Freezing hail won’t stop me!

I wasn’t looking forward to Tuesday’s run (do I ever?). Sitting at my desk a few metres from the window I could see dark clouds forming and it looked very much as if I’d have to brave the elements if I was going to hit the roads. As you know, I tend to run with my boss and one or two motley others during lunch breaks, and having someone say “Come on, let’s go”, certainly helps get me up on my feet, especially on days like Tuesday.

As we ventured outside, I was glad to have my Adidas running jacket on since the rain was just starting to fall lightly from the sky and the blackness above threatened something a touch heavier. 100 metres in the threats became a reality as the heavens opened and the rain descended, a violent windswept squall that soaked us within seconds. Oh well, we chose to attempt a run, may as well keep moving.

Ouch!

We weren’t expecting hail. If you’ve experienced you’ll know it bloody well hurts, especially if the wind is shot-gunning it at your bare legs! By now, though, we were a mile or so in and being hardy (though slightly hysterical) souls we carried on.

Maybe it was the rain or hail, but checking my watch after 2 miles I could see that with a bit of a push we’d complete 5k in under 30 minutes for the first time since coming back to running earlier in the month – a mile-stone we’d both be delighted with, especially considering the conditions. So, with just under a kilometre left, we gave a little push and upped our pace. A quick glance at my Garmin told me it was going to be a close run thing. Perhaps if I was running alone I’d run within myself, but with my boss determined I held on and we finished in 29 minutes and 26 seconds. Fantastic!

It’s going to take a big effort to start to push our times close to 25 minutes and, perhaps, it’s not possible but definitely something for me to aim for. Might be time to think about entering a race?

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Back on track

Monday lunchtime

It would have been all too easy to stay at my desk, perhaps taking a none-too-strenuous stroll to the canteen to pick up something unhealthy but filling, and taken several bites of the calorific treat before the familiar pangs of guilt begin to strike, Time to strap on my misery helmet for another ride on the dreadful cycle of self-loathing; weight ballooning, fitness waning, and so on, and so on, and so on.

You’ll know exactly what I mean if you’ve been there, done it, got the mug and filled it with hot chocolate and marshmallows. But, before you think I am about to wallow further, I have news for you – I did run Monday (which, of course, won’t be news if you read Monday’s post). It’s true, I had all the motivation of an ailing sloth, but I’d been forced out on the road by my boss and slowly I emerged from my self-imposed semi-hibernation. And thank goodness I did. Cut to Tuesday night and I was a completely different beast. That little kick-start Monday left me chomping at the bit to run again and beat my time. The thought of attacking the hill I’ve dubbed ‘The Bastard’ filled me with excitement rather than trepidation. I was ready for it and Wednesday I would prevail!

Then my car broke down.

By Thursday the burning desire to run had dimmed slightly, but I knew it needed to be done, so I dressed and headed out into the rain with my boss and another colleague in tow. We didn’t quite smash our time – it was our colleague’s first run with us and the hills were supremely muddy, but I stormed The Bastard by sprinting up it (and trotting lightly down the other side to recover), but I felt good; I felt strong and we were only 30 seconds short on our best time despite seemingly taking it slower. This is the best I’ve felt since I started again. I’m not yet fit, but I’m getting there. I haven’t eaten sugar for about three weeks which has got to have helped and my weight loss is still steady, which definitely has helped. I shall never fully turn my back on alcohol, though. It’s my treat and if I’ve given up sweets I’m allowed one vice, surely.

Motivation is a funny thing. It’s pretty frustrating to flit between wanting to run to wanting to do anything but, yet when I’m having a motivational high now I like to note it down as I hope to use it to refer to during my next dip (oh yes, there will be one).

A good day to you all.

How I escaped a motivational dip

Having not run since Thursday, my motivation had inevitably dipped somewhat and packing my bag this morning with running kit for a planned lunchtime saunter around the local area didn’t exactly fill me with excitement.

