New Year’s Resolutions: Journeys, not Destinations


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?

Back Out There

Today I woke up tired and with a headache, after a bad night’s sleep. Oddly, though, I still felt the urge to go out for my first jog since the Bristol Half. I’ve been meaning to get back out pounding the streets for a couple of weeks now, but my change in routine — I quit my day job — seemed to hinder that, rather than helping it.

As you might expect, for the first jog in weeks when I was tired and headachy, it didn’t go that well. I wanted to nip up to Clifton Village and get some lunch, so I went up Bridge Valley Road (now fully open again after being closed to traffic, and occasionally even pedestrians, for many months.) This was clearly too much of a challenge for my unhappy body and brain, so after plodding all the way up the hill I was pretty exhausted. I slowed to a walk for a while to recover, then picked up the pace again, then dropped back to a walk.

Screen Shot 2011 10 12 at 14 13 30I was also a bit annoyed by RunKeeper. Some releases ago, RunKeeper just seems to have stopped being able to keep a good GPS lock. It doesn’t seem to be related to my phone, because (a) I started with the phone that worked fine with RunKeeper for years, and (b) because of a headphone connector problem, I’ve just had my phone replaced by Apple for a new one, and RunKeeper isn’t working properly on the new one, either.

Today, RunKeeper was completely rubbish at tracking me, and by the end of my 5K run, had recorded me doing a random 7.5K track with lots of random spikes out to the sides of my real route, and an average pace of under 3min/km — I wish!

Luckily, my Garmin Forerunner 305 always seems to be beautifully accurate — I guess the GPS hardware is simply better than in the iPhone — so I’ve just been uploading tracks from that to replace the rubbish RunKeeper-recorded ones (here’s today’s). It’s a shame I can’t rely on RunKeeper any more to give me voice prompts (like telling me when to turn around if I’m halfway through a jog down the Portway), though.

Maybe the GPS is better in the iPhone 4S, which I’m hoping to upgrade to at some point soon…

Plodding Along

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Since my last angst-filled posts, I have managed to get out a couple of times, but I’m not back even to twice-a-week running yet.

Still. On the plus side, last Sunday I got out for a 10K run through Leigh Woods, albeit with a bit of a walking break on the steep bits. This weekend I was away visiting friends in Wales, but managed to fit in a 5K hike up a very steep hill, which should have been good for the calories. And tonight I wandered off down the towpath for 5K and back.

I’m afraid I can present no evidence here, as RunKeeper’s site is currently down due to a power outage, so instead here’s a snap of the Suspension Bridge I took on the way back.

Not long to go now to the half marathon, and I’m still feeling rather worried about it. But hey, at least I’ve done a long run now — that 10K’s further than I’ve been for months.

New Toy

Garmin Forerunner 305I took a new toy out running with me last night. I’ve been thinking about getting a heart rate monitor for a while now, and when I found out that RunKeeper lets you easily throw Garmin devices’ data at their website, the Garmin Forerunner 305 — currently on offer for around £110 on Amazon UK — seemed like a good choice.

So, it being bonus month, I decided to treat myself. This little GPS watch seems to work fine, though I’d probably be happier with the vibrating alert offered by pricier models than with the quiet beeping from the 305, which means I can’t really run with music if I want to pay attention to its alerts.

But mostly, I bought it for the heart rate monitor, so I’ll probably run with this recording my position and heart rate, but with RunKeeper telling me what to do through my headphones while I’m doing a training session.

The web upload to the RunKeeper site is great, too. Thanks to a browser plugin, there’s no fiddling around with exporting files, or any of that annoyance. You just plug the 305 into its little docking station, go to the RunKeeper site, and choose which track from the watch you want to upload, straight from your web browser. Nice.

So, if you look at my latest track on RunKeeper, you’ll see a third line, for heart rate, has joined the elevation and pace tracks in the graph at the bottom.

Now, of course, I’ve got to do a bit of reading up about heart rate-based training…

If you’re in the UK, enjoy the nice weather and tomorrow’s bank holiday! I’ll catch you later on in the week…

Unlikely Speed

Yeah. Not entirely sure I believe the last few kilometres of RunKeeper’s log for today’s run:


Especially considering the pace over the last couple of kilometres measured around 1.5 minutes per kilometre. Although I suppose I would probably have needed that kind of speed to fly over the Avon Gorge and several tall buildings like that.

Still, not a bad run — I’m still doing the FitnessClass thing, which had me set to do just over 10K today, as an alternating run/walk. I reckon I probably did around 9K all told, but I was a bit stymied for knowing when to stop after the GPS gave out around the 7K mark. (It really died quite hard; in the end I had to turn the phone off and on again to get it back and working. Ho hum.)

In fact, I’ve just tried to correct the route manually in RunKeeper and it does seem to have worked out at about 9K. Good enough for me, especially as there was at least another kilometre of walk home on the end of that 🙂

This week I’ll really really try to do the two mid-week runs, rather than just the one I’ve been doing these last few weeks…

Into the Woods

Leigh Tree

A nice five miles through Leigh Woods today. It was another alternating walk/run according to the training plan thingy I’m following with RunKeeper, and that helped me up my running pace a bit. Well, apart from on the steeper hills 🙂

Today’s photo is from Leigh Woods. Leigh Woods is mostly National Trust-owned, and a National Nature Reserve, and therefore seems unlikely to be sold off (Sunday Telegraph article) under the upcoming flog-everything-that’s-not-nailed-down plans. But I’m definitely going to get there and appreciate the woods while I can, just in case.

Winter Fitness Class

Just a quick 5K down the Portway for me this evening. After I got back, I signed up for one of RunKeeper’s new “virtual FitnessClasses”, which I’m hoping will give me a training plan to stick to through the winter.

My half-marathon speed was really quite rubbish — hardly surprising given that I’ve never pushed myself to go faster in training (and, of course, I’m quite lardy, and it was my first one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud and happy that I did a half marathon at all!) So I’ve signed up for the 17-week “Break a 2 hour 20 minute half marathon” plan.

I’m liking the idea of these virtual fitness classes, which I’m presuming will deliver plans straight to RunKeeper for iPhone to save me having to think too hard about what day I’m up to in the plan or what I should be doing on that day (though the blog post isn’t clear on exactly how it works.) The other nice aspect is the social one — I and a bunch of other RunKeeper users from all across the planet will be doing the training plan at the same time, and we’ll be able to see each others’ progress, too, which should give a good feeling of solidarity.

I don’t know how likely I am to increase my speed that much in seventeen weeks — bear in mind my time for the Bristol Half was 02:53:43, so I’d have to knock more than half an hour off! But hopefully the regular interval training that’s part of the plan will get me going a bit faster, at least. And it’ll be good to have a solid, three-times-a-week plan to take me through the winter.

One thing that strikes me as truly unrealistic about this fitness class: will I really get out for a 20km jog on Boxing Day? I’m pretty sure I’ll still be weighed down by turkey and stuffing from the day before!