I’ve never been a runner.
I’ve been a regular at the gym for years (some years more than others), lifting weights or doing crossfit but running was never really one of those things that interested me. I enjoyed shorter more intense forms of exercise.
After spending most of my time and ultimately moving to Houston in the summer of 2015, I needed a way to exercise. I didn’t belong to a gym and I was moving every month making picking one difficult. As the weather in Houston is amazing, and you just want to be outside, I decided to start running.
Starting to run is a humbling experience. You think you’re in shape, you can lift, you can do WODs without dying but running for 10 mins is something else. I know that you’re using different energy delivery systems and muscle types but it’s crazy.
200lbs squat, photo taken on the way up.
My first run was in Toronto and I managed 2 miles in 25 mins at a 12:11 min/mile pace. Only 13 of those minutes were jogging, the rest were walking.
May 25, 2015 – First run
I wanted to get better at this so I kept at it, averaging around 1-3 runs a week. I then started reading lots about running and looking at different training programs. I started sort of following a beginner 5k program with intervals and long runs, etc. I also set a goal of being able to run a full 5k without stopping. No walking, no pausing to catch my breath.
July 2, 2015
2 months in, getting closer. I have no real heart rate monitoring, so as a beginner it’s really hard to judge if you can push more or not, you don’t know yourself well enough. I can guess now that I know better I was in Z4/Z5 the whole time.
July 5th, I finally did it!
Goal Accomplished: 5k without stopping.
Total runs: 15
Time: 6 weeks
I jogged 5k in around 32 mins! This was a big accomplishment for me, it took 15 runs and 6 weeks to get there. I wasn’t terribly dedicated to a routine, I was traveling a lot, and it’s really humid in Houston in the summer but hitting this for me was amazing. I reached my goal, so I set the next one; Run a 5k in less than 30 mins. Sounds easy, right? It’s only 2 minutes faster.
July 22, 2015 – I almost did it. 30:15 with some walking however, my overall pace was down to 9:41/min. Whereas my fastest pace in the July 5th 5k was 9:42/min.
There were a few other runs where I got close but missed it by a few seconds.
August 31, 2015
Goal Accomplished: 5k under 30mins.
Total runs: 36
Time: 15 weeks
Then on August 31st, I did it! Boom! 28:54 @ 9:03/mile pace. This was one of the first times I ran with a running group and I think trying to keep up really motivated me to keep pushing and not slow down or walk. You can see from this chart that my pace is really unsteady. Up then down, up, down. Again, I didn’t have any sophisticated monitoring like Heart Rate or SPM (Steps per Minute), I just ran and hoped for the best. I was running with my phone in an arm band using the app RunKeeper, so I couldn’t really see my time, my pace or any stats related to my performance until I was done.
Something that completely blew my mind was after the run I was talking to one of the organizers and he asked me how I did, I told him and asked how long it took him. His answer, 20 mins. Damn, I just did it under 30 mins for the first time and he did it in 20 mins, no sweat.
Memorial Park running look in Houston, Tx where I did all my running between August and Mid September. Including a few runs with different evening running groups.
It’s at this point that I get hooked and really start to get serious.
The first order of business is to step up my tracking game. Getting frustrated with the phone as a tracker, I start researching running watches. Being a tech guy I ended up getting the Garmin Fenix 3 with HRM-Run chest strap. This thing is absolutely bonkers and can tell you pretty much everything about your run. Time, Distance, Pace, Hear Rate, Running cadence, SPM, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, ground contact time balance, and much more. Do I use all these numbers? at first, not really. I didn’t know how my form affects any of these. The most useful info during this time was accurate real-time HR. I could tell exactly how much effort I was putting in and how much I had to give.
Here’s my first run with this watch: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/890577088
Just another level of data to look over. This is just a snippet, I cropped out a bunch.
After seeing this I realized a 2 things. 1) that training effort of 5.0 means I’m totally over doing it. 2) I need to have a strategy if I’m going to improve. Just running as hard as I can until I stop isn’t very effective.
I decide to use my new tool and start on the Garmin 5k Level II HR training plan. It’s 12 weeks long and has 3 runs a week with 1 cross training day. The program is based on building Z2 endurance and pushing Z4 speed with Long Runs, Easy runs and Intervals.
The first run was 20 mins in Z2. OMG if felt SO Slow! It was so hard to keep my HR in the Z2. I couldn’t even run the 20 mins, I couldn’t control my HR. I kept having to walk to get it down, then speed up again. It felt so frustrating as I was so accustomed to running faster, it felt like a huge step backwards.
The comment I left on this workout “Workout 1 of series. Barely a workout- Had to keep heart rate between 111 and 134”.
Regardless, I stuck with it and tried to followed the program as closely as possible.
I start that program on September 8th, 2015, over the next 2-3 months (Sept, Oct, Nov), my running got faster, my runs got longer and more importantly everything started getting much more consistent.
I also started to learn a lot more about my body. You hear many people talk about Z2 being where you can run and carry on a conversation. I never really got that, as I found out the reason was I couldn’t run slow enough to stay in Z2. I now totally get it. I can tell right away when I’m reaching the end of Z2 and about to hit Z3. People tell you to listen to your body but I found I could hear it much better when I had the numbers to open my eyes. Now that I’ve learned to listen the numbers are less important.
November 20th, 2015
Total runs: 80
Time: ~25 weeks
Here’s a run from near the end of the program;
- Run in Z2, easy, 5 minutes.
- Run in Z4, threshold, 30 minutes.
- Run in Z2, easy, 5 minutes.
Much more consistent pace and with all this training I could keep my HR in Z4 and not push through Z5 to peek HR like I would before.
First ever race
Feeling confident with my progress and in my running I wanted to experience a real official race. Even though I still hadn’t broken the 5k in less than 25 min goal, I was certain I could easily do a 5k. I signed up for a 10k. I’ve hit this distance a few times on long Z2 runs and was confident I could finish, I just wasn’t so confident on how quickly I could do it. I didn’t just want to finish, I wanted to post at least a reasonable time.
I entered the “Run Houston! Sugarland” race on December 5th, 2015 in the 10k group with the goal of finishing in under 1 hour.
How did I do? I finished! and….. under an hour! The official time was: 56:30
Which puts me around the middle of the pack 97/169 men and 145/415 overall for the 10k. Not bad for a first ever race.
You can see from these charts that I speed up considerably as the run goes on. With everything I read leading up to the race the biggest mistake newbies make is going out too hard at the beginning and having nothing left to finish the race. I purposely started slow at a 9-10 min/mile pace. At the 5k point I sped up to high 8s low 9s. 2k out I was averaging an 8:30 pace, in the last km I was in the high 7s. I didn’t really pay too much attention to my HR after the first 5k you can see it climbing and climbing as I push faster.
Time in Heart Rate Zones
Solid upper end effort, I assume this is what to expect out of a shorter race.
In Part 2 I’ll talk about my second 10k and some set backs that hit me along the way.