Saturday, January 30, 2010

Getting Started

This is my column from the Alamogordo Daily News
By Derek Stell
Sports Writer

Jason Atkinson is a runner. In addition to being the Alamogordo Tigers Boys soccer and track coach, he is a world-class duathlete.
He rides a bike and runs on an elite level. He was a runner for UTEP in his college days. He now runs for fun, or at least for the fun of running faster than other people.
I admire Jason, but I couldn’t be further away in my fitness level.
I sit at a desk and type, or take notes at sporting events while sitting. That is what I do, all day and every day. I recently topped the scales at 285 pounds (I’m 6-foot-3, but that is still way too much).
I have always been on the chunky side, but I could move well. I played lots of sports for fun in college and played hockey for my school’s club team.
Now, I don’t feel the same way. I feel sluggish and my agility is not there. I notice it when I play with my daughters. I don’t move as fast and I get tired easier. I don’t care how much I weigh or if I am considered “fat,” but I don’t feel healthy.
Thus, my latest great idea. I am going to become a runner.
I have never enjoyed running. It usually leads to aches and pains. I also tend to get a little bored over distances. I used to run sprints for hockey, but never anything over a mile.
Since I have never had any training, i decided to go to someone who trains and trains other people for a living. Coach Atkinson was more than happy to help.
I’m not going to lie, he overwhelmed me a little bit.
I told him my idea and he immediately told me I need a goal. I told him I wanted to run a 5K in 25 minutes. He said that we needed to find a race then.
He took me to his office and got on the computer to find a race. There were a lot of races in El Paso and Las Cruces. I narrowed it down to an autism awareness 5K on May 1, but I might switch that out for an earlier run.
Atkinson then began to explain to me everything from how my training should work to proper running technique to what kind of shoes to wear. He is a wealth of information on running.
“This is my life,” Atkinson said as he overwhelmed me again.
Well, I want fitness to be a part of my life too, so I am going to do this. Three months from now, I am going to run a 5K race.
Where do I start?
Atkinson had some recommendations for people like me coming off a period of inactivity.
“If you look at a seven-day week, you would start off three days a week of very easy aerobic running where the heart rate is between 100 and 120 beats per minute,” he said. “You can measure that by stopping after 10 minutes of running and checking it by the finger method. Count it for 15 seconds and multiply by four.
“If they can, to increase the aerobic capacity, (beginners should) add some cross training. Whether it is on the indoor stationary bike or eliptical trainer. Because you are able to increase that aerobic capacity without pounding on the legs. It reduces injury.”
Injury is the biggest thing that will derail training, and it is a big risk for people just starting out. Tendonitis, planter fascitis and a lot of other problems can come from overexerting yourself.
Atkinson said to warmup properly doing some dynamic stretches. This will get your heart rate up before you run and help loosen your muscles.
It was also recommended by Atkinson to focus on the time spent running and not the distance. For me, he said to run for one minute and walk the next five times, then run two minutes and walk two, then for sets of run one walk one. This would give me a half hour run where I could keep my technique up.
Technique is important. Atkinson said to keep your head up, avoid swinging your arms across your body (everything should be straight forward and backward) and don’t take such a long stride that you hit your heel first when you take a step.
“Any time there is a heel strike, that drops your hips and stops your momentum,” Atkinson said.
The wear pattern on the bottom of your shoe will tell you if you have too much heel strike. It can also tell you what kind of running shoe you need. If your shoe wears out on the inside, you may need a stability shoe. Good shoes can help with the over-use injuries and make you run more comfortable.
I tried to get into running once before and got some pretty nice shoes. I hope they aren’t too worn out. They have made just walking around better.
After all that, Atkinson preached consistency. He recommended setting small goals that will help me achieve my large goal of a 25 minute 5K by the end of April.
He also said to set realistic goals. He used the acronym S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based).
So I have my goal. I have some sneakers. I am going to try to run in the morning (Atkinson recommended that, even though I am not a morning person). And I have a place to run, Alamogordo. Jason did recommend running on grass because it is softer than the road and easier on your body.
I start Monday. I’ll have a long way to go, espeicially I’ve been eating Hostess Donettes (270 calories per four doughnuts, I had like 15) the whole time I have been writing all of this.
You can follow my progress at, and I will be writing a follow-up column with Atkinson’s help as I progress.

Contact Derek Stell at

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