In my defence I had intended to run yesterday. I was due to visit my parents’ with my family and so had planned to run to their house whilst my wife took my son in the car. It’s only 4.5 miles but I thought it would be a decent test so was looking forward to the prospect. Then my wife came down with a heavy cold. To be fair, she’s very heavily pregnant so thought it best she stayed at home to try to sleep some of the effects of her ailment off, whilst I made the visit in the car. Running plans cancelled.

And so today, armed with an extra day’s rest, I wasn’t particularly up for the challenge. That’s where having a running partner can be so valuable. Dragging my whining, lazy body from my seat, my boss insisted we head out into the freezing cold for a quick 5k. And it was bloody freezing too. At least for the first 500 yards. Then it was muddy, very, very muddy; hilly, oh so hilly; lung busting, you know the drill; and actually pretty bloody great. I’ve mentioned before that if one could bottle that feeling you get having completed a run and use it as an elixir to get you going in the first place then there’d never be any motivation problems.

Another plus was that we smashed our previous 5k time by three minutes. Oh yes, I’m back on the wagon. Thanks boss.

Treadmill Blues

I went for my first treadmill run this year during my lunch break. Shamefully, I used to prefer it to running outside – not anymore. Strangely it seemed harder than running outside, though this could be a direct result of running facing a brick wall (a literal not metaphorical one, you understand). It was certainly duller and not something I want to experience often, though I did manage 5k in my quickest time yet.

I have to admit, though, that I started slowly and got faster and faster just to get it done and get off the thing, hence my better time. In hindsight it forced me into a great workout, so small mercies and all that. I’m staring at the screen now and wishing I could pop under my desk for a little nap, but I’ve at least three hours left before I can sleep on the train home – and to think I was toying with running the two miles to the station. Ha!

In other news, I checked my blood pressure a number of times whilst at rest yesterday and it hovered around the 124/68 zone, which is fantastic. Whether it’s an aberration remains to be seen, but if it’s not then I’ve no need to blog about getting my blood pressure down anymore. Does this mean I’ve won the internet?

It’s (un)acceptable in your 80s

I felt good Tuesday morning and had a bit of time before a couple of meetings in London, so thought I’d take the opportunity to go for a quick run. Looking out the window I correct deduced it was bloody freezing so dressed accordingly; hat, gloves, running tights were all in attendance. I looked like a Lycra version of Robocop, but despite my ridiculous appearance I set off, a quick 5k in mind.

Since it was still early, and despite the sun being out, the pavements were perilous in places, due to a thin layer of black ice (told you it was cold) and I lost my footing once or twice. Clearly, it wasn’t going to be a record-breaking run. Nonetheless I did manage to get all the way around without stopping or, more importantly, falling on my arse.

Then it happened.

As I was nearing the end of my run, feeling quite pleased with myself for running 5k two days in a row and marvelling at the power of muscle memory to adjust quickly to its master’s wish to drag himself around the streets in the name of health and fitness, I saw a figure coming at me from a distance. Whoever it was appeared to be out on a run and….no they couldn’t be….it’s freezing…they bloody well are! The figure was wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts as he made his way towards me. As he got closer I started to feel uncomfortable in my get up. I thought about removing my hat and gloves, so as to appear less weak in the face of both the runner and the winter chill, but it was too late and too obvious. Then I saw his face, he was smiling at me (possibly with a mixture of amusement and pity). And he was easily in his eighties.

As we passed I shook my head in shame. Here I was, all kitted out to protect me from the elements and I’d been embarrassed by a man more than twice my age, who clearly had no truck with a bit of frost. All I could do was run home quickly in the hope I passed no other hardened octogenarians. They don’t make them like that any more.

In hindsight I have resolved to make a change. I simply won’t run that route again.

