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Huffing and Puffing: Episode 3: Be Athletic

"Be athletic."

That's one piece of advice from Louis Brill, President and CEO of the Lung Association of Nova Scotia as he teaches running technique to the group gathered on this Saturday morning at the Halifax Curling Club as part of the Learn To Run For Smokers program.

Even though I've run the Bluenose 5k in the past, I've never believed I knew anything about running. That's why I'm eager to see what this runner-loving coach can teach me. His enthusiasm is contagious, but I'm not entirely sure what he means by "be athletic."

"Right now, you might say 'what the heck's athletic?'" says Brill. "Think athletic. And you want to be light on your feet. Think that and say 'am I?'"

Me? No, I'm not. Not yet anyway. I'm two weeks in and still far from athletic. But the advice to "be" athletic in form and posture is actually helpful, as Brill illustrates a slight lean forward, square shoulders, arms that pivot instead of swinging like a gorilla, and a pelvis that pushes forward instead of sitting back.

Lesson learned, the team leaves the Curling Club for a 1.5km walk to Point Pleasant Park. With the majority of the group well ahead and out of sight, I end up taking the wrong approach to the meeting location, scaling a hill covered with a sheet of ice made doubly slippery from overnight rainfall. Stupid move, but I arrive uninjured somehow.

We gather in a large circle and go through the increasingly familiar warm-up exercises: "Happy Feet", "High Knees", "The Maytag" and others movements to limber up the muscles in preparation for the training.

Today's training involves running out and back in equal intervals. We're supposed to learn pacing: head out for one minute at whatever speed seems right, then turn around and come back to the starting point in one minute. Repeat for two minutes. Then three. Then two and again one.

I find the one-minute out-and-back education. Two minutes is challenging. Three is exhausting. The next two wipes me out. The final one takes me as close to empty as I've been in this process so far.

Cool-down follows, with a 1.5km return to base that seems to take forever. Plus I'm distracted by a strange smell all over my recording gear that I worry comes from putting it down on the ground in the park. Goodness knows how many dogs were there before my stuff. Yuck.

This week's homework involves more brisk walking on Tuesday and Thursday. Of course, Tuesday and Thursday end up being cold and windy, but I head out the door and get my exercise. I must confess that I feel ridiculous doing warm-up and cool-down exercises by myself. I should really be doing ten minutes of brisk walking, then stop wherever I am and do some "Happy Feet" and "High Knees", but I'm so self-conscious that I just head out the door and give 'er.

Maybe that's why my left knee seems to hurt after my workouts. It could be that, or it could be that my technique is still awful. Either way, I'm looking forward to my body catching up to my spirit.

On next week's agenda is a visit to the doctor to get my now-overdue medical clearance, and hopefully a visit to the shoe expert to see if my footwear is my actual Achilles' heel.

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