take charge of life

3 epiphanies on my journey from couch potato to runner


Running. Which feelings does this word evoke?
It used to make me cringe and my mind was quickly shouting a big firm “heck no!”
Now, I can’t wait to take off my shoes and hit the road.
The secret? I learned how to run.

It is like throwing somebody in the water, watching them flail their arms and say: “oh so that’s the way you swim, then I suggest these swim pants and this flotation device.” It’s MADNESS!

I used to have a long list of pathetic excuses why not to run: it’s not good for the knees/feet/ankles/hips/… , it’s too cold/warm/windy/rainy/… , the stars are not aligned and I really can’t miss this episode of the Biggest Loser. I am sure you have your own favourite excuses.  Somehow I also knew that I was going to suck at running, not a great feeling  to have even before you start, do you agree?

When I was canoeing and playing rugby I was running only because my coaches forced me to. Later, as a powerlifter in the Swedish national youth team, I suddenly had a great valid excuse not to run, explosive power was king and endurance was nothing! Unfortunately this idea of running kept with me even after giving up powerlifting, talking about putting up a major roadblock for myself.

And it’s funny, running is so easy to start with because we all know how to run right? Or not.
Most peoples first step to execute on that  new years resolution to get fit starts with a visit to the runner’s store to run on a treadmill, listen to the sales guy talk about supination, pronation, cushioning and be told that the only way to be able to run is to buy these specific latest technology for $200 shoes. That always pissed me off.

It’s like throwing somebody in the water, watching them flail their arms and say: “oh so that’s the way you swim, then I suggest these swim pants and this flotation device.”  It’s MADNESS!

Anyway, I have to admit, been there, done that, with consistent results I may add: I ran a couple of times, had pain, got bored, quit. So when my friend Ola asked me to start running with him in the summer of 2010 my answer was a clear “heck no!”

Later that year I was discussing running and different training methods with Lyhagen and he put me on to natural running, also known as barefoot running, and the idea appealed to me. No more pushy sales people selling the flavour of the day in running shoe technology and I realized: People were running before the cushioned wedged shoe weren’t they?

I researched natural running and found POSE and Vivobarefoot to be great resources and decided to give it a go. When I in spring of 2011 asked Ola if he was interested in running with me he wondered what I’d been smoking. He recovered quickly from the shock of me suggesting running and we set out to become runners.

I decided to go easy so I didn’t go barefoot or get “barefoot shoes” right away, I got a pair of cheap trainers with no extra features. We only did 1-2 kilometers in the beginning and worked it up to 5-6 kilometers over the next months by being consistent. 3 times a week, no excuses. Trying to adopt natural running from my own research basically meant landing on the ball of the foot and leaning forward to let gravity do the work . Turned out that it did not quite cut it so while I was making progress I also had some setbacks with a few weeks off due to strained calves and some shin splints.

However, this time around some pain didn’t put me off resulting in me quitting like I’ve used to. On the opposite, while off from running to recover I decided to be smarter about my running. I realized that I was on a good way to call myself a runner. So what had I done different this time?

The 3 epiphanies that sticks with me after my journey from couch potato to runner:

  1. Learn to run again
    As a kid you were effortlessly running barefoot in natural running style but somewhere in your teens you got dragged into the whole heel strike culture and techie shoes.
    You don’t need to go natural running style, keep your fancy running shoes but understand that your ability to run is not in the shoes. You must work on your technique, so get help to from an experienced runner. Contact a club or  attend a workshop. Also, allow yourself to SUCK big time at first.
  2. Consistency is king
    Being a runner is not about how long or fast you run. It’s about how often you run. For a beginning runner a common mistake is to set out on the first run with too high ambitions, over do it, and the running shoes are left untouched for a few months again. Set your running schedule on a weekly basis and find ways of getting out minimum twice a week, preferably three times a week. Sometimes you may only squeeze in a 10 min run into your busy schedule but the short runs makes a difference.
  3. Listen to your body
    If it hurts it’s because you are doing something wrong. Remember that consistency is king so don’t ruin that by getting yourself injured. If your body says too tired (your body that is, not your mind) do a light run, do 1000 meters with focus on your running technique. Be smart, don’t “push through the pain”, it’s not heroic, it’s stupid. If it hurts, stop and analyze, rest to recover then try to correct your movement pattern in your next run. If you don’t understand how to correct something get help to learn to run again.

Fully recovered I decided to get myself a running coach. And to step up the challenge, ditch my trainers and get myself a pair of real natural running shoes, a pair of Vivobarefoot Ultras.

Turned out it wasn’t that easy to find a natural running coach around my area but I found a natural running workshop (Claus Rasmussen http://www.posemand.dk) across the bridge in Copenhagen and 18 months into my career as a runner I joined another nine runners looking to learn how to run – like evolution created us to run, not the running shoe corporations. More on that in a later post.

What are your experiences taking up running? I would love to hear your thoughts.