Losing Weight for the 10K

I don’t seem to be good at losing weight. Or rather, I’m not that bad at losing weight, but I’m also pretty good at gaining it, too. For the Bath Half, I was at the lightest weight I’ve been for any half-marathon I’ve ever done, I think; I am gradually reducing. But it’s very much a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back pattern.

This is bad, because if there’s one thing that would make me faster at running, and reduce my likelihood of injury, and have lots of health benefits, and so on, it’s getting a bit lighter.

So. Having had my post-half-marathon break, it’s time to get back to running. It’s also time, I think, to be a bit more formal about my weight loss than I’ve been over the last few years, and get some practice at consistently losing weight, rather than reducing for a few weeks, piling most of it back on, reducing again, and so on.

I’ve just added this little widget to my desktop:

Countdown Widget on Desktop

It’s a countdown to the Bristol 10K. Tomorrow there will be 49 days — exactly seven weeks — to go. If I were to carry on at my current rate, I’d probably only be a couple of pounds lighter by then. Instead I’m setting what should be a perfectly achievable target of losing seven pounds. If I manage that, I’ll be the lowest weight I’ve seen since I bought a Withings Body Scale a couple of years ago. And a few pounds below the weight I was for the last 10K.

The little desktop widget is part of my strategy. Being a programmer, I’m in front of the computer a lot, so that little widget should be a near-constant reminder of what my target is, and how long I’ve got to go. I’m hoping it helps, and I’m hoping I’ll think of a few more ideas to keep my mind on the weight loss.

I doubt it’s going to be easy. I’ll report back here each week, whether things are going well or badly, and maybe I’ll learn something, either way…

Bath Half Marathon 2013

Medal

I wasn’t as worried about the Bath Half this year as I was last year. Last year I hadn’t done enough distance training. This year I managed a 15K including some fairly steep hills a week and a bit before the Half, so I reckoned I was ready.

I also woke up yesterday morning having slept fairly well and without the kind of headache which annoyed me during the last Bristol Half.

Driving to Bath Racecourse to enjoy their usual Half Marathon Park & Ride scheme, the weather was a bit of a concern, though. There was a lot more frost about than I’d seen on previous years, and my car’s temperature sensor said it was ‑0.5C outside. On the other hand, I’d rather be too cold than too hot, and it was the heat that really got to me — and quite a few other people — last year.

Starting Line

A cup of tea at the race course, a quick coach ride into town, a loo stop and an idle wander around the runner’s village, and it was time to form up into our start lines. It was still so cold that I was almost tempted to keep on the £2 charity-shop fleece I’d picked up on Saturday, but I realised I’d soon warm up, so I dumped it at the side to be collected for recycling as the queue started moving.

Apparently there were 11,156 of us, and I could easily believe it for the first few kilometres through the centre of Bath. This was a bit problematic for some, as it made obstacles a lot less obvious. One poor bloke, distracted by cheering supporters at the top of a double-decker bus, tripped right over one of the traffic cones separating the two lanes of the race, which was barely visible in the forest of pumping legs. Still, he picked himself up and carried on quickly enough.

I managed to survive unscathed, and started thinking a bit about the kind of mental trickery I talked about in my last post. What could I do to make the race psychologically easier?

The problem I had with the Bath Half last time was that it’s a two-lap race. You do more than 10K, and then you do it all again.

I decided, therefore, to treat the first lap as a warmup. The first lap wasn’t part of the race at all, in my mind. The first lap was just a jog to the starting line. The real race would be the second lap.

As it turned out, this mental trickery worked well for me. The first lap passed fairly quickly — I may write a separate blog post about what goes through runner’s minds when they’re on long runs — and was no problem at all. The halfway point came up sooner than I was expecting, in fact. Around there, I spotted my friend Mandy cheering people on, too, which was a bonus.

And thus began the second lap. I decided to break it up into two 5K runs in my head, with a break about halfway through where I could eat the gel energy thingy I was carrying.

