden here does and into the business park car lot.  I am grateful for the street lights that light my way.  I like the flurry of insects dancing in their golden glow.  But I also enjoy the mysteries of the shadows—how everything is transformed by the dark, becomes more or less than it appears in the light of day.  I find the darkness comforting.  I feel held by it.

I cross the boulevard along which I will continue my jaunt. It’s a quiet artery, connecting several domestic subdivisions.  I take up the path—a few yards from the road—that will lead me alongside the street.  I am grateful for the trees that accompany me on both my left and right—the towering ponderosa pines, the flowering crepe myrtles, the sturdy live oaks, and all those others whose names I do not yet know. I glance briefly at the first drainage pond, often home to various water birds, but it’s still too dark to make them out.  During this first half mile, I groove to the strains of Lady Gaga and Rihanna flowing into my ears and delight in the slight rush of air my movement through the predawn causes.

As I reach each subdivision, I inspect the decorations hung on their signs.  It’s football season and they are mostly decked out in Saints black and gold and LSU purple and gold.  The combinations often come off as a bit funereal, once prompting my mother to amend the Saints slogan from Who Dat? to Who Died?

I’ve past a few other early exercisers already, but it’s three quarters of a mile in before I see any of the regulars: The speedy woman walker whom I often come up on and to whom I gently call out, “On your left.” She always squeezes her arms into her body to take up less space, preparing for any onslaught I might bring.  “Good morning,” I say as I pass her scenting her gentle baby powder aura.  Good morning,” she always beams back—as though her eighty odd years have done nothing to quell the joy that determines to exude from her body.  I want to be like her—not when I’m eighty, but right now.

I also see the adventure dog and her owner. She’s a small terrier mix (I think) who always seems to be moving forward toward a thrilling future.  Her real name is Jazzy.  She typically walks with an older retriever-like dog, but I guess she’s home resting her hips today.  Their owner—a fairly fit man in his fifties—usually has some wisecrack to lay on me.  To which, I all too often, I pull out an ear bud and reply cluelessly, “Excuse me?” making him have to repeat the joke.

I walk some and run some more until, almost a mile later I see my sister at the bus stop, where she has just sent one of her children off to school. We chat for a few minutes.  I love when I see her and my nieces and nephew when I go out in the morning.  I love those unimportant accidental meet-ups that can only happen because we live in the same town.  I turn around at the 1.75 mile mark.  My teenage niece and I exchange smiles on my return trip.  I let my hand rub against her back as I trot by.

It has become much lighter by now.  The streetlamps still smolder, but the sun is rapidly making them redundant.  I greet a few elementary school children in their navy blue polo shirts and khaki shorts.  I gaze at the vines that have conquered wooden fences.  I note the progress of the kumquats and satsumas on their respective trees.  I spot another older woman across the street with her spoiled, little brown poodle, also called Jazzy (we’re just outside of New Orleans).  I wave and she lifts her cane at me.  I see the grey minivan that every day conveys a golden retriever, his head protruding from the open window, proclaiming how wonderful everything is.

As I approach more high school students, an habitual debate resumes in my mind: do I inflict my hellos on them? I often wonder if I am being annoying to these teenagers who have plenty of other irritants roiling in their sensitive brains.  I usually settle for a smile and a quiet blanket good morning as I travel through the groups of students—though I tend to hold my breath a bit when I get to the cloud of cologne and body spray emanating from one particular gaggle of boys.

It’s not long before I return to the second drainage pond and see the various geese and ducks. Right next to it is a gazebo where the Catholic school kids gaze at their phones while waiting for their bus.  During my final walking interval I look up into the sky to find a great egret flying over me.  It looks as though its wide wings are flapping just past the moon whose face still shows in the now light blue sky.  I search the trees’ green leaves for the barred owl I spied a few days ago being chastised by crows, but no luck.

I begin the final bout of running and think about the day ahead.  There is breakfast to make and food shopping to do.  Oh, and let’s not forget a thorough shower.  My predictions were correct.  My clothes are soaked, my body is glossy, and my face—thanks to my Swiss heritage—is a feverish red.  As I run back through my apartment complex, I am passed by several cars leaving, people on their way to work.  I startle a bevy of birds and one squirrel who have been taking advantage of one of the tenant’s birdfeeder.  The white cat across the way peers enthusiastically through her window as they scatter before me

My app informs me that my “workout is complete”.  I stop and stretch a little.  I allow my face to cool a bit. I let a weeping willow tickle my shoulders as I walk toward my apartment, and I look around once more.  The world has come completely alive in the last 40 minutes.  The veil of mystery is lifted and the sun begins to burn in earnest.

Have you done a 5k recently?  What was your experience like?