I remarked to Tim at Parkrun that I was kicking myself at not keeping more of a journal as I built my running habit. He came up with the excellent suggestion that all was not lost, and that I should write a 6 months (or so) report whilst I still can remember. I should add that I’m not doing this out of conceit, but for the same reason as I originally put technical articles on this blog – so I know where I can go back and find things I’d like to remember. It’s rather long so I don’t expect anyone to read it other than me, but, for my own benefit at least, here goes.
Enough is enough
I came to start running again mainly because I’d reached a point where I was so unhappy with the shape I’d gotten into over the past couple of years or so. There were a few reasons for this – having a relatively unpredictable job that involved travelling around and staying in hotels, house moves, a series of weddings and stag weekends and so on. I’d been relying on a weekly game of 5-a-side to try and keep in shape but my working routine typically meant that it was hard to find myself in the right place at the right time on a regular basis. I’d tried a few diets to knock things back into shape but nothing sustained long enough.
My finally deciding enough was enough was triggered by the cumulative effect of a few specific events:
- Going to get a new suit fitted. My existing suit (34” waist trousers let out to 35-36”) no longer comfortably fitted so I was forced to go and get myself refitted. The suits I came away with were very nice, but boasted 38” waist trousers. Now these were fairly generous but nonetheless fitted me, and this made me feel slightly depressed and rather ashamed. At my happiest, I was wearing a 32-34” waist in trousers, 32” in jeans.
- Seeing photos from my friend’s wedding. My wife and I went to a fabulous wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, followed by a suitably swanky reception in a restaurant nearby. I had not seen my friend for nearly five years since he and his now wife live Down Under, and so was acutely aware (especially wearing the aforementioned new suit) that I did not quite look the same as the rather slimmer version of me that he last saw. A combination of free drinks at the reception and simply being glad for the happy couple meant that it didn’t bother me too much on the day, but when the photos appeared on Facebook, I was that ashamed that I methodically went through and untagged myself from each photo.
- Returning to a hotel that I last visited in 2001. I had cause to stay in the same hotel that I once stayed at back in 2001, when I was feeling significantly fitter and healthier. On arriving at reception I had a flashback from being there before, and of how my first question back then was where the gym was so I could keep my fitness regimen up whilst working away. Nearly ten years on, the contrast between how good I felt then and how I now was pretty stark.
- A colleague talking about his weight loss. On the same business trip, a colleague was telling me about how he had lost a fair amount of weight and was having to buy some new clothes to fit. I remembered being in the same situation in 2001, and how good it felt relative to how I was currently feeling.
So in summary, I was at something of a personal nadir health and fitness wise and felt I needed to do something. I was not in the mood for a quick fix either, I wanted to do something that would both do me good and would also give me a stimulating pursuit and a way of unwinding outside the office. A few years ago I got into the habit of running for enjoyment but had stopped because I had a bad ankle injury. I always enjoyed the running aspect of 5-a-side though, and felt that running would also provide me with the flexibility that it could fit in with my routine and any business travel since you can do it on your own and just need some kit and trainers.
A big part of my thinking was how to stay motivated and make sure I kept at it. I adopted a two-pronged strategy: 1) social 2) financial. To accomplish the first, I had a search for an online running community, in the end plumping for dailymile.com. My rationale was that if I was public enough about what I was doing, enough people would get to know (via the Facebook integration, for example) that it would make it hard for me to stop. I am not sure I would have been able to bear telling people that I’d given up. The second part of my strategy was simply to by decent enough kit that in financial terms I would have to make use of it to justify the expense to the household. To this end my new pursuit began with the purchase of some New Balance 850 trainers, expertly fitted by those good people at Just Run in Eastleigh.
I didn’t worry too much about other kit at this stage, since I’d actually feel very self conscious having the proper clothing whilst I still didn’t feel good about myself, and also before I’d got myself going. I opted for my 5-a-side garb of Saints shorts and polo shirt – familiar and baggy enough to hide the multitude of sins underneath.
In terms of a running route, we are fortunate that we actually live on a suitably sized loop of around 3.5km, long enough to be worth doing but not too intimidating, just the sort of thing to get me off and going. And so it came to pass that on Monday 28th June 2010 I took my new trainers out on their first run.
First time out, my expectations weren’t hugely high but I was gutted to find I couldn’t finish the lap, needing to walk for 30 or 40 yards before carrying on. That said, I felt I’d accomplished something by starting and actually not being able to run the whole way around at least gave me something to bite on in terms of progress – I knew I would see progress quickly, and knowing how good that would feel kept me going. I started out with a routine of two days on, one off and I did indeed see results straight away since I went straight round on my second lap.
Two other important milestones came along quickly after in that within a week or so of starting running, I had two business trips that caused me to stay away overnight which would be a good test both of my own application and the flexibility of my routine. The first was a trip to the Cotswolds to the pretty village of Minster Lovell on a course with work. Before heading up I worked out a route, packed my kit and pledged to go on the first night. This I did, on a beautiful summer’s evening, and I felt fantastic afterwards both for the run itself, and for the fact I’d proven I could keep going when travelling with work. The second business trip was to London and I followed the same approach, this time pledging to run first thing in the morning before work on the second day. Again despite a working evening out the previous night, I set my alarm and got up a 6:15am and ran along the South Bank in the early morning sun. As the working day wore on, I felt tired from the late night and early start but had the now familiar fresh feeling of having exercised and enjoyed it.
