New Year’s Resolutions: Journeys, not Destinations

Hilltop

I’m ill. Which is fine. I’d specifically planned to do bugger-all during the period between Christmas and New Year, and if you’re going to loaf about unshaven for a few days, you might as well fit a cold in while you do it.

It helps that — so far — it’s just a regular winter lurgy of a sore throat and a run-down feeling, not hideous full-blown flu. Hopefully it won’t get too much worse, or last more than a few days. And the enforced slowing down gives me a chance to reflect on my running, my general fitness, and my plans for the year ahead.

Like many, I think about resolutions at this time of year. Last week, I was at Avebury for the Winter Solstice, there for the dawn, to see in the turning point toward longer days. It seems a good time for looking forward as well as back.

But you have to be careful about resolutions. As Merlin Mann observed in the latest Back to Work podcast, people tend to be a little binary about new year’s resolutions. And it’s possible that that’s especially true of programmers, like myself. “I’ll run three times a week”, I think to myself, “Just like I used to.”

But how realistic is that? To go from — given my last few weeks’ record — no runs a week, straight to three? And how much of a fall am I setting myself up for if I don’t do three runs a week in the first week of January? If I haven’t done three runs a week, then my resolution’s “failed”, and there’s always that tendency to think, “well, I might as well give up, then.” Failed or succeeded, true or false: binary thinking.

Also, how realistic am I being about my past performance? Well, luckily, I have RunKeeper’s “FitnessReports” feature, so I can easily check. In 2010, a good year for running for me, I actually only averaged 1.3 runs per week. And that was a good year. So my initial “I used to do three runs a week” was, in fact, utter rubbish. Sure, there were some weeks where I did three runs, but not many. I think nostalgia has me mentally inflating how “good” I used to be.

So, what to do instead?

The question seems to be answering itself. I resolve to run every week in January. At least once. Just to get myself started again. That’ll be more runs in a month than I’ve managed for ages, but still sounds very achievable. And if I don’t manage that, I won’t count myself a failure, either. I’ll just look into why I didn’t manage it, forgive myself, and figure out a way to keep trying.

And I’m not going to worry about the weight, yet. You can easily cram too many resolutions into a new year, spreading yourself too thinly across all of them. I’ll have a think about the weight and my eating patterns when we get to February. For now, I’m just going to run.

How about you? Got any resolutions? How realistic are they? Do you have any hard evidence that you’ve ever been as “good” as you’re planning to be? (Looking back at my own records surprised me!) And are you setting yourself up for that “oh, I didn’t manage this exact goal, so there’s no point in carrying on trying” moment?

Or are you prepared to forgive yourself and make adjustments as you go along?

Building Back Up

20110717 DSC01753 4

After my last somewhat dispiriting post, some good news. I’ve been making an effort to get back into the habit. I’ve not suddenly turned into the kind of jogging ninja I was fantasising about back then (shame, as The Jogging Ninja would be a good name for a blog) but I have at least got out there and got running. Thanks to everyone here and on Twitter for the words of encouragement and advice.

My plan does seem to be working, though it’s not all been that joyful. First of all I convinced myself to get out of the door by going for a tiny 3K jog. That at least got me back on the street, though it actually felt quite tough. Then I tried to make sure I went for at least one run within the next seven days, and got out for a slightly longer run. Though I’m not sure how much longer, because RunKeeper stuffed up, and completely lost its GPS fix about halfway through. Grr. And that run didn’t feel that great, either, and I even slowed to a walk in a couple of places because I didn’t really feel like I had much stamina.

On both of those runs, I felt tired, and quite achey, especially in the left hip.

But, third time’s the charm, and all, and today I got out and the running was much better. I went out thinking I’d do 5K, but was feeling so good halfway through that I pushed on and made it six. It felt like I could easily have done more, but I don’t want to push it too hard and put myself off by being too sore tomorrow. I think this is probably down to getting more sleep and being careful with what I’ve eaten for the last few days — more energy. Also, it being a weekend run rather than midweek probably helped.

