Monday, 10 June 2013

Quitting's Out of the Question

Back in July 2012, I bought some trainers (sneakers) that were on sale in Walmart, thinking they'd be good for my new job at the vet. 


They were a pair of Dr. Scholl's 'Personal Trainers', designed with a rocker-shaped sole that is supposed to make your legs work harder when you're walking around, to increase toning. Ideal for a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot.

As it happened, though, I didn't use them. Sneakers seemed a little too casual - even with my scrubs uniform - and I ended up getting some Dansko professional 'clogs' on eBay, which are basically as effective as Crocs without the ugliness. So my Dr. Scholl's were left in the cupboard, unused and still in their box until...

Mid-November 2012

... I had a brief flirtation with a gym routine at the beginning of November 2012. We'd recently acquired a cross-trainer and a static bike, both of which I love to use, so I figured it was high time I made a start on the expat pounds I'd gained since moving continents. 

This was mostly unsuccessful. I like the gym. I do. But I like the feeling of when I'm done with a workout. I don't really like doing it, other than the feeling of improving and, sometimes, the conscious sense of being stronger. I did like working out more when I was back home and living with Mum and Dad, but I had little more to do while I waited for my visa to be fully approved. So I gave up. 

A couple of weeks later, one of my dogs became more than just a little bit insane. Bertie's separation and general anxiety issues were getting really out of hand, and she was making herself sick. We had a few choices: never, ever leave her (hardly practical); medicate her (not really a first response solution); or give her a 'job'. Her breed - a mix of Collie and Shepherd, with possibly a bit of Chow and Spaniel thrown in - makes her a kind of super-mix of working dog needs. These breeds need work to do, to give them a sense of purpose and to challenge them both physically and cognitively. While medication can be wonderful, and is absolutely necessary for some seriously stressed-out pups, B's vet (the wonderful Dr. Johnson) had both professional and personal experience with this exact kind of situation. Her prescription? Give Bertie a job to do. Get her a backpack to denote her "work" time, and do some one-to-one, focused exercise with her. Run.

It was winter. I had never run before. Hell, my idea of exercise had deteriorated to walking back upstairs to the kitchen to refill my wine glass. I was horribly unfit, it was cold (ish - not by British standards, but give me some artistic license here), and I had no idea what I was doing. But she needed this, so I bought her a doggy backpack, put on my neglected trainers, and off we went. 

Running fashion, by me. It was cold. Shut up.
Post-run, in the small hours!

Because I have to be at work by 7:10AM, I need to leave the house by around 6:40AM. If you add in walking the dogs time, breakfast time, getting ready time, and a run, this means being up and at 'em by about 5:00AM minimum. B needed her run before we left her, in order for this 'therapy' to have its desired effect. So began a routine of 5AM runs. She took to her backpack reasonably well and, as is usual for her, she learned the phrase 'Let's do some work!' within about three trials. She's a smart cookie.

Not to be outdone, I bought this
bum bag (fanny pack) for myself. Sexy.

When I started running, it was awful. I set myself a really pathetic goal: run three times a week, and do a 0.6 mile route around our house. It killed me. I could barely run half of the course, and I felt like crap when I got back. Hills were my sworn enemy. 

But I persevered: I saw the difference in Bertie, and I loved spending that time with her. That was enough for me. She was getting calmer, seemed to enjoy the run, and we had lovely moments after a run/walk/death trip sat on the steps as the street woke up around us.

Post-run cuddles (sunny because I had a half-day at work).

Back in November/December/January,
the flash was needed for this kind of photo.

It took a few weeks, but I managed to run the whole route after a while. Still only 0.6 miles, but I realised that I was improving. I refused to measure my progress in any real, data-based way because this was about Bertie getting help, not about my need to be healthy or skinny or some other such selfish goal. I needed to get better for B. I'm pretty sure I looked ridiculous panting along, and not least because of my owl hat and pink gloves, but I kept doing it. It was only hard because I didn't do it enough.

This (below) became my mantra. After getting back home from our Christmas break in England, I decided I had to run 4-5 times a week if I were to really see any improvement, and this could only be good for Bertie, too. 

Bad weather meant nothing. Rain was a fun challenge. When it rains in NC, it really fucking rains. 

Running is an all-weather activity

That's rain. And some sweat. But mostly rain.

Running feet

The change I started to see from increased runs was incredible. I managed to double my route length and run the whole way. I didn't die. I liked it. I wanted to do more. I'd get back from a run and want to go again.

