After a six-year break, I've returned to running. It started last fall, and has somehow persisted through the relatively chilly winter. This time, I can't take all the credit for myself. My employer pays good money for race entries (I'll participate in at least eight events this year), so I commit to more milestones in my fitness than ever before. Also, I work with a group of people who both support my time investment (during my lunch break), and actively train/race with me.

This post is for me to share some thoughts in a memoir-like format (which I'm not fond of doing).


I used to run in the past. In junior high school I never really liked running the mile in P.E. class. In high school, I took a general fitness and weight-lifting class, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the running parts. I kept it up for a while, and through necessity built a pretty good fitness base by riding my bike between college and my jobs. Through a series of financial improvements, I ended up driving more, and running/riding less. I started and stopped running in spurts throughout my college life.

A few years later, I found that I also greatly enjoyed lap swimming. I was absolutely terrible at it, but I found it really enjoyable. I started spending a lot of time in the pool at the YMCA that was literally two blocks from my apartment.

One of my friends was also into swimming. He had done a few sprint-distance triathlons, and got me interested enough to train for, and finish one. I started running again. That stuck for the whole summer. I finished my first sprint triathlon, and got an age group first place in my second sprint triathlon.

Then my wife gave birth to our son, and I found myself exhausted just trying to split some of the parent duties when I wasn't at work. I stopped running. I played (way too many) video games. I reached my lifetime peak weight.

Three years later, I got a great, industry-appropriate job in eastern Kansas. We loaded up the truck, and moved to Kansas Cityyyyyy... Olathe. Rather than hanging out with a lot of sedentary office workers, my new co-workers were, generally, very active people. We bought a house where I can walk or ride my bike to work nearly every day (I put over 600 miles on my short-range bike, and a couple hundred more on my long-range bike last year).

How did I start back up?

This time around, I came back to running in reverse: I started eating properly. After reining in my intake levels (from the American obscenity that is 2000 calories/day to a healthy 1000-1200 calories/day), I started sleeping better, and had a lot more energy. Now, that my body is burning fuel rather than clinging to every particle of sugar that comes within a mile of my doughy husk, I'm able to expend a lot more energy on things that don't just involve the kids and house upkeep.

This is the reverse because I used to think that my dietary requirements would always follow from the amount of energy I was expending. Now I know it's utterly ridiculous to think that a body evolved for storing calories and surviving for periods without food is capable of appropriate, long-term nutritional feedback. If you feed your body correctly, it will make a ton of energy available. Hoping your hunger levels will increase and decrease to match energy demands kept me fat for too many years. Your body will always want more food so it can store it for the next time you fail to kill a mammoth. Convincing your body you've eaten plenty while simultaneously reassuring it that you're not in the middle of a famine is a tricky--but easily obtainable--balance.

Also, it's way easier to run when you're carrying less uncooperative mass.

Running: The Next Generation

One of the big helpers this time around has been the technology. The last time I ran, swam, and biked for fitness, I would just do the same number of laps or the same course every day, and measure my total time. It gave me a very crude measuring stick. And, it was less fun than if I could run different places and still have a comparable way of measuring my progress.

Now that I have a proper cycling computer, swim watch, and running watch, I've been given a radical new insight into my endurance training. I can see trends of improvement (or lack thereof) so I spend my time more effectively. I'm now running faster and farther than I ever have.

Running: The Original Series

Last week, I finished reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run. The core thesis of the book is that everybody can run. Modern civilization has made running unnecessary for everyday living. Unfortunately, running has taken on a bit of a radical reputation in recent years. It's treated as a way for people who are already healthy and active to get some exercise; which is pretty absurd. We've been running since our feet stopped grasping branches and started gripping the ground. It's in our DNA.

Even with all the high-tech gadgets helping me to improve, I'm starting to see how poorly I run because I wear normal running shoes. Last weekend, I ran my longest non-stop run ever: 13 miles. It wasn't an event or race. I didn't bring Power Bars, gels, or water. I just ran.

This time, however, I focused on running like I didn't have shoes. It was too cold, and my feet are still too weak to run without them, but I learned a lot that day. I tried to make my stride feel light and fast rather than strenuous. I thought I was going to be significantly slower than my normal pace. I was actually surprised that I was running faster than my original goal pace (for that distance).

After running, I actually felt fresh and relaxed. My muscles--even the ones that aren't normally stressed by my long, hard stride--felt great. After I gulped a liter-or-so of water, I felt like I could cover another 10k. I didn't. Instead of draining a protein drink, and crashing in a post-exercise coma, I had a really productive day around the house. I didn't even feel overly hungry. It was a very different running experience for me. I used to fight my way through a run five-or-so miles at a time. Now, I can't wait until my body is rested enough for another long jog; I'm still easing into longer per-run distances.

I'm still wearing shoes for most of my runs, but I'm going to try mixing in a few short distance runs wearing some huaraches. I'd like to see how things change as I build up more strength in my feet, and adjust my stride accordingly.


A lot of non-runners seem to think running is fraught with perilous injuries to knees and backs. Let me first say that last fall was the first time I had an activity-limiting injury from running. I developed IT Band Syndrome. It's usually caused by improper running mechanics, and it's made worse with over-training. I followed a number of physical-therapy-type treatments. I had big dreams for running, so I kept running, hoping the pain would go away. And, it did in one of my knees. Then, the other knee flared up with the same problems.

After a long break from runs longer than 10 km, I did a 10 mile trail run. I came out feeling a lot better than I expected. I knew I had to be running wrong since the trail dictates more about how you run--from one moment to the next--a lot more than shallow-grade concrete. I've ditched most of the physical therapy I was following. I still do a lot of the stretching and core strength workouts, though. That stuff just makes everything feel better.

If you're worried about injuries while running, it's a warranted fear. But, it's not something that is impossible to overcome in most people. Granted, some people have existing injuries or major physiological deformities that prevent a healthy running stride.

Physical therapists and doctors will probably tell you something different. They'll mostly tell you that running (any distance with any body type) is like a ticking time bomb of horrific injuries. They might say there is no if, there is only when. Unfortunately, that keeps a lot of people on the couch: people who could truly change their lives with a few minutes of hominid locomotion every-other-day.

Personally, I much rather live a life that wears me out. I'm much more afraid of leaving behind an uninjured, pasty, fat corpse than I am of leaving behind a battered, tanned, lean corpse.

Let's Wrap This Up

There's some serious untapped potential in every person to be not only a runner, but a great runner. I'm nobody special. I have minor, fairly common physiological deformities in my feet and lower legs. I'm quite tall compared to most "elite" runners. I also don't have a lot of time to train; most of my miles are done over my lunch break.

I can run. I can run fast. I can run free.

You can, too.