Today’s jog was pleasant, I didn’t ache, and it was just what I needed to help me back into the habit. I even passed a whole bunch of construction workers rebuilding bits of Bridge Valley Road, which gave me a useful title for this post 🙂

So, I’m getting back into it, albeit slowly. Going to try to get out for a mid-week 5K on Wednesday to keep up the momentum…

Everybody Needs a Montage

I’ve had my failures. Most of them, with running so far, have been individual screwups. Bad runs, bad shoes, that kind of thing. But at the moment, I’m facing a larger failure. I’ve repeatedly failed to lose weight since I started running, but recently — the last year or so — I’ve been actively putting weight on.

For a few different reasons, I’ve not been running as often. I did nip out for a bit of a jog/walk last weekend, and I’ve cycled to work a few times recently, but it feels like I’ve just, well — lost it a bit.

I guess this happens with every hobby or pasttime, doesn’t it? Sometimes, there’s just a loss of interest, a lack of energy.

The weight and the lack of running, I think, are related. It’s not so much that the lack of running is causing me to put on weight, as the other way around — I’ve put on weight, so I feel less comfortable running. Especially in summer, where you don’t really want to dress up in a nice stomach-disguising outer layer, and it’s not dark, so everyone can see you.

I feel a bit paranoid about running at the moment, to be honest.

And I feel a bit guilty, too. I’m a runner. Not only am I a runner, but I’m also very proud to be a part of the team for a product that helps get people running. So not getting out and running makes me feel pretty shabby, frankly.

But of course, that doesn’t help.

What really brought this home was the email reminder that there’s only about eleven weeks to go to the Bristol Half Marathon. And I think I’m a slower runner right now, not to mention a flabbier runner, than I was when I did it last year, or when I did the Bath Half earlier on this year.

Eleven weeks.

Of course, there’s an image in my head of me suddenly turning my current lax ways around, starting to spring out of bed at 6am, going for an hour-long jog along the Portway, coming back to breakfast on a glassful of carrot juice before cycling to work the long way round, maybe via Clevedon. Then a full day’s work, including nipping out for a couple of hours at a gym instead of having lunch. Finish off my day with a hearty meal of fish and wholegrain rice, then maybe watch a motivational film before my newly-imposed 9pm bedtime.

And repeat without fail for eleven weeks. Yes, well, it’s a mental montage, not a reality. I’ve never had a single day that healthy in my entire life, of course. What I should do, really, is try to turn things around gradually and sensibly, one day at a time, and just deal with the half marathon when it comes along. See how I’m feeling.

But it seems quite hard to even make that small start.

What do you do when you’re in this kind of mood? Any other runners out there who’ve been through this? Any tips for going from putting on the pounds to taking them off? All advice gratefully received…

How Not to Train for a Half Marathon

From recent experience, here are a few tips on how not to train for a half marathon:

  • Pick a half-marathon that’s run at the beginning of March. This makes sure you have to keep training through the freezing, dark winter months. The Bath Half Marathon is an ideal choice.
  • Pick an over-ambitious training plan that has you running three times a week, even on Boxing Day. Make sure it’s a group plan, using something like a RunKeeper FitnessClass, so you can see lots of other people sticking to the plan all over the world, while you’re failing dismally.
  • Get stressed out by the spectre of an approaching Christmas, with all the shopping and other worries that it entails. Also develop a niggling ache while running. This two annoyances combined should let you decide to take the whole of December off from running, which is clearly excellent training.
  • Take up drinking again just before winter, thus ensuring you write off a few Saturdays where you could otherwise be running by drinking too much the night before at various Christmas parties.
  • Speaking of Christmas, try putting on nearly a stone in weight by over-indulging in December and carrying on eating at that kind of level post-Christmas, too. Even though you wanted to lose weight before the half-marathon, not gain it.
  • Be sure to get ill a few times. If you can come down with a cold before Christmas, something gastric between Christmas and New Year, and then follow that by another bad cold in January, that’s about perfect.
  • Make sure you pick a year where it rains a lot at weekends, especially if your normal favourite route takes you along towpaths that flood easily, and through forest paths that turn into foot-deep mudbaths after a shower.
  • In February, if you arrange for your job to go crazy with reporting deadlines, and also get the auditors in to double-check everything you’ve done recently, that’s excellent icing on your cake of bad training.