I carried on, passing again the excellent live rock band who had been doing a suitably-raunchy version of Sweet Home Alabama on the first lap, enjoying the support, passing some lovely fancy dressers, which included overtaking a Smurf, and generally enjoying myself.

After 5K more, I decided to take a quick loo break, as I’d been wanting to go for a while, and I spotted a free cubicle by one of the water stations. On my way back to the road, I took the chance to check my time and do a few mental calculations, and was pleasantly surprised.

All I had to do was jog 5K at about my normal pace, and I’d be coming in under 2 hours 45, which is comfortably under my personal best.

Of course, it’s never that easy, and though I forced down my energy gel, it didn’t seem to give me that much energy, and the last few kilometres were quite a struggle. I kept on going, though, increasingly relying more on bloodymindedness than physical strength. I passed my cheering friends José and Emma, which was a nice boost, and soon after that passed Mandy for the second time, and knew I was nearly done. And at least there wasn’t much danger of overheating, as it was still bloody freezing!

It was quite tough coming up to the finish line. There was one very happy reason for that, which was that even if I’d stopped jogging and walked there, I’d still have beaten my personal best. But I resisted the temptation and jogged all the way.

Here’s a little Vine video of my finish (you can click on it to stop it playing, if it’s making you seasick 😀 ):

In the end, I managed to get around in 02:42:05, a whole five minutes faster than my previous best time. Hurrah!

So, my sixth half marathon was definitely a good half marathon. Not only that, but as of this morning, I’d raised £215 for the MS Society on Just Giving. Thanks for all the support, you lovely people 😀

So, there we go. I’ve now done six half marathons and three 10Ks, along with a few charity 5Ks and fun runs here and there. It’s surprising how fast those medals seem to mount up…

Back to training for the Bristol 10K now, I suppose…

Gongs

Passing Around the Hat

This week, I probably won’t be running until Sunday, when I’m taking part in the Bath Half Marathon. This year I’m running to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis society. My mum died of MS nineteen years ago last month, and we still don’t have a cure or even much clue as to the causes of MS.

Any donations, big or small, would be very welcome. Thanks! (And thanks to those reading who have already given! You rock.)

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Don’t Be A Fair-Weather Runner

Rainy Portway

Recently, I seem to have been a bit of a fair-weather runner. Do you know that feeling? You look out of the window at the dark skies and the rain, and decide that you could just as well go running tomorrow, when it might be nicer.

If, like me, you live in England, you’ll already have spotted the problem here. In the last year, the chances of tomorrow being nicer have been pretty low.

Becoming a fair-weather runner puts your fitness at the mercy of long spells of crap weather. Looking back, I should have found some better running clothes, gritted my teeth, and got out there.

Even if I didn’t go out for that long run in Leigh Woods — because I’d have had to swim some of it through mud — I should have just got out for a couple of turns around the harbour, rather than letting the conditions put me off all together.

And not just for the physical exercise. There’s a big psychological advantage in regularly running in adverse conditions.

I was reminded of that yesterday, as I was getting tired on a 15K jog. I checked my distance, and found I’d only done 10K. I’ve not done much more than 10K for a few months, so I guess my muscles’ upper limit has reduced a bit.

So, I used a technique I’ve found very handy towards the end of half marathons. That technique is born of years of dragging myself out to do 5K runs whether I’ve felt like it or not. Five kilometres is pretty much my default distance, probably because it’s the distance I worked up to when I got started with Get Running.

So, that’s what I tell myself. I’ve only got 5K to go. Sure, I’ve already run 10K, or 16K, or whatever, but I’ve only got 5K to go.

And I can do 5K standing on my head. I’ve done 5K in rain, snow and ice. I’ve done 5K in howling, freezing wind. I’ve done 5K when I’ve been ill. I’ve done 5K first thing in the morning. I’ve done 5K last thing at night. I’ve done 5K when I’ve been dog tired. I’ve done 5K up a hill with a hangover.

So I can sure as hell do 5K right now.