I just ran 5k because I am the boss of me

Yes! At lunchtime today I went for a run with my boss and managed a full 5 kilometres without stopping (other than to open and close gates – I work in quite a rural area). Granted, the 33.5 minute time won’t break any records, but in my defence it is pretty hilly which must have added a couple of minutes; one climb I am thinking of nicknaming ‘Mount Doom’ or simply, ‘The Bastard’. Nonetheless, I ran the whole way and felt it worthy of recording on this blog. Burned 4oo calories, too, so that makes me feel less guilty about eating tonight’s homemade chicken pie.

When I got back to the changing room after the run, I spoke briefly with a colleague about our respective exercise regimes (his gym session was to help rehabilitate his knee, my run for blood pressure reasons, blah, blah, blah) and he then explained that he’d spent ten minutes at his desk trying to convince himself to go, whilst finding preference for some of the more mundane tasks his job entails. I laughed and said that I knew exactly what he meant.

Thinking about it while I was getting dressed (after a shower, of course. Are you insinuating I don’t bathe?) it occurred to me – and probably most other people long before I’d thought of it – that the battle to do anything that may be considered exercise, when there are a number of more preferable options, is always with oneself. Now, as a person sound of mind, you’d have thought that you are in total control of your thoughts and actions. You decide when to say yes or no in any given situation. Then why is it, when you absolutely know that you’ll feel much better for it, it’s good for you and you’ve even gone as far as to pack your gym gear, a part of you is saying “no, sit down, eat some junk, watch TV and relax.” And why do so many of us listen to our negative, naysaying side? I’m sure there’s a very sensible neurological explanation that I could look up on Google, if I could be bothered, but the battle of wills that goes on in our own head is fascinating and completely daft.

So listen up, me! I’m in charge now and we’re going running again tomorrow. That’s right, there’s a new sherriff in town and he loves exercise and healthy eating.  And pizza, beer, cheese and sweets.

Bugger.

Pray silence, for Week Two

Right, it’s on to week and, having barely drawn breath, my boss text last night to tell me not to forget my running kit. I took this to mean a 5k run is on the cards today – my first of the new regime. Happy days, kind of.

Check my blood pressure this morning. In fact, I checked it four times and it hovered around this mark:

Blood pressure – 139/65 (39bpm)

Not much change from last week then. My weight, however, is entirely different beast. Somehow I’ve lost eight pounds. I’m not quite sure how, since I’ve not starved myself at all. Yes, I forgot breakfast a few times, but I had a beer and a bottle of wine over the course of the weekend. Plus, my wife overfed me roast potatoes last night.

Taking an (un)educated stab at it, I’m guessing that cutting out sugar, booze (during the week) and bread for the most part is paying immediate dividends. Fortunately, I won’t lose the same amount every week or I’d completely disappear at some point this year. Some of the extra bloat was no doubt water, too. Still, that’s pretty amazing. I’m only a few pounds higher than I was when I got married now. Keep going and I’ll weigh the lowest I have during the whole of my thirties by the middle of February. Usually this is the point that I sabotage it, but I’m feeling good and motivated so long may it continue. In order to lose 1.5 pounds per week my calorie allowance is around 1800, so I’ll stick to that and see how it goes.

Right – time to do some work. It is Monday, afterall….

Week One, all but done

‘A little of what you fancy does you good.’

 Marie Lloyd

My first week of fitness and virtue reaches its penultimate day. I can’t quite commit to type that I’ve been perfect in my quest for good health and lower blood pressure. After all, I’ve had one beer and a bottle of wine since Friday, but I’ve given sugar the Spanish archer and the alcohol  hasn’t pushed me over the edge of my daily calorie allowance. Yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than before. Have I mentioned that I’ve been for four runs?

Yes, four runs. One over my weekly commitment to Jantastic (cue: smugness). Ok, so I haven’t exactly set the world alight as far as mileage goes, but I’m starting all over again so 10 miles in my first week is no mean feat. Besides, the scales tell me I’ve lost five pounds this week and, unless I’ve forgotten how to count (or the scales are set up incorrectly – which wouldn’t surprise me), I’m doing rather well.

