The Art of Jogging: An Honest Discussion about Getting in Shape

2015 Canada Army Run / Course de l'Armée du Canada

Author, Ottawa Army Run, Sep 2015:

People who jog have a very hard time not talking about the fact that they jog and I’ve become one of those people. However, I’d like to carry on the jogging discussion from a different angle. This past fall I completed a half-marathon, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do but put on the back-burner throughout my early and mid-twenties.

For my 27th birthday I asked my father to buy me a pair of running shoes. 27 was a big year because it was the first time I started to think about death. Up until then I always thought that I was invincible and in truth I pretty much was. But as 25 wrapped up and 26 came through I could feel the weight of over half a decade of unhealthy living catching up to me and I knew that I needed to try to change parts of my life so that I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life dealing with chronic self-induced issues. 

So for my 27th birthday I got some running shoes and I went for a run. Well, that might be a stretch, I put on my new running shoes, I put on a pair of shorts that weren’t jean cut-offs and I downloaded a Map My Run app and put some music on, ran about half a block before I thought I was going to vomit and then walked with a cramp for two blocks and tried to run again and I did this for about 10 minutes. After, I fell on my couch and sat for over half hour thinking I was going to die. I then drank a nutritional shake, took a shower and probably headed to the pub.

When I had bought my running shoes I’d asked the man at the Running Room what was the best way to get in shape to run a half marathon. He told me to do two short runs during the week and a long distance run on the weekend. Three times a week, I can do that. And so two days after my terrible first run, I did another terrible run except, I didn’t stop as many times. That weekend I went from running 1km to 1.5km at a similar run/walk pace.

But my first foray into running taught me a lot about running and shattered a few misconceptions I had about it.

First, if I only ever went running when I felt like running I would never go running. The feelings I have before I go for a run are the same range of negative emotions I have before I go to work, write a paper or go on a blind date. I run through every possible excuse I can find to not go for a run. It’s too cold today, I’m coming down with a cold, I haven’t missed a run into two weeks, I’m due for a day off, I don’t want to push myself too hard and get injured – then I’ll never be able to run again. Those thoughts normally bounced around my head for 20 minutes to an hour before I actually decide to go for a run.

Second, I thought I would enjoy running. The first year I started running I hated it. I was genuinely miserable the entire time I was jogging. I couldn’t breathe very well, my joints hurt all the time, I would feel nauseous throughout the run and it would take me the better part of an hour to catch my breath after I was done. The whole process was a three-hour long event that only led to me running 3km when you take into account the pre-run build up, the run and then the recovery time.

By the end of my first season as a runner I hadn’t felt like I’d accomplished much. I was running on average two to three times a week for a total of 5 to 8km a week. The longest run I had been on was 5km and I couldn’t run it without having to walk. I wasn’t at a point where I could even care about what time I was making; I was just trying not to die. And then, in a strange sort of relief, the winter came and I was able to take a much-needed break from jogging without feeling guilty about it.

As the winter went on and I found myself more and more restless. I started to think about running through rose colour glasses, ‘I miss the sun shinning, the birds singing and me running with a jolly grin on my face. If it was nice out and I could run I would fight off these winter blues.’ I even spent my Christmas gift cards on running gear for the cold so that as soon as it got to a reasonable temperature I could go out for a run. Once the weather broke and it was above freezing I dressed in my new gear and enthusiastically went for a run, completely forgetting that I hadn’t done any real exercise in three months and that I wasn’t even in good shape before the winter started and I struggled my way through 1.5km. I forgot – running sucks.

Later that week was the first real spring feeling day. The temperature hit 10 degrees the snow was melting and collectively all of Ottawa knew that winter was over – the best day of the year. I decided to kit up with my running gear, put my Saucony’s on and run to my parent’s house to get my bicycle out or storage. I looked it up on the map, 4.8km, ‘that’s a long run, not to sure I can handle that, I’ll probably do a walk/run.’ I set off, the first 2km were a chore, I was coughing and starting to drag my feet and I thought, I’ll just go to the next set of lights, then I got the next set of lights and thought, I’ll just get to the next set of lights, before I knew it I was running up my parents drive way. It was the longest run I’d ever done without stopping and it was the first time I caught a glimpse of the runners high. I was exhausted, I went into my parents house and drank a tall glass of milk and ate a bunch of fruit. I floated around their house with a feeling of euphoria. I finally understood – running was amazing.

So then I happily jogged every other day slowly increasing my distance every week up until the day of the race and I had trained so well and was so happy that the day of the race I ran my personal best and everything is great….

That’s what it may have looked like on paper but in reality it couldn’t have been further from the truth.

As spring continued I got into a steady rhythm with jogging. For the most part I was running 3km Tuesday and Thursday mornings with a neighbour and then going for a 5km run on Saturday or Sunday. I found a way to mix into my regular routine of life and that made it a lot easier to stay consistent. Important Note: I still hated running while I was running and running in the morning sucks.