And it works. It’s got me through quite a few last-5Ks of longer runs, as my muscles tire and I’m just left with my brain to keep me going, throwing one foot in front of the other and gradually getting the distance down to 4K, 3K, 2K… Through the last half-hour, all the way to the finish line.

There’s my motivation the next time I look out of the window and think, “Oh, gawd, it’s still raining…” My reply to myself should be, “Good! You can exercise your psychological muscles as well as your physical ones.”

Getting out in the sunshine is lovely, but it doesn’t work on your mental endurance anything like as much as getting out in the rain.

Bath Half Marathon 2012

I approached this year’s Bath Half Marathon with more than a little trepidation, and rightly so, it turned out. Since the Bristol Half, I just haven’t trained enough. Partly that’s due to winter, and partly because my routine’s been knocked off-kilter by quitting my day job. I also put on some weight over the last half of 2011 that I’ve not managed to shake off yet.

I mused on this during the approach to Bath, in a coach from Bath Racecourse. I really recommend their Bath Half park-and-ride service, by the way. You park at the racecourse, then wait in a nice warm room with a bunch of other runners (and decent toilet facilities – very important before a race!), then get taken into town in a nice coach. The shuttle service back after the race runs until 5pm, and it was only £9 including the booking fee.

Bath Racecourse Coach

Anyway. Yes, I was underprepared. The longest distance I’ve done since September was 10km, and that’s just not enough distance training for a half marathon.

On the other hand, everything else was going well. I’d made sure to eat right and get enough sleep for the few days before the race, and I woke up feeling refreshed and pretty cheerful on Sunday morning. On the way to the start, the weather seemed ideal for running, cold and overcast, but not too cold. Also, because this was my second Bath Half, I knew a lot more about what to expect, from where to find the Runner’s Village to the course itself.

Grey and Overcast

Standing in the long queue for the start line, there was the usual chit-chat with other runners. The nerves of starting and a shared purpose mean that people are happy to natter to complete strangers and compare experiences. I forgot about my lack of training, and just got into the running mood.

And that was the way I stayed, for the first lap, at least. The grey skies lifted and the sun came out, which is good spiritually, but not ideal for running – a lot of people I’ve spoken to since said it was too hot for them, and I agree. I was feeling distinctly overheated by the sixth or seventh mile, and starting to lose some of my chipperness.

That said, the friendliness of the Bath Half course did a lot to keep me buoyed up. The rock band out on the pavement, the people cheering from windows, the drummers in Queen Square – all great for keeping you going.

But, sadly, with my lack of training, something had to give. Looping back past the start to begin my second lap of the course, I was already feeling like I’d run out of steam, physically at least. My feet were starting to feel sore (I ended up with some nice blisters), the heat was getting to me, and my muscles were running on empty.

Neither plenty of water nor the gel food thingy I ate helped much. I was tired, and getting more tired by the mile.

Time to start running on sheer bloody-mindedness, then. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and keeping up a jog of some kind. It didn’t matter what kind, or how fast, as long as I kept up something that looked and felt like running rather than walking.

And I carried on. I got slower as the miles went on, as you can clearly see in my RunKeeper track, and I wasn’t enjoying myself much, but I tried to keep my mind off that as best as I could. I thought of other things, I counted how many times I passed the bleach-blonde woman who was alternating walking and running, I enjoyed the comedy outfits.

The safari team who (by dint of clever costumery) included one member being carried in a cage by a gorilla got my “costume of the race” award, by the way.

And, eventually, I made it to a point where there were only five kilometres to go. That was an important psychological point, because I can always run 5K. 5K is my default distance. 5K is the distance I’d run in my sleep, were I prone to somnambulation.

In the last couple of miles before the finish line, you start to get more personal encouragement, too, especially if you’re back with the rest of the straggling, thinned-out crowd. “Just two miles to go now!” wasn’t too helpful, as two miles sounded like a hell of a long way, but the regular “Keep going!”s and “You’re doing great!”s were welcome.

