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 Your 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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