There was a time in my life when I did an hour of cardio on a daily basis.
Sizing Up the Problem
It had started when my favorite shirts started to become a bit snug. I was able to convince myself that they were simply shrinking, that is, until I saw pictures of myself. When standing, I wasn’t trim but I was perfectly average looking. When sitting, however, I looked like a melting scoop of ice cream, stuffed inside of a ziploc. After a couple of years of poor dieting choices and a diminishing exercise regimen, I found myself 45 pounds overweight. The buttons on my dress shirts must have been military grade, because I cannot imagine the stress they were under.
I went from melting ice cream to melting fat
As many do, I decided to do something about it. I subscribed to one of those video series that featured an overeager fitness guru, which I will detail in another post. The series included some light work with weights and was heavy on the cardio. I stuck to an overly strict diet, kept up with the videos, and slowly I went from melting ice cream to melting fat. But it wasn’t enough for me.
I didn’t want to slowly watch the pounds shave off, I wanted to get out a butcher’s knife and hack away at pounds at a time. I decided to supplement the videos with a cardio routine of my own. It started out as leisurely walks around the neighborhood. I used a run-tracking website to deduce that the two laps I did came out to roughly 3 miles. Figuring that each mile of movement equates to about 100 calories burned, I figured that I was burning an extra half pound a week. Still not enough.
Enter the Cardio
I ramped it up by doing a bastardization of the Couch to 5K program. I went from leisurely strolls to short jogs with long, winding walks in-between. After a few weeks, I was jogging at a slow pace for the majority of the loops. As my jogging speed finally increased, it was time to introduce a game-changer: a third loop. That was an extra mile and a half, and –more importantly- it was another 150 calories burned. I kept with the videos and the extra cardio and my body responded. My cheeks thinned out, my double chin receded, and some might say ab lines slowly began to appear.
I didn’t mention the extra cardio because I felt like it was my dirty secret
The routine went something like this for quite sometime. I introduced increases in speed over and over until my leisurely walks had completely transitioned into runs. The words felt devilishly good rolling off my tongue each day: “Be back in a bit, going for a run“. 3 months after first introducing the extra cardio into my routine, I had lost 50 pounds. People would ask how I lost all of the weight so quickly, and I would attribute it to the diet and to the videos. I didn’t mention the extra cardio because I felt like it was my dirty secret – I was a filthy runner.
I eventually quit the videos and stuck with the running alone. 5 mile runs turned into 6, 6 into 7, and so on. There was a goal in my mind, an arbitrary number that I had picked some months back. Twelve.
I went onto the run tracker and carefully mapped out a path around the city. The path would weave in and out of neighborhoods, run alongside grocery stores and Denny’s, and eventually climb it’s way back home. Back then, I worked a part-time job so finding the time to run was never a problem, but I knew the 12-mile task would require a full day. I picked a warm Tuesday that I had off, laced up my Asics, and headed out. I wish that this is where I could tell a great, Rocky-esque story where I just barely push my way through those 12 miles, but that is not the case. The weather was beautiful and the run was nice, and strangely, the run was easy. I could’ve gone at least 3 or 4 more miles, but didn’t, because 12 was the magic number. Afterward, I sat on my front porch for a bit formulating the perfect Facebook post to humble brag about my accomplishment. Twelve miles. I reminisced on the days of old, where I walked a paltry 3 miles like a peasant. No longer – I was the Cardio King. For a few minutes I relaxed, basking in the glory of being the Cardio King. If only I had known my reign would be short-lived. In fact, it was already over.
End of an Era
I rested my legs for a day after the big twelve milestone, figuring I had earned it. The next day I laced up, did my light ballistic warm-up, and headed out.
Down the driveway.
Ow. Ow. Ow.
Past the neighbor’s house.
Ow. Ow. Ow.
To the corner.
Ow. Ow. Ow.
I stopped. The pain was too excruciating. Each step was met with a jolt of anguish running through my legs. I tried to bounce in place a few times and was met with the same bolt of hurt. I walked my way back home, baffled. My legs felt like someone was jabbing knives into them. It wasn’t my whole leg, though, this pain was localized. I sat on my porch and rubbed where the pain was coming from – my shins.
Shin splints are a common problem for runners, but had not been so for me. In fact, I was unaware of their existence until that day. Another thing I was blissfully unaware of was the frequency with which a runner must change their shoes. As running shoes take the stress and impact of hitting the ground, the bonds and fibers within begin to break down. The comfort and cushions that dutifully protect your feet lose their luster, leaving you exposed. I was exposed. I had ran my Asics into the ground well before the twelve mile trek, leaving my legs to take the brunt of the damage.
My recovery was a slow and painful one. Every other week I would feel like I had spent enough time icing and stretching my legs to get back into the rhythm of things. I would lace up, cautiously head out, and right when my optimism would rear its head, so would the shin splints. It took me months to be able to run pain free again. My royal status, however, never recovered. I fear that I was never destined to be the Cardio King. In the time between the initial injury and the full recovery, I eased myself into low impact cardio machines and drills. By the time I was able to run again, I had lost interest in the idea. I like to imagine that I half lost interest because of the new and dynamic drills I had put together, and also half out of shame. I made it to the top of the mountain just to stumble and roll down the other side.
Shin Wars: A New Hope
In the time since, I still don’t run anywhere near as much as I used to. That is not to say that I don’t run at all – I use running and sprints in my new workout regimen. I look back on my experience with running and can’t help but be disappointed. If only I had done my research a little more, I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache. Maybe I’d have eventually reached 24 mile runs – back in the days of a light work schedule where a daily cardio hour was easy to find.
I don’t dwell much on what could have been because the shin splints paved the way to my love of lifting. In an attempt to find a full body workout that was low impact, I eventually found the idea of the “Big Lifts”. I became fascinated by the idea of functional strength and of power that hums through your whole body. I did my homework – I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes again – and studied the concepts, the form, the technique. I’ll detail my beginnings in lifting in another post, but I felt that it was worth mentioning that there was something to gain from my running tragedy. While I may never be infatuated with cardio and running in the same way again, I will always be grateful for what it afforded me. It helped me get back down to a healthy weight, it taught me a lot about perseverance, and through becoming a failed runner, I became a lifter.
Besides, LiveRunCode just doesn’t have the same ring to it.