Sigh.

On the plus side, despite this blog being quiet, I have managed to run a bit in the last few weeks. I’ve not been out in the evenings — running is so much easier in daylight! — but a couple of weekends ago I ran 7K, last weekend I ran 8K, and yesterday I ran 10K.

Well, I say “ran”; the first couple of weeks I had to stop for a couple of breathers and walk up the hill, because my late-January cold was still lingering on and affecting my breathing. But yesterday I made a conscious effort to jog, albeit very slowly, all the way up the big hill in Leigh Woods, and I felt a lot better for jogging a decent continuous distance.

Especially as it’s now only a couple of weeks to the Bath Half!

Speaking of which, I’ve just set up my Just Giving page, where you can sponsor me to help out my chosen charity, the RNLI. A very worthy cause, and I’m not just saying that because one of my university friends now helps to crew the Clovelly Lifeboat!

Fatter than Santa

Photo on 2010-11-04 at 22.52.jpgWhen someone at work emailed me about Santas on the Run, it didn’t take me long to sign up. I mean, for only a tenner you get to run around Bristol city centre in a Santa costume with a bunch of other nutcases without actually being arrested. And you get to keep the Santa suit afterwards! Bargain!

Unfortunately, this decision ended up dinging my self-confidence. This evening I arrived home from work to find a parcel on the doorstep — it was the race pack from Santas on the Run. In it was their “adult” Santa Suit (no, nothing filthy, it’s just that the only size choices were “adult” and “child”.) And that’s where my problems started.

Because it turns out that running Santa Suits, like most other running clothing, are sized for fit, slim people.

I can’t even get the trousers all the way up my legs. There’s no way I can run in the thing. SAD FACE.

So, yeah, it’s official: I’m lardier than Santa. This made me really rather unhappy. It’s a bit of a bruise to your ego when a charity implies that you’re fatter than the world’s most famous jolly fat bloke. I could have cried. Well, okay, maybe not. But I could have sat down and eaten ice cream all evening with a forlorn look on my face.

Instead I went out and did some more walk/run training. Which I think is working, as I did 6K in 45 minutes, so around 7:30mins/kilometre, which is better than I usually do when I’m running all the way. (And as a bonus I hit the iTunes Genius and for once it generated me a fantastic running playlist, which I’ve now saved.) And I came back feeling a lot happier.

Anyway. When I get over the crushing disappointment of Santa Suitgate, maybe I’ll think of a way to still take part in this race. Although hiring a Santa suit that’s actually Santa sized might be going a bit too far for a 2K run…

Bugger

Well, that run was rubbish. In fact, it wasn’t even a run. For some reason, when I got to the top of Bridge Valley Road, I lost all motivation. It seemed partly physical, partly mental — I just gave up, really. I tried to push on and run again after I’d walked for a bit to get my breath, but it didn’t really happen. In the end, I alternated jogging and walking, and cut today’s route short at just over 5K.

I really don’t know why this should be. Sometimes, I’ve heard, you just have bad days — but this is really the first terrible day I’ve had, where I’ve actually given up and started walking. Looking back in the archives, even on a horrible day last year, I managed to keep jogging.

I found a couple of articles that talk about bad running days — one from HubPages, and one from Running Times. They cite possibilities including sleep, food, illness, hydration, shoes, mental health and the weather. And some of these are quite possible. I woke up with a bit of a headache this morning, feeling like I’d not slept that well. Plus my food intake’s probably been a bit excessive, and included a few more of the wrong things, since I went holiday. And who knows? Maybe I’m just coming down with something, or at least fighting it off — everybody around me seems to have a cold or flu at the moment.

So. Not much I can do about it, really, other than trying to live a little bit better over the next few days, perhaps cutting down on the caffeine a bit (another habit that’s crept back since the holiday), getting to bed early, and trying to wrestle my food intake back towards smaller, more healthy options. And hope my mid-week run goes okay this week. I’ll probably try Wednesday, but it’ll depend on the weather…