Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Not exactly a resolution ...

I run. It's really more like rhythmic wheezing.

But, for the better part of the last three years, I've been a semi-regular "wheezer" around my hometown. 

I'm also a sportswriter. Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to be around sports. I grew up shooting endless free throws in our driveway and throwing footballs to myself in our backyard.

There was even a period of time after the movie "Cool Runnings," that I would push a wagon down the street in front of our house, hop on and pretend it was a bobsled (Don't try this at home, turns out wagons need someone steering while being pushed).  I even attempted to grow dreadlocks, which after a month just left me with a hefty grease slick on the top of my head, but that's another story.

For as much as I loved sports, I wasn't blessed with any God-given athletic talent. I wasn't big, tall, fast or quick and I was the last kid you'd want with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. 

I also had an incredible knack for falling down at crucial moments in the game.

A couple years ago,  out of college, married with one kid and well into my professional career, I had that middle-of-the-night revelation that all of those little-kid dreams of winning the big game with my favorite team were long gone.

It wasn't sad, or bittersweet, or even shocking. It just was what it was. I was not, and never would be, an athlete. 

In fact, after a number of years in a desk job, I'd begun to resemble the ball much more than the players I wrote about.

It was in January of 2008, though, that I noticed I could no longer make it to the top of the high school gymnasium's bleachers without losing my breath. I was only 27 at the time. I'd gained 60 pounds since leaving college and I knew if something didn't change drastically, it was a trend that would only continue until it was no longer solvable.

So I started wheez, er ... , running.

It was grotesque. I think my first time out I made it about 200 yards. A couple weeks later, I encountered an elderly couple out for an evening walk and, after about a block, realized they were keeping pace with me.

But I kept at it. After a couple months, I set a goal for myself -- to run in an all-comers track meet that summer -- in the hopes that it would keep me committed to running. I started an item in my weekly online column at the paper on my progress and quickly drew a surprising following.

A national running Web site posted one of my entries, which brought a minor flood of e-mails with tips, advice and encouragement.

After about a month of training (on a schedule I created, which might explain the result) I was A) not getting any faster and B) not losing any weight. 

So I greatly changed up my routine, running 5K distances twice a week, subsidizing with exercises around the house and forgetting about the track meet altogether (because, let's face it: I was terrified at the idea of running in front of real, live people). Consequently, I stopped writing the weekly item.

But, by the summer's end, I'd gone from running the 5K in 40 minutes (not joking) to 27:36-- an improvement of nearly 13 minutes. I also lost 30 pounds.

I kept at it over the following year, starting up 2009 where I'd been in July of 2008 and gradually improving to a best of 26:57 before our second child was born and the whole running thing basically went out the window.

That is, until a couple weeks ago. I got the crazy idea in my head that I would run a marathon. Like a real, 26.2-mile marathon. 

I spent a couple days trying to brush it out of my mind, because it really is a crazy idea -- me, the non-athlete, attempting to do what only ultra-athletes have the determination, discipline and stamina to do.

But then I let the idea slip to my wife. And my friends. Then I mentioned it at my office. People got behind the idea and I started thinking there might be just enough time to pull it off.

My plan is two-fold. I'll train for a 10K in June, where I'll have to confront my fear of people watching me wheeze. From there, I'll bump up the training schedule in the following five months before running a marathon in November.

I've been doing some prep work in the past several weeks, doing pushups, squats, lunges, calf raises and crunches around the house and going for 5K runs on Saturdays. 

This past Saturday, with a stuffy nose and Christmas dinner still rolling around in my belly, I managed a 32:13 5K, which isn't impressive, but it is where I was last March, so I haven't fallen back to badly.

I'll keep up with the weekly runs through the freeze in January, run twice a week in February and gradually ramp up my routine until I'm running 21.7 miles a week leading into the June 10K.

I have a goal, which is a little outlandish (the 7-minute mile range), but would put me around a 42- to 44-minute 10K. What's a goal if you don't stand a chance of failing? Besides, I'll be thrilled to just finish the race which, incidentally, would be my only goal for the marathon. Forget time goals, or style points. If I can just put one foot in front of the other long enough to push through, I'll have accomplished what I set out to accomplish. 

I haven't selected a marathon yet, but I'm eyeing the "Run the River Marathon" in Folsom, Calif., which was on Nov. 14 (Saturday) this past year. We'll have to wait to see how it plays out. 

I plan on updating this blog weekly. It'll be some about running, some about my athletic misfortune. My hope is that whoever reads this finds a little laughter, a little encouragement and a little drive to effect a positive change in their lives as well. So check back, and don't let me back out on this. 

Stats for Week 1: Baseline 5KL: 32:13. Baseline 10K: --. Best time of the week: 32.13 (5K). Best overall time: 32:13 (5K), -:-- (10K). Miles within the last week: 3.1. Total miles for 2010: 0.