As were the “It’s just around the corner now!”s (which started, truth be told, about a mile away from the final corner, but hey.) Once I was on “final approach” I knew I was going to make it without walking, and I just kept plodding on.

In the end, I crossed the finish line overheated, astoundingly tired, and with very sore feet, at 2:58:44. That’s a whole ten minutes slower than I managed the Bristol Half, and pretty disappointing.

On the other hand, I was bloody happy to have not given up, and I still felt like I’d accomplished something, once I’d recovered a little. I did it. I jogged all the way around, albeit slowly, and at least I came in under the three-hour mark.

So. Another medal, and another finisher’s t‑shirt that doesn’t fit (one size for everyone this year, Bath Half? Really? But I forgive you, because you were really well-organised and because you have more toilets than the Bristol Half.)

It’s also, so far, £126 plus Gift Aid raised for Bristol Mind. Looking back over my past Just Giving donations – which have all been for running – that means I’ve now raised well over £1,000 for charity by getting out there and hitting the streets. Thanks, all my lovely sponsors, for giving to good causes for the Bath Half, for all my past races, and, hopefully, for races to come…

20120312 IMG 1412

What I’m Taking to the Bath Half Marathon

My array of equipment for running the Bath Half Marathon
Gear

I’m prepared for the morning. I thought a glimpse into the array of stuff I’m dragging along with me might be interesting, especially for those who’ve never raced. So, from roughly left-to-right, top-to-bottom:

  • Clothes, including:
    • Shorts, a little on the large side. But better than running in the now-quite-clapped-out pair I’ve been running in since I started running. One day I’ll find another pair of running shorts that fits me and has pockets, damn it.
    • Race shirt, with number already attached, and the form on the back (next of kin, so forth) all filled out.
    • X‑Socks, technical running socks, with nice soft non-rubby patches in all the right places.
    • Disposable top-shirt. At the Bath Half, they collect and recycle clothing discarded just before the start line, so you can keep warm until the race starts by wearing an old top.
    • Pants. Just ordinary boxer/trunk style things; I’ve heard people object to cotton-based underwear for running, but specialist running undies are (a) expensive, and (b) unlikely to come in my size.
  • Light running hat with a big peak to keep off rain and shade my eyes. This will fit in a pocket if I don’t want to wear it all the way round.
  • Garmin ForeRunner GPS watch, charged. Much longer battery life and generally more reliable than an iPhone app for GPS tracking.
  • Little Sony camera.
  • Contact lenses. I generally only wear contacts for exercise. I’ll put them in before I set off in the morning and leave the case at home.
  • Sunglasses, because it looks like it’s going to be a pretty nice day tomorrow. If it’s not, I’ll just hang them off the neck of the shirt.
  • Money, for (a) emergencies, and (b) grabbing a celebratory post-run milkshake, or whatever.
  • The minimum of car and house keys that I’ll need.
  • Directions and ticket to the parking (I’m parking at Bath Racecourse and taking a shuttle bus in. It was a good service last year, and I’m very happy to use it again.)
  • Race information leaflet. Nice and pocketable this year.
  • Lanacane anti-chafing gel. I will be putting this in several places, including on my feet to help prevent blisters. You probably do not want the details of where else I put it. I won’t take the tube with me, just apply it before I get dressed.
  • Painkillers, just in case.
  • Spare safety pins. Handy if a zip or fastening goes on anything.
  • Chap stick
  • Two small, round plasters. One per nipple. If you’re wondering why, you may want to check out the “nipple shots” post from 2010’s Bristol Half Marathon, for example. As you can see, this is even a danger for skinny men. As a fat bloke who runs, I take no chances.
  • Phone. You can’t wear headphones on the Bath Half (being a two-lap race means there’s always a danger of faster runners coming up unexpectedly behind you, for starters) so this isn’t for music, more for tweeting before and after, and emergencies.
  • (Next row) Energy gels. Despite the fact I didn’t like the taste of the ones I’ve tried in the past, I found that more food-like stuff (flapjack-style bars, etc.) weighed my stomach down while not doing any apparent good for my energy levels in previous runs. So, I’m trying them again, but a different brand. I was only going to buy the Mule brand one, but then I noticed that the other one was rhubarb and custard flavour and I couldn’t resist it. I’ll probably only take one tomorrow, depending on how much pocket space I’ve got.

