Running and Mental Fitness

Running and Mental Fitness

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Tags: running, fitness

Inspired by a friend from social media, I started running. I wanted to reduce my weight. But I discovered that running wan't merely a chore to reduce weight. This is a post on how I started running and how I became fit - both physically and mentally.

I was an borderline obese person in 2014. I did not have much physical fitness and would tire out easily. If I stood for 3 hours doing reasearch work or conducting a laboratory session, I would feel tired at the end of it. The most physically gruelling thing that I had ever done was to do a 20 km walk in 2012, the end of which I was completely exhausted.

In 2014, I was a friend with a person in Facebook. She was a marathon runner. Inspired by her, I decided to run regularly. My college was quite a large one, about 800 acres. One round around the college is about 5.5 km long. In early 2015, I started off by walking long distances. I slowly added running to the routine. My longest walk during this time was about 10 km in about 98 minutes.

I started running about 500m a day and slowly increased it. Soon, my running routine completely replaced walking. I would run about 2-3 times a week in the morning. In order to not make my running monotonous, I varied my running routine. I would run a moderate distance at medium pace at the weekdays and long distance at slower pace during the weekends called as 'long runs'. I noted down my progress by using the RunnerUp app. I bought a proper pair of running shoes. I also added cycling to the routine. I alternated running with cycling. I would run one day and do a small cycling trip venturing outside the campus to nearby residential areas in the early morning to map the locality for openstreetmaps. I slowly progressed to running close to 10 km. Finally at the end of 2015, just after Christmas, I ran my first 10k. It felt like an achievement.

Breakup of my first 10k run, shown in the RunnerUp app. The app shows the time taken for every 1 km interval.

Figure 1: Breakup of my first 10k run (App: RunnerUp)

I discovered as the days went by that I simply could not exist without running. What started out as a chore to reduce weight, became much more. The thing about running is that it hardly reduced weight directly - If I run 10 km, I spent atmost 700 Calories, which is only enough to burn only 77 g of fat. However, running significantly reduces stress and increases happiness (probably due to runner's high). Hence I was less likely to stress eat. Eating less reduces weight. My weight reduced from 79 kg at end of 2014 to an low of 68 kg at the end of 2016. Also I discovered that instead of tiring me out, running actually made me feel energetic thoughout the day. My fitness increased and I no longer felt sluggish. My body felt great and powerful. I was impatient when walking. I now could stand for 3 hours conducting a laboratory session and won't get exhausted by the end of it. Climbing stairs no longer exhausted me. The overall benefits were enormous. I wasn't completely regular in running, but running became a sort of addiction and the habit didn't breakdown for a few years. I just wanted to run more and more.

After an year of running regularly, I started keeping a log using a spreadsheet. In that log, I mentioned date, distance, time, start and end time, speed of the run and type of run (Long run, speed run, easy run, etc). I also mentioned the amount of soreness felt during running, the day of run (Acute soreness) and the next day after running (DOMS). I also kept a log of what I ate, in an effort to be conscious of what I eat. All was not smooth however, and there were minor troubles that I've had to cope up with and also some share of discouragements from people. I had a trouble with long runs that lasted for more than 5km. I would have irritated nipples that became painful and later started bleeding after 10km, making it annoying. Also some kind of blisters in thighs due to chafing. My mother, who never really liked me running long asked me to run lesser. I ran using normal pair of trousers. Hence, I bought a pair of running trousers which solved the problem of blisters in my legs. As for my nipples (condition which probably called as Jogger's nipple) I used a proper running shirt, but it only mildly solved the problem. I then applied a pertroleum jelly to my ripples while running, which solved the problem of bleeding, though there was pain. For safety, I took the cardiac stress test by fixing an appointment with a cardiologist to ensure that my heart was fit and capable of running. I passed, but then the doctor said that it was probably not necessary to run more than 45 minutes. I didn't listen to him though. I've also had a nagging trouble for a while - plantar facitis. Whenever I wake up or after long and start walking or after I sit for a long time, I would have a pain in the sole of my foot. However, after a bit of walking, the pain would disappear. I had guidance from a physiotherapist in college, who suggested some heel exercises. After a month or two, the problem stopped.

Table 1: My running log
Date Distance (km) Duration Long run speed (kmph) Speed run speed (kmph) Time Acute soreness DOMS Run type
11-05-2016 4.2 00:28:00 9.00 13.07 6:50–7:40   none Speed run 7 × (1 + 3)
12-05-2016 3.6 00:24:00 9.00 12.14 7:15–7:45 light light Speed run 6 × (1 + 3)
14-05-2016 15 01:58:36 7.59 6:00–8:00 light light Long run
18-05-2016 4.1 00:28:00 8.79 12.93 7:30–8:15 very light very light Speed run 7 × (1 + 3)

I was suggested the website fellrnr by my brother's wife. It was a wiki maintained by an experienced runner, who started running after he was 30 years old (he's probably around 60 now and still running) and it contains a wealth of information almost anything about running. From that wiki, I got the idea of a "speed run", which was more properly known as HIIT (high intensitiy interval training). I would run as fast as I can for about 1 minute, followed by 3 minutes of moderate or slow running. It was supposed to have many potential benefits and it was more fun than simply doing one of my moderate speed, moderate distance runs. Hence I incorporated it into my routine and reduced my moderate aka tempo runs. I also extended this idea of intervals run into my long runs – I would run for 2.5km and then walk for about a minute. This significantly improved my overall running speed as the breaks inbetween helped me to recover.

After running, I always feel great. However, there was one particular long run during which I felt really great. I just felt like running and running. I was also running faster than usual, even though it was a long run. This resulted in more soreness than usual, but I felt the pain as though from a slightly disassociated point of view. The soreness did not slow me down as usually would do. I wanted to stop running, but there was this noticable urge that didn't want me to stop running. The feeling was great. It probably was a runner's high, but it felt much more. The closest thing that matched what I experienced is called 'Stillness in motion' and many what I experienced matches in that link. Eventually I had to force myself to stop running because I was concerned that the soreness I felt would result in injury and wanted to be safe. I experienced more soreness than usual and I was probably right in stopping. I never felt that great again. I experienced a partial version of it an year later. I don't know what might have caused it, but it was an great

Table 2: Excerpt from my running log when experiencing 'Stillness in motion'
Date Distance (km) Duration Long run speed (kmph) Speed run speed (kmph) Time Acute soreness DOMS Run type
07-06-2016 13.5 01:41:00 8.02 6:10–7:55 Moderate light moderate Long run (aborted above half)

Another one positive side effect of running is that I got heat acclimatisation. I would run upto 8am in the morning. Sometimes I would start late and run upto 10am. Running for long in the hot tropical resulted in me being tolerant to heat than normal. I do not tire out in the hot sun compared to person with a sedantary lifestyle.

In this post, I've written about how I started running and the physical and mental health benifts I experienced due to a regular running routine. I ended with writing about experiencing 'Stillness in motion'. In my next-post, I have written about the peak of my running form, which includes half marathons, a sub 30 min 5k and a 25k. This is followed by a post on how I lost fitness after reaching a peak.

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