Running ain't easy. I've always had a respect for the people who can just get out of bed in the morning and go for a run. That just isn’t me. I dated a girl once who did 5 mile runs several times a week. Sometimes I would hop on my bike and ride along while she ran, secretly in awe of her ability to … run. I have knee issues and have had them for years. As result, I just don’t do well with high impact activities like running. Add to that I'm a bigger dude. I’m not fat, but I am just not a flyweight who is built for running. I think once you get over 200 pounds running isn’t easy. That describes a lot of guys out there. Here's a few things I have learned along the way that I hope will help bigger dudes, or guys who just don’t run, learn how to.
Running sounds great, a chance to burn off some serious calories in a pretty short time. I have given running a try more than a few times and usually quit within a week. There was a time when I was determined to give it a shot. I was determined to become a runner, so I woke up early Monday morning and ran. I made it through about 2 total miles with several stops to rest to make it though. Then I did it again on Tuesday, every day that week. Friday morning I woke up at 6 am to do my daily run…and I couldn’t get out of bed. My knees were throbbing and I was seriously afraid I really messed something up. I popped some pain relievers, sighed and said. “I’m just not meant to run”.
But then an opportunity came along that made me stick to it. A few years later after my failed running experiments I wanted to become a firefighter. Part of the physical fitness test involved being able to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes. I mean that's a pretty easy sounding pace to most people, a solid and steady run. For me it sounded like climbing mount Everest. But I had a goal in mind and made the commitment to beating the PT test.
The good thing with the fire department I was applying to was that they didn't care what you weighed. You either passed the physical tests or you failed. For some of the requirements, like carrying heavy weights, physical size could help. At the first meeting I saw skinny guys and some bigger ones as well. For me a really good healthy weight where I feel strong, look fit, and get the most attention from the opposite sex is between 220-230 pounds. I felt relived that I wasn't immediately disqualified based on weight. Still, I knew I had cardio work to do to pass the tests - namely running.
I started off my self-designed running program by doing long walks, 5 miles or so, nearly daily to build endurance. After a couple weeks of that I reduced my mileage but upped the pace. I would do light jogging, resting when I felt a twinge, and did this alternating resting and jogging method until I finished 3 – 3.5 miles. This portion of my program with walking and light jogging lasted about a month. Depending on your fitness level you might want to stretch this out even further. For me, I had a deadline to meet and was pushing myself. You should see a doctor to make sure you are ready to take on a serious running program.
I wanted to make sure I had some strength in my legs though because fire fighters do different physical tests that require strong legs, things like climbing stairs wearing a 50 pound weighted vest while carrying heavy weights in each hand. So I started doing hard sprints and running as hard as I could – ‘balls to the walls’ – then walking until I had the energy to do it again. Usually I would walk until I counted to 30 then run again. I repeated this pattern until I had run one mile. The I upped the challenge until I ran 2 miles of hard sprints. I did these hard sprints for a couple of weeks before moving onto my strength building phase.
At this point I felt like I had built my endurance and wanted to start building even more strength. I bought some weights that I could carry in a backpack (like they use in the GoRuck challenge) and started climbing stairs in a local building that was open at night. I would do 10-20 rounds of stair climbing before going home. The next day I made sure to stretch, and would do light walking - a mile tops - just to get the blood flowing to the muscle. I made sure to do this stair climbing no more than every other day so that my legs had time to rest and recuperate. I did this portion of my program for a couple of weeks before setting out to see if I had made progress.
A few days before I was scheduled to take my fire fighter physical fitness test, I knew it was time to see if I could do the run in time. I drank some water and set out to run 2 miles non stop regardless of how slow I moved. If anything, I have always had determination and would not stop until the goal was done. I was hoping that digging deep would overcome any physical limitations I had.
About a mile in I felt the doubt creep in as my body said you can't do this. But I thought about some tips I had picked up from a friend who was a Marine. He said "don't look at the ground, pick a spot in the distance and run towards it". So that's what I did - focused on a spot at the end of the street and when I got there, I picked a new spot to focus on and kept progressing to these new spots on the horizon. I got a second wind, like a runners high, and was moving at a faster pace than I started out at. I felt like a runner for the first time. When I was finished, I had completed just over 1.5 miles in just under the 12 minutes. I was amazed and so happy. I had never even run more than a mile in my entire adult life and yet here I was running at a pace that was damn near average lol.
What I learned is that big guys, or people with physical limitations like knee issues, can run. Yes, we are never going to run marathons and break any records - but we can make running a part of our physical fitness program. My program was less than 90 days and was pretty aggressive because I had a date in mind that I needed to be in physical shape for. Not everyone can or should advance in the program as fast as I did. Listen to your body and if you feel any pain, take a day or two off. See a doctor and make sure it's nothing serious.
I think my running program for big guys worked great for my fire fighter physical fitness test, but I think it would work for anyone who needs to run for a law enforcement role or even a military entrance exam. Before the actual test I took 2 days off to rest but made sure to keep stretching and would do some light calisthenics and jumps to stay loose. In case you were wondering, I did pass the fire fighter test!