    UPDATE: This stuff really did taste like rhubarb and custard. Recommended!

  • Kitchen towel. For general use, and as emergency toilet paper. The loos at races often run out of paper quite quickly.
  • Shoes, with the timing chip already fastened on.
  • Water bottle, because I normally run with a water bottle and it feels strange not to have it on a race, even though there are plenty of drink stations.
  • Nuun “triberry” hydration tablets. I’ll drop half of one of these into the water bottle when I fill it, then leave the rest at home.
  • Bum bag. Sorry, I mean “Nike Audio Waistpack”. This will hold much of the little loose stuff, the rest will go in the pockets of my shorts.

If I took more stuff with me, I’d have to leave a bag in the secure area at the race village. Travelling “light” saves me queueing for that before and after the race. I could probably take less stuff, but this lot doesn’t weigh me down too badly, and I’d rather have something and not want it than the other way around.
I don’t think there’s anything I’ve missed. If you run, what do you take to a race?

Two Minds

I’m in two minds as to whether to run tomorrow. I should probably do a last bit of practice for the Bath Half — I haven’t run more than 10km in ages.

On the other hand, my right ankle is feeling quite odd at the moment. It’s possible I did something to it yesterday, when I foolishly accompanied the five-year-old whose birthday party I was at into the clambering-around-rigging-and-dropping-through-pipes bit of the soft play centre we were at.

It’s not feeling too painful, but it does feel like I’ve done something to it such that it might be better left alone, rather than have me put 10km+ on it tomorrow morning the week before an organised race I’m signed up for. Hrm.

Think I’ll just see how I feel in the morning. In the meantime, if you’d like to sponsor me and my odd-feeling ankle for the Bath Half, my Just Giving page is here. This time I’m running for Bristol Mind.

Charridy Update

thank you note for every language

A very heartfelt thanks to everyone who sponsored my Bath Half run. The RNLI are a great cause, and they need all the donations they can get.

All in all, you donated £120 at my Just Giving page. My employer kindly matched those donations, and with that, plus the Gift Aid that can be claimed back from UK personal tax payers, minus Just Giving’s 5% fee, I think the grand total for the RNLI works out at £252.75, which is fab!

As for me, I’ll be off for a jog this weekend, and will probably be posting about a Cunning Plan I have to lose some weight before the Bristol 10K rolls around in May, and about a related gadget I just bought…


“Thank you” image by woodleywonderworks, as created by Wordle.

Bath Half Marathon 2011

Bath Half 2011 Medal

Well, that was fun! Okay, if I’m being entirely honest, the first eight or nine miles were fun, and it was more of a slog after that, but still!

It was a nice day for running. It was pretty chilly first thing, and especially hanging around in the runners’ village and the start pens, but it warmed up as the day went on, and there were even some bursts of nice spring sunshine. No rain, which was a nice change from the Bristol Half

There were apparently 11,000 people running, and it certainly felt like it. It didn’t thin out as quickly as the Bristol race, partly because it’s a two-lap course. It was quite impressive to hear the rumbling of a motorbike escort, followed by the two race leaders, overtaking on their second lap as I was somewhere around the three mile mark!

In the end, Edwin Kipkorir of Kenya finished in exactly 64 minutes. Sixty. Four. Minutes. For thirteen miles. It makes my cardiovascular system shake with inadequacy just thinking about it.

Personally, I kept up a determined, consistent pace (i.e. a slow plod) all the way around — as you can see from the RunKeeper log — and came in somewhere around the same time I managed in Bristol in September, i.e. about 2 hours 50-something. The official results aren’t up yet, so I don’t know whether I have a new personal best or not, but it was certainly close.

