After getting into running just over a year ago, I have finally decided to do a “Learn-to-Run” Clinic at Runner’s Choice, my favorite local running shop. It might seem like an odd decision, given that I’ve already run a 5K race and had committed, in early winter, to train for a 10K with the “ease into 10K” app.
But I fell out of routine in February when harsh wind chills outside made me say, “forget this.” Since running inside on the treadmill was never what I had in mind, I just switched over to swimming for the rest of the winter. I ran only when the weather was favorable, and my standards for favorable weather kept getting higher and higher.
I figured that running with a group would be a good way to get on track. Both the 5K and 10K training groups were about to end, not to resume again until August. Learn to Run was about to start. Since I’ve never really learned to run — I just went out and ran — and since I have hardly been running lately and, when I do, I’ve struggled to stick with it (taking “do less” to new minimums), starting at the beginning sounded pretty appealing to me.
The learn to run at Runner’s Choice has three levels, each with its own leader. Level 1 is for total beginners, people who have never run in any significant way. Even for me, that seemed too basic. Level 2 is also pretty basic, but requires you to run in week one for 10 minutes at a stretch, with a 5 minute warm up and cool down walk on either end. Level 3 starts off with a 20 minute run. In my 10K training I was at 4 sets of 8 minutes each, with 1 minute of rest in between and a 5 minute warm up and cool down. 20 minutes struck me as too ambitious. I chose Level 2.
Last week, the first session took place during a brief and welcome break in the weather — pouring rain just half an hour prior to the clinic, a hailstorm less than an hour after the end of the run. Each week starts off with a short talk, followed by the run at whichever level you’re in. 27 people showed up at the store, and I have to say that it felt good to be in the company of others, women and men of all ages, shapes, sizes, and physical abilities.
The first week’s talk was about goals and expectations. We were asked to think about what we wanted out of the program. I had the gratifying experience of automatically going to performance goals. I have two specific goals for the next little while: (1) I want to be able to comfortably run for 30 minutes without needing to take a walk break and (2) I want to pick up my pace. A third goal, not performance oriented, is that I want to get back into a routine. And a fourth goal is that I would like to meet one or two others to run with regularly.
The instructor explicitly said that it’s not likely that anyone will experience any noticeable weight loss during the duration of the 12-week course. It was only when she said that that I realized my small victory: despite my disappointment at the bod pod just a couple of days prior, I never once considered weight loss or even fat loss as my goal for running. That’s a huge step forward for me and tells me that I am successfully reconditioning my default ways of thinking about the role of these activities in my life.
By far the majority chose Level 1. In my Level 2 group, there were just 6 of us plus the instructor. We set out for a little warm-up walk and then some dynamic stretching in the park. And then it was time to run. 10 minutes might not seem like a long time, but remember, I’ve been doing about 8 minutes and then taking a walk break. So it was 2 minutes longer than what I’m used to (to the extent that I’m used to anything at the moment, given that I’d backed off of my running routine so much).
The ten minutes flew by when I was running with the group. I ran alongside the instructor and one other woman, with an older and faster man running up ahead of us, and three other women falling into a slightly slower pace behind us. We ran at an easy pace, chatting the whole time. Before I knew it, we were ready for the cool down.
Here’s what I like about doing the Learn-to-Run:
1. I knew very well that I wasn’t the fastest runner on the road, but it was also gratifying to learn that I’m not the slowest either! Nothing wrong with my pace even if my goal is to pick it up.
2. Going out with a group is more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve written before about my tendency to prefer going it alone. I like the meditative aspect of running or swimming alone. It allows me to get into my own rhythm and zone. But it’s not always like that, and running with others felt lighter, less serious, more enjoyable.
3. Having the clinic that night ensured that I would go. Once I commit to a program that involves showing up somewhere and doing it with at least one other person, I’m pretty reliable (even more so if I’ve paid for it, which I had — a bargain at $45).
4. Between weekly sessions we have homework, which is to get out at least two other times to do the same assignment. In my case that meant at least two other sessions of 5 minutes of walking, 10 minutes of running, and 5 minutes of walking. I changed it up a bit and did two rounds of the 10-minutes of running with a short walk break in between. Since our time increases each week, there is real incentive to do the homework. So the clinic has me re-committed to a routine after less than one week.
5. It’s in keeping with my “do less” approach. Though I am starting out doing less, the way this program is set up I will be doing more than I’ve ever done before the end of it. By week 10, we will be running for 35 minutes in a row. That’s amazing!
6. I’m getting some good information about running from the short talks, and I now have experienced and knowledgeable instructors who I can go to when I have questions. Though I’ve been running for a year, I still feel like a novice. I think that’s precisely because I have had no instruction. I’m a workshoppy kind of person who likes classes and courses and clinics when I’m learning new things. Not sure why I’ve waited so long where running is concerned, but I do feel as if the session will build my confidence and help me determine reasonable performance goals.
7. They operate on the premise of gradual progression. Each week is a little bit more demanding than the week before, but not enormously so. I find that when I am going out by myself, I can get stuck in a rut where I don’t progress at all, I just stick with what I’ve always done. I know full well that staying in my comfort zone isn’t going to get me anywhere, but I’m not always effective at keeping myself on task.
So that’s a bit about why I’m doing such a basic clinic and what I’m enjoying about it. Most communities have learn-to-run and more advanced clinics for 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon training. If you are just starting out or have aspirations to increase your distance and think the support and camaraderie of a group would help, I highly recommend that you explore the options in your community.