My quest to become an endurance athlete

My entire life I’ve honestly HATED distance running or walking. As my good friends the Clarks could tell you, when I was 9 or 10 I would complain bitterly about walking a couple of miles through Salamanca, Spain. I’ve always played sports that require running, primarily soccer, which I’ve played for 20+ years now, but that to me was always sprinting, never long continuous distances. Distance running was a challenge to me, and I like to challenge my assumptions. So although I could play 2 90 minute soccer games back to back, I couldn’t run 2 miles non-stop, heck I could barely run 1 mile without getting winded.

So I decided I would challenge myself. I would learn to become a distance runner and endurance athlete. I don’t really have the build for endurance sports according to all my previous assumptions, I’m not tall, I’m not thin, heck I’m below average height, with short legs, and built like a running back (stocky, wide shoulders). This normally would dissuade people from trying to become endurance athletes, but for me, it struck me as a challenge.

I started off slowly, running a mile or mile and a half at a time in my running shoes (Asics), but never got that “feel” for it, as I’d always end up with sore ankles, or knees. Turns out when you’ve been playing soccer your whole life, you get used to running on your forefeet, not your heels. Running in traditional shoes encourage heel-striking. I started reading up about this issue, and stumbled across the barefoot running craze that’s been picking up steam the last few years. Many of the advocates of barefoot running push for a fore foot or mid foot strike to reduce strain on the knees and joints. So I tried this, shifting to what was already normal running for me from soccer. Instant epiphany: why wasn’t I doing this all along? I read up some more on bio-mechanics of running, including this Harvard study that came out a few years ago. The science seemed to indicate that I needed to get rid of these clunky sneakers and go with something lighter and more responsive. Thus I picked up my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) and never looked back.

After 3 months of regular running, I picked up a road bike, deciding I was going to set my goal for a sprint distance triathlon in 2011. A sprint tri is .5mile swim, 13.1mile bike, and 3.2mile run. Part of my rationale behind picking a tri is that I also hated swimming laps as a kid, and I believe that diversifying my exercises will better condition me and help me avoid repetitive stress injuries associated with focusing on a single sport.

5 months into my running, I can now say I can run a 5k without stopping to walk or catch my breath. I’m slowly working my way up to a 10k, which I may have been at by now had I had a more rigid training schedule. Hopefully in another 5 months I’ll be running a half-marathon 13.1 miles.

So why am I doing this? To challenge myself. Unlike team sports where you depend on others to compete against unknown variables, in endurance racing, the only person I have to worry about is myself. I’m not out there trying to win these races, I’m out there trying to beat my previous records. I’m out there to prove to myself that I can do something I didn’t think I could do.

What are you doing to challenge yourself?

Obstacle race with me