Regular readers will remember that Alliy has been coaching a couple of trainees for the last seven months. So here I am, the 68 year-old stepfather, the stroke survivor, the guy who figured that running — and its cardiovascular benefits —might just be the missing ingredient in my lifestyle. And just to be clear, I have never been a runner. An occasional hiker, yes; an occasional cyclist, yes, but definitely not a runner.
We started off with a couch to 5K program, which got us to the point where we could run a couple of 5Ks in May and June. Buoyed by success in those, we registered for two more races in October. But somewhere in early summer, I realized that I wanted to run longer distances, so I asked Alliy to devise a program that would get me to 10K. She gave me an early draft of her 10K Training Plan.
Let me tell you right now: it works.
So, here are a few thoughts about the training program and running my first 10K.
The training plan consisted of four runs a week, in a pattern of an easy shakeout, speed work, another shakeout, and then a long slow run. There are rest days in between, and there are also recommendations for cross training, which can be as simple as walking, cycling, resistance training, or pushing a lawn mower. I was able to do every single one of the runs, although there were a few bad ones along the way. (You know what it’s like: you set out on a 4K shakeout, thinking it will be a cakewalk, and then discover that you have no wind, no heart, and no legs. You end up walking the last half-kilometer, trying to figure out what went wrong.) I found the bad ones quite discouraging, at least in the beginning.
I started Week 1 of the plan on July 15, exactly 12 weeks before the race. Being an old retired guy, it was easy to find the time to train four mornings a week. Even though I’m told that I’m not the fastest runner, I never ran more than 4 hours a week. What was more difficult for me was training when we travelled, and we had a busy summer visiting family in other parts of the country. It was a challenge to find a suitable running route in an unfamiliar city, and I was also struck by the difference in the air; running on a Toronto sidewalk is very different than sucking in the pure clean air I breathe along the shores of Nova Scotia
But the big change for me was the addition of weekly speed work, whether hills, fartleks, or intervals. I may be a bit weird here, but I really liked speed work! On reflection, it was because I saw that as the path to increased stamina, and it wasn’t too long before I could see what a difference it was making to my speed and endurance.
The other big difference was the addition of increasingly longer runs. That wasn’t a surprise, of course, because the whole idea was to get from 5K to 10K, but once I got over 7K, I started to view the longer runs as a formidable event in my schedule. I was breaking new ground every week, and it was getting harder. But somewhere around week eight, I knew for certain that I was going to be able to run 10K. And that’s really it in a nutshell: if you follow this program, you will run 10K. I’m the living proof.
Alliy had run with me on two of my longer workouts, and seeing that I was able to run 9K at a pace of 8’24”/km, we discussed a race day strategy of aiming for an average of 8’20” for the first half, and then trying to pick it up a during the second half. I thought this was aggressive enough, and in my own mind figured that I would be happy to complete the entire course at 8’20”/km. I know that’s pretty slow, but I’m a still a new (and old) runner.
Race day weather was perfect: it was somewhere around 10ºC, overcast and dampish, but without the promised rain showers. The course ran west out of the centre of Wolfville, turned north to cross an alluvial plain, and then turned back to Wolfville, finishing with a circuit of the Acadia University athletics field. There were only two hills; neither was a heartbreaker, but we did walk up the longer one on our way back to the finish line.
We lined up behind the slowest pace bunny, the one holding the “1 hour 20 minutes” sign. That works out to 8’00”/km, a wildly aspirational pace, at least to my mind. We followed her out and watched her very slowly pull away, realizing early on that we were running faster than plan. And here it gets a bit blurry for me, at least in terms of pace. The pace bunny remained in sight, although increasingly distant; I felt strong enough to keep it up, even though I knew we were running faster than 8’10”/km. But I also wondered whether I was going to run out of gas. And here I have to hand it to Alliy: she is a canny coach, and knew exactly what to say and do to reach the end. It was a push, but we finished at 01:20:53, which was a pace of 8’06”/km. I didn’t have much left in the tank, but I find myself wondering: could I have done it at 8’00”?
So, what did I discover along the way?
- I learned that it’s ok to have bad days. When it first happened, I thought I wouldn’t succeed, but I learned that I could come back the next time and run further and faster.
- I learned to listen to my body; there were times when I knew I had to slow down. There were times when I knew I had to pay more attention to my breathing. And there were times when I knew that I should simply push through the feeling that I was reaching a wall. (I have a nephew to thank for that. One of his expressions is “Just keep running,” and that became a mantra for me.)
- I didn’t start running in order to lose weight, but I am happy to say that I have gradually lost ten pounds. I call that a pleasant side effect.
- Running made me feel good. Physically: greater stamina, a stronger core, a few less pounds. Mentally: I learned to stare down some doubts, I learned to take a long view of what I was trying to achieve, and I learned to enjoy the success.
- It’s never to late to start.
This race coincided with our Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. That makes it all the more appropriate to recognize and thank all of the amazing Valley Harvest Marathon volunteers, my wonderful wife and family, and above all, Alliy. You are a gem.
And speaking about aspirations, I’d like to run a half marathon next year. There, it’s on the record. Maybe I’ll get to be a guest blogger here again.