The spectators were a great crowd; there’s a lot more residential area on the route in Bath, and there were plenty of people with their windows open pounding some music out for us on top of the official entertainments like the samba band. Although I think I heard the “Rocky” theme just a tad to often, personally…

One running highlight was a bloke who ran the entire course with a guitar, spontaneously breaking into a bit of singing and strumming every now and again, all while keeping up the jogging. He was running for Jessie’s Fund, a music therapy charity, as I found out when I jogged alongside him while he was being interviewed for local radio.

But my favourite runners, or at least my choice for “most masochistic”, were the two nutcases who ran the entire course dressed as a pantomime camel, for the Breast Cancer Campaign. That can’t have been easy.

IMG 2277

The lowlight of the race was probably between miles nine and eleven. From around the ninth mile, it really started to quieten down, as the bulk of the runners had gone on ahead, and the rest of us were really feeling our legs starting to get leaden. I overtook a lot of walkers who’d obviously set off jogging ahead of me at the beginning but run out of steam, and everyone else was just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, and not feeling quite so cheery.

At this point I started having quite odd thoughts. I remember jogging behind a couple of near-identical women running together, one in lurid blue, one in lurid red, for about ten minutes. I started wondering whether if I put some 3D glasses on, I could turn them into one single badly-dressed person a lot further away, which would be a big improvement…

But, heading back towards town, although my legs were getting heavier and heavier, the crowd started building back up again, and there were lots of friendly shouts of “nearly there!” to keep me going. It helped to be running in a charity t‑shirt, too; I got lots of “Come on, Lifeguards!” all the way…

Finally coming up to the end, I managed to put on some speed and do a near-sprint finish, which was more than I’d managed for Bristol!

All in all, a good half-marathon, on a good day for running, with a good crowd. And I can just about move, still. Although I may need a dose of “vitamin I” to let me walk to work tomorrow. Just as well I’ve taken the morning off!

UPDATE: I was disappointed at first when I checked the official results — 2:56:49 — but it turns out that Bath uses “gun time” as their official time. That’s the time from the official start time until you cross the finish line. Starting right at the back, it took me more than five minutes just to get to the start line!

Luckily, they also tell you your “net time”, (start line to finish line, which is how the Bristol Half is measured) and I came in at 2:49:38. Which means I shaved more than four minutes off my Bristol Half time. Not a huge improvement, but I’m definitely not getting worse, at least!

Marathon Eve

So, it’s the evening before the Bath Half Marathon. In the morning I’ll be heading off for the Bath Racecourse, who are running a service where you park at the racecourse and they get you into town on a bus, which seemed like an easy option.

Today I’ve taken things nice and easy. I’ve done very little, I’ve drunk plenty of fluids, and I’ve eaten a fair few carbs. Not that that last point marks this Saturday apart from any other Saturday, for me 😉

Now I’m going to spend a half-hour getting stuff ready. I want to get everything sorted out for the morning — from programming Bath Races into my car satnav to laying out the plasters I want to remember to stick on a certain couple of sensitive areas of anatomy1. That way I can do the bare minimum in the morning; just get up, have a shower, drag my clothes on and get out of the door.

If you want to see how I’m doing at any point tomorrow, you’ll hopefully be able to see a little dot that represents me crawling around a map as I jog on my RunKeeper profile page. I’ll probably start off sometime between 11 and 11:30, I think.

You’ll have plenty of time to find me on that map. My running speed doesn’t seem to have improved any since the Bristol Half Marathon, where my time was 2:53:43. This means I’ll be coming in around… er… last, on the Bath Half. Certainly the race info pack seems to suggest that if you take more than three hours, then people start sweeping up and opening roads around you.

But hey, I’m not in it for the speed. For this one, I’m in it for the RNLI, of course, so please give generously, and think of me slogging around the streets for a few hours tomorrow…

Hopefully there will be a happy post-race post tomorrow evening, or Monday morning — I’ve taken Monday morning off work to give myself some recovery time!

  1. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you probably don’t want to know, but just in case, this link may enlighten you. []