As a huge bonus, I’m still eating the foods I like – ok, pizza had to go but there are ways around it – and due to being alcohol free during the week, I’m allowing myself a treat at the weekend (a rather large treat this week, but I’ll get better. Promise). The only thing I’m really being strict on, as previously mentioned, is sugar. And surprisingly it’s not that hard.

So, there we are. Week One all but complete. I’ll be posting my blood pressure and weight here on Monday. Not expecting a great deal of change in blood pressure, but the loss of poundage will compensate.

I bid you a good weekend.

Some thoughts on running

I was never really interested in sports at school. In fact, I was rarely very active at all, much beyond accidentally booting a football into a neighbouring garden during afternoon break time.  When the mood struck, I could be very reminiscent of Gary Lineker in his pomp – a goal hanger par excellence – but actual physical effort, no thanks. So whenever the timetable read ‘cross country’, I immediately began to limber up, relishing the prospect of staggering around windswept hillsides in the freezing cold.

There was no escape from the dreaded cross-country run. Our teacher, Mr Bunker, made sure of that. In hindsight he wasn’t a fearsome man, but under his watchful glare I felt that failure to at least attempt a jog signalled impertinence and therefore would warrant punishment (at least, that’s what my 14-year-old self believed). So jog I did. And I hated every miserable, cold, wet, exhausting moment of it. But most of all I hated Peter McAllister.

Peter McAllister won every cross-country ‘race’ that the rest of us endured. He run up hills with the same ease that others ran down them; coasted along the flats, barely touching the ground; and always, always finished minutes ahead of everyone else. It never occurred to me to try harder and have a go at beating him – or at least finish the race with Peter in sight. I simply didn’t see the point of running so I didn’t try. A few of my classmates would nip off into the woods as soon as ‘Basil’ Bunker (a highly original nickname) turned his back and have a smoke but I didn’t join them. It would have been pointless as I didn’t smoke. That came later. So I huffed and puffed along, making the requisite effort and praying that the race would finish before I died of hypothermia, exhaustion or boredom – possibly all three. Who’d be a runner?

———

A little under 15 years later, I made the first of several abortive attempts to get fit and running seemed like the best way. It was cardiovascular, it was cheap and you could do it practically anywhere. So I, like countless others, hit the roads and ran far faster than my lungs, heart and legs were ready for. Less than 100 metres in and I was done. My lungs were burning, my calves were on fire and my heart was beating like a thrash metal bass drum. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly if you’ve ever been a smoker, I was gasping for a cigarette (an oxymoronic term at best). I vowed never to run again.

———

By 2004, I’d made my first purchase of a pair of proper running shoes by Asics. After another pitiful attempt at this running lark, I placed them at bottom of my cupboard, where they stayed in pristine condition until one day a couple of years ago I discovered that if I stopped holding my belly in (something I’d been doing with increasing regularity over the preceding decade) I couldn’t actually see my feet. Now, there comes a time in a man’s life when the whiff of change is in the air. I wasn’t quite ready for a mid-life crisis at the age of 37. Besides, I can’t really afford a swanky leather jacket, much less a sports car. But being unable to see one’s feet, well that was beyond the pale.

And so it was that I discovered Sports Direct sold some decent running clothing at very competitive prices (that’s a plug, Sports Direct. Hello? Hello?). Stepping out onto a quiet street the following morning I was for the first time on the road to fitness, with intent.

100 metres down the road I was gasping for breath. Bugger! Arse! Shit! I thought, but didn’t have the lung capacity to exclaim. Surely running isn’t supposed to be this hard. I picked my wounded pride up off the floor and limped back home – it wasn’t far, fortunately.

It’s amazing the virtual doors that the internet has opened up. Sitting at my desk at work the next day I idly typed ‘how to run’ into Google, not expecting to discover anything of merit.

