Keeping Running

There’s very little I can say about the events at yesterday’s Boston Marathon finishing line. I can’t do much either, apart from to shudder at what it must have been like. And mostly avoid the news, as it’s now solidly locked into that frantic pedalling-in-thin-air it does when it quickly runs off the edge of the facts.

About the only thing I can do is keep running, so I made sure to get out today.

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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.

Spotting the Newbie Runner

Old and Newbie

Today I went out for my first run of the new year, just a simple 5K along the Portway. Along with the general jogging population were a few newbie runners.

It’s always good to see new runners, and this week — the week of New Year’s Resolutions — is the most common time to spot them. I guess people are doing lots of new things, this week. When I was a regular in a Wado Ryu dojo, the number of beginners in January was only surpassed by those weeks where The Karate Kid had been on telly.

Spot the new runner” is a fairly easy game. Most people don’t want to buy new gear for something they might find out they hate, so there’s a lot of almost-but-not-quite clothing around. Old fashion trainers rather than running shoes. Football tops. Shorts that just aren’t very… runnery, I suppose.

The more determined and well-off beginner might have popped out and bought all-new gear, so they’ll be shiny from their sports sunglasses to their Asics-tipped toes, crisp and clean.

But, old gear or new gear, there’s often the telltale beginner expression on the face. The “I can’t quite believe I’m doing this” look. The “I hope nobody I know drives past” look, sometimes, too. Though I hope I’m subtle enough in my spot-the-new-runner games to avoid triggering the “why is that weird bloke staring at me?” look…

It takes a while to look like a runner. An old hand will be wearing gear in various states of wear. Post-Christmas, there might be shiny new shoes, nevertheless comfy and reliable, as they’re likely just the next model along from the old ones. The shiny shoes might be trotting along below a pair of favourite shorts where the seam’s been re-sewn twice, because they’re comfy, damn it, and Adidas don’t make these ones any more.

There will often be accessories of learned necessity — that little pouch attached to the shoelaces, say, because manufacturers still barely believe that runners need pockets at all, let alone might want to keep their keys in a different pocket to their smartphone, so could want more than one…

The aforementioned keys will probably have been pared down to just one or two on a simplified jogging keyring, because jangling gets annoying after the first five miles, and because runners generally pare everything down to the minimum. A single key. An emergency fiver rather than a whole wallet. The least clothing they can get away with in today’s weather.

That’s often the look of a seasoned runner: spare. There’s an economy of equipment to go along with their economy of movement. Beginners tend to be carrying more stuff, wearing baggier clothes.

There’s a specific reason for me to play “spot the newbie”, of course. I recently wrote the Android version of Get Running, my friend Benjohn’s iPhone app that got me jogging in the first place, back in 2009. So if I see a newbie out on the street with headphones in, there’s a chance they’re using my code!

It’s a very slim chance, so far — the Android version of Get Running has only sold around 3,000 copies, and most of those were in our biggest market, the USA, so it’d be a pretty big coincidence if one of my users jogged past me in Bristol. But I’m hoping that one day I’ll see someone with our app’s familiar “run clock” proudly displayed in the phone on their armband as we pass each other.

Having run for three and a half years now, from that humble beginning, it’d be nice to see someone that I’ve helped down the same path. Mostly that’s because there’s one thing that new and old runners tend to have in common — the feeling of accomplishment, no matter how short or long or fast or slow their running has been. And that’s a good thing to spread.

Running with Company

A first for me this evening: the first time I’ve run in training with anyone else. Apart from race days, I’ve run solo up to now.

This evening my friend Emmeline, who is trying to get back into jogging after a long break, accompanied me for a round-the-harbour outing at dusk. It was good. Not sure it’ll work on a regular basis, as she’s quicker than I am, but it was nice to have the company.

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Mixing Jogging with Duty

I don’t usually mix jogging with anything else. I go out jogging, I come back home. This Sunday, though, I had a favour to do for a friend that dovetailed nicely with the jogging. So, I jogged out to Easton, fed my friend Emmeline’s cat, and jogged back again.

This was good motivation, got me a nice halfway break where I could pet a cat and fill up a water bottle, and took me around some bits of Bristol my jogging doesn’t normally go.

Here’s a few pictures from the jog. On the way out, I passed a huge group of cheery cyclists heading out down the A4, snapped the blue sky over the Suspension Bridge, and took care not to get run over by a steam train. And then, of course, there was Me Me, at the halfway point, who’s very affectionate, especially when you’ve got a tin of food in your hand…

In the end, it was a 9K jog. It would’ve been 10K, but I stopped in a supermarket near home on the way back, so I walked the last kilometre weighed down with shopping 🙂

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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…

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.

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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!

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!

Hiatus

You may have noticed a short hiatus on the blog. That’s related to the short hiatus in my running.

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been feeling a bit tired and run down this month. As a result, I’ve not really been looking forward to going out for a run, especially on the dark weekday evenings. And at the weekends, I’ve either been feeling a bit poorly or been a little too busy to get out.

Plus, it’s been absolutely bloody freezing. It’s not easy to get out the door when it’s dark and2C outside.

As Arline said in the comments here a couple of posts ago, “There seems to be a fine line between not doing some thing because you really need a break, and not doing it because your motivation just isn’t there.”

And I think I’m on the other side of that line now — I really need a break.

Generally, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. Which I why, I think, I’ve been a little scared to take some time off running. There’s always that worry in the back of my mind that I might not start again. But the build-up of stuff this month — the lack of motivation, the aches and pains, the general Christmas not-enough-time syndrome, the cold snap — have maybe been pointing towards the conclusion that yes, it would probably be good for me to take a few weeks off running.

When I finally had that thought, on the walk home from work a few days ago, my brain did a little happy backflip as it changed from it’s “oh my God I haven’t been running for nearly two weeks argh” guilt-trip to a new, serene, “maybe it’s actually okay to give myself a break and start again in the new year” mode of thinking.

And I reckon that’s what decided me, in the end. It’s an especially good time to take a break, not just because I need it, but because there’s a new year coming up soon, and that will be a great re-starting point. Especially as I’ve signed up for the Bath Half in March, so I’ll have something to train for…

So, I am officially giving myself the rest of the month off. I’m tired, I’m achey, it’s cold, it’s dark, I have less free time than usual, and, fundamentally, I just plain feel like it. I’ve been running for eighteen months or so now, and I’ve not really had even a week off in all that time. Even when I’ve been on holidays I’ve done miles of hiking.

So, I’m taking a short holiday from running. I’m keeping up some exercise; I’m walking to work and back, which is about 5km a day. And just because I’m officially giving myself the rest of the month off doesn’t mean I won’t nip out for a sneaky run if I suddenly feel like it on a sunny weekend day…

Mostly, in fact, it’s not running I’m giving up for the month, but the guilt about not running. Which seems like a good thing to skip for a few weeks.

So, hopefully that explains the hiatus. I shall probably find something to blog about between now and Christmas, but if not, then have a happy holiday, everyone!

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…