Training for My First 8k

 By Tai Blas
Contributing Writer

Back in February, I decided that I wanted to get in shape. I decided to take up running, an interesting choice since I had never found it particularly pleasant. When I was in high school, I attempted to participate in track, but after the first week of running a mile every day with very unpleasant cramping and hardly able to catch my breath, I decided that it was not for me. I figured that if I could not see landmarks and visually enjoy the scenery while running, I would never enjoy it. However, I knew that the sport could be enjoyable with the right mindset, so I willed myself to try it again!

I am nearly totally blind with only light and object perception. I began my training on a treadmill which I labeled with tactile identifiers. I was fortunate to find a treadmill that had dedicated buttons for walk, run and jog speed. These proved very helpful when I began running the Couch to 5k program, because I could press the walk and run buttons without having to fiddle with buttons for getting the right speed.

Couch to 5K is a beginner’s running program developed by Josh Clark. It is designed for people who are just taking up running. During each workout, you alternate between walking and running in order to build muscle strength. The plan runs for nine weeks with three workouts per week and rest days in between each workout. On rest days, you can do other forms of exercise, but running and other exercises which make use of the muscles used in running (such as using a stair climber) are strongly discouraged. The workout sessions are 30 to 40 minutes long with a five-minute warm up and cool down.      

I am a data nerd. I enjoy any program or gadget which will give me data on my workout. This data keeps me motivated, as I can challenge myself to run just a little farther or burn a few more calories. To help me follow the Couch to 5K program, I used a variety of gadgets and iPhone apps. The first is the C25K iPhone app by Bluefin Software which costs $2.99. This software requires use of an iPhone and headphones. Once you start the app and begin your workout, you receive auditory cues on when to walk and run as well as time remaining during your running segments. You can use this app while listening to music of your choice from your iTunes library.

At times, I used the Adidas miCoach Pacer system, consisting of a stride censor attached to my shoe with the included shoelace clip, a heart rate monitor, and a receiver unit which I attached to a Velcro wristband and my iPod. This system allowed me to listen to my music while providing me with audio feedback on distance run, even on the treadmill. It also gave me heart rate and calorie statistics. Pushing the large button on the receiver would give me my stats instantly. The miCoach Pacer system costs approximately $120.

On other occasions, I made use of the Nike Plus stride sensor which retails for $20.  This sensor can be strapped to your shoelaces or placed in a special compartment located underneath the insole in certain Nike shoes. When paired with an iPhone or iPod Nano and Nano sensor (sold separately), this tiny sensor sends information to your device and will update you via audio prompts how far you have run, how many calories you have burned, and other statistics about your run. When you hook up your iDevice to iTunes, your workout data is stored and uploaded.  

I recently finished the Couch to 5K program and was able to run 5k (or 3.1 miles) without stopping. I ran my first official 5K race, the Court to Court, in downtown Des Moines on April 9. In preparation for this race, I began running with a sighted guide outdoors. During these runs, I used software on my iPhone called RunKeeper Pro. This software is currently free. It uses GPS to calculate how far you have run and times each of your runs, providing audio cues at desired increments which include your distance and time.  You can upload your running data and share it with your friends on social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Sharing my progress with my friends gave me great accountability and was a huge motivator for me, because I knew that people would be expecting me to continue on my fitness journey and therefore could not let myself give up.

I have run with several guides now. When first running with a new guide, I hold on to their elbow until we get a good communication system in place and my guide is comfortable working with me. At that point, we begin using a tether. A tether is usually 18 inches to two feet long and can either be held in each runner’s hand or attached to waist belts worn by each runner. Tether materials vary, but can be anything from a shoelace to a length of bungee cords with loops at each end. Tether preference is highly individualized to each running team.   

Another gadget I recently discovered is the BodyMedia FIT, an armband that uses biometric data, including body temperature and Bluetooth technology to communicate vital stats to your iPhone including the number of calories you burn throughout the day, how many hours of sleep you are getting, and the amounts of moderate and vigorous activity you are completing each day. The BodyMedia software on the iPhone allows you to track your weight and input all of the foods you are eating as well as their nutritional information. It includes a database of thousands of foods that you can add to your log with the touch of a button. All of this data is uploaded to a web interface which is largely accessible using JAWS for Windows screen-reading software, except for graphs showing your progress. You can export this data to an Excel spreadsheet if you are so inclined.

All of the software and devices I have listed are accessible to the blind using JAWS for Windows and VoiceOver for the iPhone, except the miCoach software. This software is only needed for initial setup or changing the workouts you want uploaded to your unit. The miCoach unit itself is completely accessible during each workout. I have not tested any of these products using the Mac or any Windows screen reader other than JAWS.

I ran my first 8k (five miles) on April 30 as part of the Drake Relays on the Roads in Des Moines. I finished in 56 minutes, a pace of 11 minutes per mile. I recently registered for the Dam to Dam 5K and intend to run several races this summer. If you have questions about running or any of the fitness products mentioned in this article, please contact me at taiablas@gmail.com.

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