Boom!

I wasn’t expecting that. My PC had blown a fuse – or something technical that I didn’t understand – and shut down. Perhaps I’d irritated the gods of the internet with the stupidity of my search. Perhaps typing ‘how to run’ was a secret code that destroys the internet and all computers on earth. I checked with my colleague; his was working fine. I did the honourable thing and called IT.

Later than night, I nervously typed the words ‘how to run’ into Google once again, hit Enter and braced myself. A wealth of information appeared. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. People actually discussed this stuff, posted tips, training plans, how tos, blogged about it, wrote long sprawling articles on great runners (did a search for Peter McAllister, he didn’t figure. A moral victory), and were incredibly passionate about the subject. To say it was inspiring is an understatement. It was a revelation!

So, I started again. I found a plan for beginners and slowly made progress, going a little further each time until I could run a mile, then three, then five. I created an account on Runner’s World and posted in the Beginners section, asking for like-minded novices to add their thoughts on learning to run. Runners are amazingly friendly people. Full of praise, help and an endless supply of positivity – must be all that fresh air. Finally, I entered a 10k race. I don’t mind admitting I found it hard, but I got around the course in under and hour and was rightly pleased with my performance. Then I stopped running. I fell into the trap of over-running and burnout. It happens quite often, apparently (I Googled it). I didn’t run for months, but whenever I saw a runner pass me on the street or cross in front of my car at a traffic light, I felt a pang of jealousy and a large dose of guilt for not being out there myself.

Several months later I began running again. I built up my mileage slowly, the same as before, and soon reached 10 miles, the further I’d ever run. I did plan to race another 10k, confident that I could beat my previous time. Then I burnt out again. I guess although I thought I was progressing slowly, it had become all-encompassing. I ran when I could and when I wasn’t running I was reading about running; when I wasn’t reading about it I was thinking about it, and so on. No wonder I have blood pressure issues!

It’s now early January 2014 and I’ve started again. This time I am forcing myself to take days off between runs in the hope I can avoid burnout, so we’ll see how it goes. I have a feeling I’ll always be this way, though. If something stimulates me I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. The procrastination just fills up the rest of my time.

But one thing that will never change is how I feel after a good run. I can’t describe well the sense of accomplishment, of well-being, of (dare I say) sheer joy that follows this funny little pastime. Only those that have done it will ever truly know that feeling, so we’ll keep it our little secret, eh?

So, how to run? Start slowly, walk if you need. Google it, like I did. There’s more information online than you could ever possibly read, but it’s a fantastic starting point. And say hello to my friends at Runner’s World.  Just don’t try to run 100 metres at sprinting pace. It’s a sure-fire way to burn out.

Absolutely Jantastic!

After the near collapse of my resolve yesterday, I’m feeling decidedly smug this afternoon having added another run this lunchtime of just under 5k (little acorns, remember…) and, thus, completed my Jantastic committment of three runs this week. Woohoo!

I’ve also decided to treat myself to a glass or two of wine this weekend, which I’m looking forward to after a week of abstention. Before you condemn me, I’ve read in numerous running threads and magazines from runners who have lost weight and kept it off, the importance of treating oneself from time to time to keep things ticking over nicely and prevent a hasty descent from the wagon of virtue. So there!

Also, I’ve lost a few pounds which is always nice and I’m starting to feel pretty good. It is very early days, of course, but cutting out sugar, booze and caffeine has definitely helped. That said, I had a very pious green tea earlier and then discovered it contains caffeine, so I’m not quite as virtuous as I like to pretend. I did have a skinny Starbucks latte yesterday, though minus caffeine – it tastes exactly the same as a fully loaded effort (for some reason I was expecting different) so I was a very happy commuter.

Right – one more run this week, Saturday morning, and I’ve all but completed my first week of exercise, healthy eating and generally being a good little boy. Somebody give me a biscuit.