Friday, October 11, 2013

Wizards, Run!

"I did the only thing any reasonable wizard could have done. I turned around and ran like hell." --Harry Dresden (in Jim Butcher's Death Masks)

"Foot chases still happened often enough that I had taken up running for practice and exercise. Admittedly, I was usually on the other side of a food chase, mostly due to my personal policies on hand-to-hand combat with anything that weighed more than a small car or could be described with the word chitinous." --Harry Dresden (in Jim Butcher's Blood Rites)

"Now, I'm not as strong as those really big guys. . . . I don't do swordplay as well as [other folks]. I don't yet have the magical experience and know-how to outfinesse the really experienced wizards and sorcerers who have been hanging around for centuries. . . . But I'll take any of those guys in a footrace. Guaranteed. I run -- and not so that I'll be skinny and look good, either. I run so that when something that wants to kill me is chasing me, I'll be good at running." --Harry Dresden (in Jim Butcher's Small Favor)

James Marsters rocks as the audiobook narrator.
We all have different preferences when it comes to exercise; one of the reasons it took me so long to become "athletic" is that I disliked traditional sports and loathed running. I had mild asthma as a kid and no grit or mental determination to push things physically. Why should I bother? I thought. There are plenty of good books I could read instead.

One of my favorite book series, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (no, NOT the TV show on Netflix that never happened), is about a wizard living in modern-day Chicago. What starts out as a fun sci-fi/fantasy series featuring a snarky guy who can do some magic evolves into a compelling, dark, and intricately designed storyline featuring a snarky guy who can do a lot of magic. I highly recommend giving the series a try if you haven't read it; book #10 is my favorite and #12 just leaves you on an insane "WHAT?!" moment. (There were only 12 books out when I got into the series; be glad you can now go straight on to 13 and 14.)

Anyway, one of the neat things about the books is the character development: Harry Dresden faces a lot, and you see him make tough choices, experience loss, learn from his mistakes, and really come into his own as a powerful contender in the magical community. He's bold, he's chivalrous, he's sassy, and he's smart enough to realize that sometimes he's outclassed, and running away is the best bet.

It's got fangs!
I took a gun safety class once, and the instructor called it the "Nike defense." When I took a krav maga (Israeli self-defense and street combat) class, the instructors stressed that your legs are your best weapon; run away when possible. Similarly, when discussing a hypothetical knife fight, the self-defense instructor at my kung fu school reminded us that Rule #1 of a knife fight is "Don't get into a knife fight." (Rule #2? If you're in a knife fight, bring a knife.) The TL;DR version of all of these safety tips comes down to this: Trouble? RUN.

My roommate in college was a cross-country runner, and when we were out in the city together, we always joked that she was "Flight" and I was "Fight" -- we had this glamorous notion that I'd hold off Scary Attacker Guy with my Tiny Girl Kung Fu and she'd run for help. The problem with this is, of course, that I have zero fighting experience whatsoever. I've taken a class here and there and live with 3 martial artists, but I'm no MMA fighter in disguise (yet?), and I wasn't doing CrossFit yet either, so my strength was pretty lacking -- and my running stamina was equally nonexistent.

CrossFit has definitely increased my athletic capacity, and there are running components to a number of the workouts. But Tough Mudder was the first long-distance event I'd ever done, and it was more of a walk/jog/shamble combination than a nice long run. You will frequently find me during running CrossFit workouts gasping "This is what death feels like" in an over-dramatic fashion. And while I don't aspire to be a marathoner, I'd like to have a fair shot of surviving the zombie apocalypse -- which means better running stamina. (I'm also a terribly slow sprinter, so add "speed" to the list of things to work on.)

I finally took a leaf out of Harry Dresden's book and decided that it wouldn't hurt to work on running, just a little bit. So when my coworkers asked me to sign up for a 5k with them, I allowed myself to be talked into it. And when I nervously went for a run with those coworkers a few weeks ago, I had a revelation: you can run as slow as you want. I always think that I need to charge out there and get it done, and I couldn't fathom running 3.1 miles without stopping until my coworkers (with the help of the Nike+ running app) showed me that pacing is key. I suddenly discovered that if we're talking a 13-minute mile, I can shamble along quite nicely without stopping to walk.

Talk about motivation!
I may never love running long distances, and I can get both the enjoyment and the fitness I want from CrossFit, martial arts, parkour, etc. But my glacial 12-13 minute mile pace is a step towards increasing both my mental and physical endurance, and it gives me a target to work at improving. Since the run with my coworkers, I've used the inspiration as well as both the Zombies, Run! app and the Nike+ run tracker and headed out into the beautiful fall weather on my "rest" days to log two 1-2+ mile runs without taking a single break to walk. I'd say that's a pretty good start. Bring it on, 5k!


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