Run Camp

 It’s that time of year when nearly 1,000 people converge on my gym, filling the hallways, classrooms and restrooms, to spend the next few weeks honing their running skills, or for most, starting a brand new running career. They are young, old, fat, thin, male, female. Most are sporting a brand new kit of running gear from head to toe: bright neon jackets with Icebreaker wool shirts and gators sticking out at the neck; Lycra tights that still have their out of the box sheen, and pristine running shoes, with laces still lily-white and toes unstained by mud or rain. They’re loud, laughing, excited; their nervousness is palpable. They cling to their friends and offer disclaimers to the run leaders signing them in. They clutch up in the hallways and block the entrance to the gym, where I must pass through their gauntlet to get to Saturday morning spin class. They sit in the walkways, feet splayed out in fresh new SmartWool socks, begging to trip me, as I make my way past to spend the first part of my Saturday in a dark room on a bike that goes nowhere.

Last year, I hated them. I endured Saturday after Saturday wrestling my way through the rabid run campers to get to spin class. I resented them more each week. Not only were they clogging up the gym, blocking the way and taking our parking spaces, their fresh-faced enthusiasm at fever pitch, but they were running and I was not. Between years of arthritis, a bad ankle and an old hamstring tear, I didn’t think I could ever run again. Biking was going to have to be enough for me. But I watched them week after week: overweight, out of shape people caught up in the flurry with their running peers. I watched them struggle through the snow as they left the building for group runs, their spanking new shoes getting wet and dirty while they straggled along at the back of their group, some not even making it to the street before they tuckered out and walked. And, they inspired me.

So, as everyone knows who’s been reading this blog for a while, I had my own run camp. It lacked the benefit of group camaraderie, lectures from trainers and inspirational talks. But I started training and ended up a runner. Not a fast runner, not a long distance runner, but enough of a runner to satisfy that longing.

So this year, I empathize with them. They are new runners, entering into the unknown, exposing their novice skills to hundreds of others, in the quest to run a 5K, a half, or maybe even a marathon. They’re trying something new where they might fail, might get hurt, or worse, quit before they find out what they could become. Now, when I put up with the inconvenience of hundreds of runners clogging up my gym for a few weeks, it’s okay, because, now I’m one of them.

© Huffygirl 2013

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Run Diary, part II

Mama’s got a new pair of shoes!

(Huffygirl’s run journey continues: see Part 1, posted May 8, 2012)

Day 1: After spin class, I get on a treadmill and run a little bit. Walk five minutes, run two minutes. Not much of a run. The walking shoes I’m wearing keep catching on the treadmill belt. I have to change the treadmill speed when I go from run to walk and back again. I keep pushing the wrong buttons and had to jump off several times when I made it go way too fast. But for a few minutes, I ran.

Day 4: Repeat of day 1. This time my legs feel like lead. I run maybe a minute for every 5-10 that I walk. The gym fan is whipping my hair in my face, but it’s still too hot. Me, the person who spends 99% of my life wearing two sweaters, is hot, melting hot. Why should running make me soooo much hotter than biking, especially when I’m not even doing that much?

Day 5: I’m rubbing my shoulder all day. For some reason, running is aggravating my surgery shoulder. Must be the bouncing. My boss asks me why my shoulder hurts. “Thought I’d try a little running,” I say. She gave me that look, the look that says “you’re not 25 any more, what were you thinking?” I decide it’s time to keep this running thing to myself.

Day 10: Despite the fact that I’m not making much progress, I decide I am a real runner now, and order a new sports bra. And just for good measure, some compression shorts, because my old hamstring tear is aching every time I run. Actually, all my old injuries are aching every time I run.But hey, I’ve lost two pounds, and I have to keep up with Susan at Coming East.