(Aside: The biggest misconception I personally had about running was about running in the morning. Most people aren’t early morning joggers. The early morning jogger comes off as the person that is so disciplined that they don’t sleep in; they have their whole day ready to go before everyone is awake. The truth isn’t that rosy. People who run in the morning do it because they can’t sleep. Not being able to sleep in the morning is the worst feeling in the world. You wake up and are wide awake and it’s 5 am, you’ve only been asleep for 4 hours and you can’t get back to sleep. You lie in bed for an hour hoping to fall asleep but can’t. You’re riddled with anxiety about the coming day and the experience is miserable. You can’t talk to anyone and even the coffee shops aren’t open. So you do the one thing that will help you deal with your anxiety and you angrily go for a run looking at all the houses with their lights off envious of the people inside and their ability to sleep. By the time you’ve finished the run, the world has woken up and you feel refreshed for the day and it is a great feeling, but getting there is not.)

As spring became summer I was becoming complacent with my running. I was still doing it regularly but I wasn’t pushing myself anymore. It became easy and I was looking for a new challenge. A couple of my friends who were runners asked me if I wanted do the Army Run half-marathon with them in the fall and at first I thought that would be overwhelming. I didn’t want to become a fitness freak and the thought of running anything longer than 5 km scared me. But then I started doing some research into training for a half-marathon and I had a long enough timeline that it seemed realistic. Then, training for the half-marathon became one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. Each week I would add 1 or 2km to my run and I did it slowly over the summer. Adding kilometers is mentally and physically exhausting and rewarding. Each week I would run farther than I had ever ran. I was able to look forward to doing something I’d never done before.

The first time I ran 6km was a rush. After the Map My Run lady told me I’d ran a distance of 5km it hit me that I was doing something I’d never done. My lungs and my legs were also very aware that I had never done it and with each stride I was embarking into the unknown. I pushed myself to my limit constantly praying that I could keep going until I hit 6km. The next week I did the same thing, except this time I could confidently run 6km knowing that I had done it before but when the Map My Run lady told me I was at 6km I kept running and again embarked into the unknown one stride at time until I reached 7km. Each week I kept adding kilometers to my runs and each week I was faced with a new challenge and a new goal. By the time I reached 19km my runs were no longer as difficult and became a stress outlet and my happy place. For up to two hours a week I knew that I wouldn’t have to check my email, answer the phone or respond to a social media notification. I made a playlist of all of my friends’ bands and it was as if they were cheering me on as I ran. Ottawa is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I would run down the Ottawa River pathway under the parliament buildings along the canal then up Sherwood Avenue back to my apartment. I would cross paths with other runners and cyclists knowing that they were also enjoying the natural high that comes with running along waterways. I had finally reached a point where running became my therapy, my time to meditate, pray and think.

And then came race day. I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous about the amount of people. I had become selfish with my running and I was scared about sharing my experience with thousands of others. The day before I was anxious, trying to make sure that I did everything properly so that I could run the race to the best of my abilities. I ran a light 10km I bought some protein gels and tried to figure out if I wanted to bring my Camelback or not. I wanted to be as light as possible because not only was I running 2km more than I had ever ran before but I wasn’t going to be doing it in a sea of people who all looked like seasoned vets.

The night before I stayed in and ate a big pasta dinner and crushed half a season of Narcos. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sleep but thankfully I got close to 6 hours of sleep. My goal for the race was to run it under two hours. I ended up being caught in the starting group with people who were aiming to finish in 2:20 and I could see the 2 hour pace bunny in the distance and knew that I was going to catch him. As soon as we started I was on a mission. By the 10km mark I had caught the 2 hour pace bunny and ran right past the group. By the time I waved to the Governor General in front of Rideau Hall I knew that I was exceeding my goals by a long shot. With  2km left I thought to myself, ‘I wish this race was longer’, I’d never felt that kind of energy before and I decided that I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I was completely exhausted at the end of the race and decided to run as fast as I could to the end. I ran the last 2km in 6 minutes. When I finished my race I was dizzy exhausted and overwhelmed. I thought of myself the summer before barely able to run 1km without feeling like I was going to have a heart attack. I thought about the early morning anxiety jogs. I thought about the jogs in 34-degree heat. And I realized that this is the first of many races. I get to do this for the rest of my life.

Matthieu Foreman

4 Responses to “The Art of Jogging: An Honest Discussion about Getting in Shape

  • Glad to hear you’re loving running, Matt, and congrats on the Army Run! I hope you have many healthy years of pounding the road ahead of you.
    As an aside to your aside about early morning runners: another reason that people may run then is because it is the only time they can. I like to/have to go at the crack of stupid because my kids aren’t up yet, and I have to leave for work by 7:10 am. There is no chance in the rest of my day and it is a wonderful way to start the day with the euphoria that follows. Plus- my exercise is done for the day before I even have breakfast!

  • Man, what a great post! So inspiring! I’m going to try and run 10k this summer after failing at it last summer. I’ll keep your words in mind during my runs.

  • Keep it up, mustache man.

  • I saw this same mustached man running in the 10km this weekend during Ottawa Race Weekend. Nice to read your perspective and your story. I can relate in a lot of ways. Keep it up!

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