Chippewa Herald * March 25, 2012     Hit Counter by Digits

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Can you PR a 5K race in the snow?

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

"Don't expect to set any PR's today. Just be safe out there!"

Those were the words of Chuck Hull, the event organizer for the "Chilly Chippewa" 5K race a couple of Saturdays ago, at the snowy starting line in the street in front of Chi-Hi.

I wanted to yell out in response, "It depends on how slow your current PR is!"

But I didn't, because unlike Chuck, I didn't have a megaphone. Furthermore, I was firmly ensconced at the BACK of the pack. I figured that position was safe for the first five-kilometer race of my life.

I may have started last, but I did actually have some hope of setting a new PR (personal record). Why? Because I AM NOT A RUNNER!

In the first half century of my life, I ran exactly one time. I ran one mile in 1978, after graduating from high school. I don't know how fast I was, but I hated every step of it.

I had no problem biking, or playing tennis or racquetball, but it just seemed like my body was not designed for sustained running.

So why did I end up at the starting line of a 5K race? It's all because of Philmont.

Philmont is the high-adventure, high-altitude Boy Scout backpacking camp in the Rocky Mountains that our troop went to in July 2010. In reading about how to prepare for the trip, I realized I needed to get in shape.

For seven months, I exercised nearly every day. It was mostly skiing in the winter and backpacking around town when the snow melted. But definitely not running.

Our eleven days of backpacking at Philmont for the twelve of us was spectacular! I was thrilled that, even though I had just turned 50, I had absolutely no issues with ankles, knees, hips, or legs during the 65 miles of hauling 50 pounds on my back.

HOWEVER, I did have one issue: catching my breath! Wow, I was simply unprepared for the cardiovascular demands of high altitudes (8000-12000 feet) and all-day uphill hikes on an older body.

Most of the trek was fine, but there were three days where I was operating at maximum capacity hiking at the boys' pace and felt like collapsing.

So when I returned home, I decided to start preparing NOW for our next Philmont trip. (Yes, it's not until 2014, but remember the Scout Motto: "Be Prepared.")

I had been a member of the YMCA for 20 years, but mostly stuck to the racquetball courts, the Nautilus machines, and "Killer Kirchen's" strength training class.

It was time to venture out to the dreaded machine: the TREADMILL.

I needed some way to get my heart rate as high as it was at Philmont, and nothing else I was doing could accomplish that.

Fortunately, I had strapped on my heart monitor every day on the trail, so I knew my target zone. I experimented with different speeds on the treadmill until I dialed in on an 11 mpm (minutes per mile) pace.

Jogging at that pace produced the same heart rate as backpacking up a slow incline at Philmont. I knew I could keep that up for an hour if had to, because I did that on the trail.

The treadmill doesn't provide quite the same incentive as keeping up with your Scouts, however, so I started slowly. I ran a whole mile at a 14 mpm pace -- not much faster than walking, but hey, it was first time I had "run" without stopping since 1978!

The next time I set it for 12 mpm, and did another whole mile. After doing that pace for a few days, I was able to dial it down to the goal of 11 mpm. I ran one mile at that pace many times, then two miles, and finally, on November 5, 2010, I ran 3.11 miles on the treadmill -- the first 5K of my life!

Running that far without stopping, I thought I was going to die. I was watching each hundredth of a mile tick by, praying for it to end. But I did it!

Over the next 16 months, I ran 33 more 5K's. I ran a few outside, but I actually preferred the treadmill, because it forced me to run a consistent pace.

I VERY SLOWLY sped it up by a few seconds each time. But the fastest I had ever done as of March 3 was 32:04 for 5K.

So I was as shocked as anyone when I crossed the finish line at Chi-Hi and saw the digital timer reading 30:04! I had broken my previous PR by TWO MINUTES! (Take THAT, Mr. Hull!)

I realize that any REAL runner would laugh at taking a half hour for a 5K. But it was quite thrilling for a 51-year-old non-runner who is still ten pounds overweight.

As I was talking with Lynn Cherrier at church the day after the race, a quote from the movie "Chariots of Fire" came up. Eric Liddell, who won a gold medal in the 400 meter at the 1924 Olympics, said that "I feel God's pleasure when I run."

I'm not sure I'd go quite that far. At least not yet. But after three dozen 5K runs, I do know one thing.

Now when I run, I feel a little less of God's wrath.

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