Day 15: I come home from work and see my new sports bra has arrived. It’s a beautiful hot day. I decide it’s now or never – to run in public. “I’m going out for a little walk” I tell my husband, as I don new sports bra, running shorts, running socks, heart rate monitor, and my heavy walking shoes. “Looks like you’re planning to do a little running” he says. Guess the secret is out. I step off my driveway and begin. Six long blocks and four short blocks is one mile. I decide to walk a block, run a block. One mile down. This is so much better than running on a treadmill. I don’t feel so cramped and don’t have to mess with any buttons. By the time I’m near the end of the first mile, I look forward to the end of the block when I can lapse back into a walk. But one mile down and I’m still alive so I keep going.The second mile is a little easier, but again I’m melting hot. I’m thinking that this sports bra is enough like a top that maybe next time I can run without a shirt. Don’t the Olympic women do that? My final time is 14 minutes for the first mile, 13 for the second. There are plenty of people who could WALK a mile in those time, but I’m ecstatic. I decide it’s time to buy running shoes.

Day 16: I wake up to realize that everything aches. Knees, shoulder, neck, IT band, feet.”It’s because I don’t have running shoes” I rationalize. I take spin class in the morning, and end up hot and tired, just phoning it in. Later I go to the premier running store in my town to buy running shoes. Kathleen, a marathoner who waits on me, is helpful and encouraging. She tells me my walk a block, run a block plan is the best program ever – that’s what ALL the new runners do. I ask her if it would be silly for me to sign up for the big 5K run in three days – after all I just walked/ran two miles, and 3.1 is not that much more. She assures me that should be just fine. Maybe I’ve fooled her into thinking I’m much better than I am.

Day 17: Two days before the 5K run I try out all my new gear. I look great – like I really know what I’m doing. The compression shorts are a job to put on, but I’ve decided I’m going to wear them every day for the rest of my life. They hold in all the flab and make me feel slim. (found out later they’re great right up until you have to go the bathroom.) I do my two-mile run from my house again, in a gentle rain. I discover that the second mile is easier after I’ve beat out all the pain and stiffness in the first mile. Hmm – does that mean I have to run four miles in order to feel good running three? I did each lap in just over 13 minutes – a little better than last time. I decide I’m ready to do the 5K in two days as a walk/run race.

Day 18: It’s packet pick-up for the race. There are lots of people and hoopla because besides the 5K run and walk, there’s a half marathon and full marathon. I fill out the late registration and wait in line. I see a few people I know, and no one says “What are YOU doing here?” so I take it as a good sign.

That night, I wake at 3:30 AM from a disturbing dream. In the dream I get delayed getting to the race, and by the time I get there all of the runners have already taken off. I decide I’ll try to run anyway, but I don’t have all my gear and I’m not sure where to go. Now here’s the really disturbing part of the dream. While I’m trying to collect my gear and get ready, I’m visited by three people: one from my childhood past, one from the recent past, and one from the present. This clearly Dickensian warning disturbs me so that I wake up in a panic. What are they trying to warn me of? The uncanny resemblance of the three visitors to the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future tells me that I must heed some kind of warning or suffer a dire fate. What have I gotten myself in to? It takes awhile before I fall back to sleep.

Day 19: It’s race day. My husband and I watch the marathon start, then line up for the 5K race. He tells me he’s planning on going nearly as slow as me, about a 13 minute mile, because this is his first run after back surgery. “Whoa, better be careful I don’t beat you,” I say. The race begins. My husband takes off  like a shot and I never see him again. Thirteen-minute mile indeed. I run most of the first mile and find it’s not too hard at my slow pace, with race-day adrenalin helping me out. By mile two I’m still running most of the time, just stopping for a few steps here and there when my heart rate gets too high. I’m encouraged to see that I’m surrounded by other runners going at a similar or slower pace, and many more behind me. No matter what I told people my race goals were, my real goal was to not be the last runner, and to not have any of the 5K walkers pass me. So far, so good.

The third mile begins at the base of the only significant hill in the race. I decide to take this hill walking. I want to save some energy for the end so I can at least run the last 50 yards at the turn towards the finish line. I end up alternating running and walking for most of the rest of the race, but still running more of it than I thought I would be doing.

At the finish line, I end up meeting my three goals: I ran the approach to the finish; I was not anywhere near the last 5K runner; and no walkers passed me. Turns out no dire consequences (unless you count hurting everywhere except my hair) and success on my first 5K run in 30 years. Finishing time: 39.11, 12.31 minutes per mile. Hurray!

