First steps

Editor’s note: Original April 2011; revised Dec 2017

Beep beep. Roadrunner.

That’s me, or at least it was once upon a time. Crohn’s disease has taken much of that capacity away from me, but I have been able to make a vicarious return to my glory days by helping less experienced runners enjoy fleeter feet.

And my wife, Suzy, rejoined the Women Run Arkansas series in 2011 and I tagged along, offering advice and encouragement to eager beginners looking for any tips on making running easier, less painful and even fun. Suzy had “Gone Public” with her own effort to lose weight and improve fitness, committing to daily posting on her journey, so I committed to a series of my own focusing on running for fitness.

Back to the Roadrunner: Beep beep!

If you’re going to do a lot of running, for fitness or competition, you want to find playful joy in doing it. I know — if you’re just starting and trying to drop 50 pounds, it’s miserable: You’re sweaty, sore and struggling. Hard to imagine where the fun could be. But you have more control over your attitude than over most any other aspect of the equation. You can’t be taller, you can’t be 20 pounds lighter in a snap, you can’t bench press 400 pounds on a whim. But you can look at the blue sky and smile and say, “This is a good day.” You can be sweaty, huffing and puffing, and still realize, “Yesterday, I couldn’t go this far this fast, and tomorrow I’ll do better still.”

We’ll talk more about training yourself to be positive, but if you’re a beginner, latch onto something that pleases you: Being out in nature, a song you can listen to or sing in your head as you go, thoughts of a sleeker, faster you — anything that will balance the toll that unfamiliar effort takes on your body and willpower.

Beep beep. If the gloom catches you, you’re through.

I mentioned balance, and that’s the “B” in “Beep” — the first principle for easy running. Your body works in balance. One of the earliest lessons from my racing days in high school is to drive your arms to go faster up a hill. What your arms do, your legs must follow to balance. Pump your arms and your legs must move faster. If your arms flap from side to side, your legs will wobble in counterbalance. If you want to run efficiently, tuck your arms in and do compact movements, and your legs will move in short, powerful steps.

Efficiency is the first “E” in “Beep,” the target of all your mechanics and planning. As I said, tuck in and go straight, with small but powerful movements. Don’t waste effort in big motion or in making tendons and ligaments do muscle jobs. Learn to breathe well, not frantically or shallowly.

Effort is “E2” in “Beep,” because the goal is for running to become easy and fluid. Even though running is natural in a body made for balance, once we leave childhood we learn bad habits that only patient effort can overcome. We also tend to become soft with inactivity, and we need to work to be strong and efficient. We even have to relearn to breathe well, especially as we pile on stress.

Patience is that last character in “Beep,” since all of this rediscovery of childhood joy and natural efficiency takes time. The principles are simple, the movements are natural, but the years have been unkind to us. We have gained weight, lost muscle tone and lung capacity, stopped eating or sleeping well and made a mountain of work for ourselves to regain fitness.

If you’ll be patient and stick with me, we’ll step out together on the road to health and happiness.

Beep beep.