Learning to Run

That’s me, in black, with the blue sweater.

I show dogs. I started showing dogs as a child and though I drifted away from it for awhile as a young adult, I came back to it in my thirties. My husband and I joke that when we get too old to run, we’ll show Boston Terriers, but given the speed that our current Boston (a rescue) runs rings around us (quite literally) we may not be slowing down much. And anyway, that’s still many years ahead. In the meantime I show large dogs: Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Irish Red and White Setters, American Foxhounds and occasionally my friend Deb’s beautiful Scottish Deerhound, Cassi.

Dogs are supposed to be shown at their natural gait, and the handler has to sometimes ramp it up a bit to move the dog at the optimum pace. When I showed in Louisville this spring, just after I started this weight-loss project, I was very self-conscious about running. Despite spandex and other miracle fibers to hold bits of  my body in, up, down and flat, I still felt like I was bouncing, jiggling and flapping with every step. My posture in the ring is quite upright– a source of great criticism from my dear husband who ran track in high school. Sometimes I think I must look like Queen Victoria from the waist up and a Monty Python animation from the waist down.

On our last day in Louisville, I showed the Irish Red and White setter first. In her class, we went around a 50 foot ring, set up, went down and back on the diagonal and around again. Then, because this was a judge who is particular about movement, we went around the ring again. She won that class and went immediately to the next class, more running around the ring. She won that (hooray, Rowan!) and went in to compete for Best of Breed. More running. She didn’t win that (no matter) but I had to race back to the set up (100 yards away) put her away, grab the Chessie and run back into the ring to compete with him for Best of Breed, and more trips around the ring. When I took the setter to have her “win” picture made, the judge asked “What are you going to do when you can’t keep up with her anymore?” and I said “I’m working on that.”

I understand why she asked. I was panting, and red-faced, sweat was streaming from my brow. I walked back to the set up, flopped in a chair,  had a bottle of water and sat for  twenty minutes to catch my breath. In the Scottish Deerhound ring, a 95-pound woman suggested that I take “longer steps” and “run faster.”  I smiled and nodded and said “Yes, I’m working on it.”

But it wasn’t just the weight, I had to learn how to run.

One of the things that I knew was a problem (in addition to obesity and general lack of fitness) is that every time I started to run, I tensed up. I expected running to be unpleasant and I did not look forward to it– this became one of those self-fulfilling prophecies.  Of course, I had ideas about how I was going to learn to run. Because I have a “horsey” background, I was going to lay cavallettis (light weight poles) out in a pattern and use them to lengthen my stride. I was going to work on that every day until I could run farther and farther without being winded.

I don’t have any cavallettis yet and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to them. Something more dramatic happened along the way and it was shoes. When I first embarked on this project, friends strongly advised me to get “proper athletic shoes” to wear for walking and exercise. I resisted mightily. I found traditional running shoes ugly and uncomfortable. (What is with those big padded collars around your ankles, anyway?)

In the midst of this I happened upon minimalist running shoes. Some of them are downright bizarre looking, suitable for five-toed sloths. (Or non-sloths as the case may be.) But others others looked more like jazz oxfords, graceful in appearance and application. I bought a pair of Sperrys, and then branching out, a pair of Merrells. The Merrells have been extraordinary, and my only reluctance to put them on in the morning is that shoes have a finite lifespan, and I hate the idea of wearing them out.

I began to read about minimalist running. I watched some videos on YouTube. I learned more than I ever cared to about the Tarahumara indians. Still, though, the shoes were comfortable. The theories made sense. On the treadmill I found I was moving farther, faster.

Barefoot or minimalist running is very trendy right now. I don’t know if it truly makes you a better runner, or if it makes you less prone to injury, but I can tell you that I find it a lot more comfortable. Instead of landing on your heel, you land on the ball of your foot. Instead of leaning forward from the waist, you remain more or less upright, with less bounce in your stride, and more flexibility.  Running with actual bare feet doesn’t really appeal to me– the perils underfoot are enough for  me to keep my shoes on. But what wonderful shoes they are.

Lately, I have found myself running here and there because I’m in a hurry. It’s no big deal. I’m no longer holding my breath. I know my feet will get me there. This coming weekend, I have another dog show with Rowan, the setter. I’m looking forward to seeing how well I can keep up with her.

Target number is still 56. Steps today 4225. For breakfast: hard-boiled egg, piece of toasted ciabatta, half a cup of cottage cheese. Lunchtime brought me yogurt with granola, and a piece of baklava. (The last of it, thank heavens.) I had a can of coke over ice in the middle of the afternoon. Dinner was a large spinach salad with hard-boiled egg, a tablespoon of bacon, fresh mozzarella pearls, and bleu cheese dressing. Plus a glass of spicy V-8. Dessert was three little waffeletten.

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One thought on “Learning to Run

  1. I was struck by your comment about tensing when you start to run – I haventiced a subtle shift from avoiding being out of breath at all costs to realizing that breathing hard it ok – if I can maintain it. It has changed everything for me…I am still struggling to find that sweet spot where I can maintain and not pass out.

    Congrats on your win!

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