A further milestone came along a little later, when once again I drew up a route and packed my kit when away for the weekend attending a colleague’s wedding. I ran the morning of the wedding in the Lancashire countryside and once again felt great when I came back to get ready.
Joining the Hursley Parkrunners
As my routine developed, it came to the attention of friends on Facebook who encouraged me to attend the weekly Parkrun 5km event in nearby Eastleigh, as a number of them were regulars. Whilst initially I was not sufficiently confident either in my running ability (I was not timing myself at this stage) or to run in front of others, it gave me the motivation to edge my distance up from my regular 3.5km to a 5km distance such that I could target a Parkrun when I was feeling more confident. To this end, I extended my regular route, and set about practising and building up my comfort with the longer distance.
Again a couple of things happened to finally give me the confidence to sign up. First of all, I had been noticing that clothes were fitting better than they did and I was generally feeling healthier. The second thing was that on leaving the house for a run, I had started to glance at the clock (on the microwave, very scientific) as I left so I had a very rough idea of how long it was taking me to do my new longer route. By this rudimentary approach, and being deliberately conservative, I reckoned on a time of around 27 minutes for a 5km route. Checking out the times on the Parkrun site, it struck me that this would be respectable enough. So, on 21st August 2010, I gave it a go, clocking 25:41 and feeling very pleased indeed.
Having enjoyed my first Parkrun so much, I was hooked, both on the camaraderie but surprisingly on the competitive element, and proceeded to attend regularly. Having some good friends along from work helped a lot and I appreciated their support and encouragement hugely.
I am by no means fast but you find your level, and coming into the home straight I found that on a few weeks I would have a good natured sprint to the end with a fellow runner around my level.
They have a photographer there each week, and this was the first photo that I didn’t feel embarrassed about (a few weeks in) so I’ve included it here for posterity.
Getting some proper gear
One thing taking up running has done is provide a very good theme for birthday and Christmas gift buying. My first piece of “gear” was an armband that I bought for myself to hold the iPod, since I rapidly began to tire of holding the thing in one hand whilst trying to run.
For my birthday, the real kit started to arrive in the form of gifts. No more timing off the microwave, as a Nike+iPod kit duly arrived. Nike+ gave me a much better guide as to my progress and timings.
I’d never realised how much difference having proper running clothing makes. A cotton polo and nylon football shorts soon become uncomfortable. My core running kit began to develop with some Nike running shorts and a Nike Dri-FIT running top.
I’ve since augmented this with additional shorts and tops – I’ve become something of a Nike fan, some pretty much most of what I have is Nike Dri-FIT of some kind. The most recent major purchase I’ve made clothing-wise is a Nike Storm Fly jacket, both breathable and warm for the winter weather.
The difference I felt was amazing, much more than I’d expected. It was also a significant self-confidence hurdle to overcome, since proper running gear is closely fitting and in the case of shorts gripping lycra. The first time I wore all my new garb to Parkrun was a significant milestone for me personally. I’m fully togged out in the picture taken at Parkrun above.
The onset of the recent bad weather (including snow) highlighted how I needed something with more grip to cope with the difficult conditions. I managed a few runs in my standard road trainers (somehow), but finally invested in a pair of Brooks Cascadia trail shoes.
Increasing my distance and developing my pace
I was inspired by friends training for the Great South Run (10 miles) that I set myself the target of improving my distance from the 5km of Parkrun, to something a bit more demanding. I first increased my local run distance from 3.5km to 7km, simply by adding an additional lap to the same circuit, and developing various extensions to add variety. To make things more interesting still, I decided to make a bigger jump and attempt a 10km run, and successfully completed this milestone by running from Owslebury back to home, doing so in around 54 minutes. I was really surprised how natural this distance felt, and encouraged by the time I achieved, especially having not been running for very long. This again increased my confidence further.
Since that point, I was determined not to lose momentum and increased my regular running distance from around the 7km to 10km and then on to 11km. I have one eye on both the Great South Run and a half-marathon before 2011 is out, and so I am determined to keep chipping away at my distance.
One thing I have begun to work on is developing a “long distance” pace as well as a “short distance pace”. As I increased my distance, it became clear that I was hitting a wall blasting around at runs in excess of 10km at my 5km pace. A friend shared with me an anecdote to the effect that most beginners attempt their short runs to slowly and their long runs too fast. I have recently been attempting my longest runs so far (13km) at a pace of around 5:30 per km, with shorter runs (e.g. a Parkrun) at around 4:45-5:00 per km. I’m currently trying to mix longer with shorter as a part of my weekly routine, and gradually increase my longer run to nearer the 17km (10 mile) mark over the coming months.
My goal for 2011 is to regularly have a long run a week of around 17km, thereby comfortable enough with the Great South Run distance, and close enough to half-marathon length.
As of today, my personal best for a 5km Parkrun is 23:38 (in Basingstoke), and 1:09:29 for a 13km long run.
Entering organised runs
At the time of writing this, I have just passed another milestone in that I have entered an organised event in the form of the Romsey 5 mile event which takes place on Sunday 23rd January. I have also now submitted entry forms for the Eastleigh and Winchester 10km events.
All in all
Taking up running has been a revelation these past months. The enjoyment of the exercise and simply feeling fitter and healthier is very rewarding, but also the social aspect of running with friends and the camaraderie and support from others has been hugely inspiring too.
I hope the next six months are as enjoyable.