© Huffygirl 2012

Target Heart Rate: Part I

So what is target heart rate? Do a search on “target heart rate” and you’ll get a myriad of web sites to help you understand target heart rate. Some focus on using target heart rate for body building, others for weight loss, some for basic health, others for cardiovascular fitness. In part one I’ll try to drill down to the basics of what target heart rate is and why it’s important for exercise. If you want more information for your specific type of exercise you may want to do a more focused search, using key words of “target heart rate and body building”, or weight loss, or whatever your particular interest is. As always, if you are new to exercise you should consult your health care provider before beginning, start slow and build intensity gradually, and work within your ability and any age and physical limitations you might have.

Target heart rate measures the intensity of one’s workout by how hard your heart is working during exercise. Our hearts work at different levels of intensity depending on our activity level. If we’re sleeping or sitting idle, our heart does not have to work very hard. The measure of our heart rate at rest is called, naturally, resting heart rate (RHR). You can find your resting heart rate by counting your heart rate when you first awake in the morning (count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply the number by two). Do this for three days, take the average of your results and you’ll have your baseline resting heart rate. How fast our heart beats at rest is determined by age, gender, health conditions, illness, some medications such as beta-blockers, and general level of fitness. Those who exercise regularly at intense levels, such as runners, cyclists, triathletes, and professional athletes generally will have a slow resting heart rate, perhaps as low as 40-60 beats per minute(bpm). This is because a very fit heart is able to beat so strongly that it does not need to beat as often to pump blood through the body. My excellent husband has a resting heart rate between 42-50 bpm and generally sets off alarms any time he’s been on a monitor for a medical procedure. Most people of average age and fitness will have a RHR between 60-80ish. Women tend to run a little higher than men because our hearts are smaller so therefore have to work a little harder.

Next, we need to understand maximum heart rate (MHR). This is the highest level of intensity at which your heart is able to work if needed, such as for running to rescue a child from a burning building. Most of us are only able to work at our maximum heart rate for short bursts of activity, and it is not recommended to try to sustain our maximum heart rate during routine exercise.

Recommendations vary, but for routine exercise, most people will aim for 50-80% of their maximum heart rate. This is the goal, or target heart rate zone (THR).

For most folks, exercise at 50-60% will be brisk, but not extremely challenging. A brisk walk where one is able to carry on a conversation, or a bike ride with kids or just tooling around the neighborhood will get you to 50-60%. At this level, you’ll maintain your level of health and reap the benefits of activity, but probably will not see significant weight loss, improvement in cardiovascular fitness, or increase your fitness to a competitive level. Those who are happy with their current weight and fitness level, or who are unable to exercise harder due to age or physical limitations, will probably want to exercise at 50-60% for 30-60 minutes most days of the week.

If you’re interested in reducing weight and improving your cardiovascular fitness, and are not already exercising vigorously, start by aiming for a THR of 60-70%, and work towards a goal of 60-80%, for 30-60 minutes at least 3-4 days a week, depending on what you hope to achieve. This level of exercise is more challenging – a brisk jog or speed walk, step aerobics, biking at a brisk pace, swimming laps. At this level of exercise you should be able to have a 3-4 word conversation, breath hard but not gasp for breath, and perspire enough to become fairly sweaty by the time you’re done. You might want to consult a trainer, join a training class (i.e. run camp or bike camp) or consult with experienced exercisers to develop an exercise program that will help you achieve this level. There are also plenty of web sites offering training information. For most people it is not necessary to work harder than 80% to achieve aerobic conditioning and weight loss.

For very fit persons interested in advanced conditioning, or for those training for advanced events such as marathons, triathlons, and iron-person competitions, you may need to include some training at a level above 80%. People interested in this kind of training would do well to consult with a trainer or join a training class.

Putting it all together: next we’ll use resting heart rate and maximum heart rate to calculate target heart rate. If you can’t wait until then, do a search on “calculate target heart rate” and you’ll find plenty of advice.