It was around this time (early March) that I decided I needed some proper running gear. My heavy tracksuit bottoms and old t-shirts weren't cutting it any more. I needed lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing. So I took a trip to Old Navy (shameless plug for my husband's company) and stocked up. It didn't seem faddy or frivolous, it seemed sensible.

3/10/13: Not sure about this on me. 

But okay.

The hat stayed. It was still cold in the mornings.

And I kept running. And running. I taught myself new routes. I saw hills as my friendly challengers, who would celebrate with me when I reached the top. And Bertie just kept right on running by my side. 

Physical changes started to become more obvious

I owe this to B

Although I hadn't been too concerned with my appearance, I was amazed to see how my body was changing. I was stronger for sure, and I could run further, which was always my main goal. But I was firmer too, and lighter. I could do more with my body. I could see muscle in my abdomen, and my legs would spring into action at work. I felt good - physically and mentally. 

It rained some more.

B was okay with it though.

This probably helped too. 

Bertie's anxiety seemed a lot less pronounced. She could sleep when Ben and I went out. She wasn't as insane when we got home. She loved being out running with me, and the one-to-one time was great for both of us.

B would get up to run with me even as she grew into an adult dog who didn't need to be awake super-early for a toilet trip. Just like me, she could be sleepy, kind of grumpy, but still willing to go running - that kept me going on days I was tired and thought twice (although those days were fewer than I imagined). She runs slower at the start than I do, so I encourage her, and then when I'm about to collapse towards the end of the run, she pulls me along until we're home.

Such a good girl. I love this time of day!

B makes the backpack look good.

I continued to push our runs further in terms of distance and time. I was doing a mile in 9:55 ish, so decided to increase the distance to a 2 mile run (from a 1.2 miler). I wanted to see if I could do a shorter distance faster by making my body capable of going further.

More progress.

Running makes me smile

This worked: a 2-miler thrown in twice a week, with three 1.2-milers around them, seemed to bring slow but steady improvement. I got my best mile time down to just over 9 minutes. And I bought some shorts and a t-shirt from Walmart, because now it's getting bloody hot (with 90% humidity - yum).

Then last weekend, in those very shorts, I did this for the first time:

Those are my feet!

And I was really, really happy. Hot, tired, and kind of dizzy, but so proud. I can run for three miles. Me!

Damn right.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm by no means the fastest or the strongest runner. I may run five times a week, but at least three of those are tiny runs, and I'm panting and grunting with the best of them. But I go, and I love it, and I never expected to be able to do either of those things. Bertie: I owe you, sweet girl.

Thank you, B.

I'm also becoming a bit over-accessorised when it comes to running. My most recent acquisitions are a Camelbak hand-held water bottle for longer runs (that I intend to do more regularly in the coming months), and a screeching attack alarm for the mornings I still have to run in the dark.

It's really fucking loud.
If Bertie's teeth aren't enough to deter an attacker,
hundreds of decibels should do the trick.

I also treated myself - at Ben's recommendation - to this new vest yesterday:

R&R. And R.

I still got caught in the rain this week.

In the vest. Tank top, America.

I now use the mapmyrun app to track my times and distances, just to make sure I'm pushing both myself and Bertie and to get the most out of our runs. My routes are no longer (too) embarrassingly short, so I've allowed myself this little bit of data comparison.

From my mapmyrun profile

That is still my main goal: help Bertie. So, run more.

My mantra
And this seems fitting, too:

It's taken me about 7 months to get to a point where I can comfortably run just over a mile several times a week, and also run 2-3 miles on a regular basis. I'm nowhere near as good as so many other people, and nowhere near what I think I could be capable of if I continue thus. This also isn't mean to be a horribly self-congratulatory post (although I am proud of myself). I'd like this to be taken as evidence that anyone can run, if they want to try and feel like they might enjoy it. I only started - and persevered with it - because my pup is crazy and she needs my help. I'd do anything for her. But I've found that I love running, mostly with B, but I love it by itself too. It's therapeutic, it's healthy, it's cleansing, and it's challenging. I highly recommend giving yourself 2-3 months of a 'trial' to see if you don't get hooked, too. Running gets you out into the world and it makes you aware of your body. I come back from a run happy and motivated and feeling alive. Well, once I get my breath back.

This is what it's all about.

Until 5AM tomorrow, then... 

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