Just Keep Showing Up

Regarding fitness overall I am pushing hard during these weird lockdown times, but when I hiked the Yorkshire Three Peaks I trashed my feet for ten days. This means that I could not run due to the stunningly painful blisters I received – worth it in my opinion. I have been cycling just fine but for my running I am starting back in the low mileage distances again. The cool thing, however, is that where I normally run a mile and build distance quickly, this time I commenced on two miles and I could have gone farther. Knowing my ineptitude when it comes to pavement pounding I stopped whilst I had more to give rather than take from my reserves until I realised they were depleted.

Right now the stop-start nature of running is frustrating me, and as the data below show, I am still on abysmal mile times, but I remain convinced by my earlier thoughts on ultra running – how hard can it be?

Data

My reality is a good way behind my conviction that I can do this thing, so how am I going to realise these ambitions? I am going to keep showing up and run until I do it.

The Week in Review

I have not posted a ‘week in review’ for ages, so I guess that now is as good a time as any to start again.

This week I…

  • Embraced YouTube and will be producing content regularly
  • Discovered Relive
  • Revamped my diet again, including fasting schedules

Performance

This was a fairly relaxed week really, mainly because I cannot really run due to the monstrous blisters I gained whilst completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks. I have one covering each heel, the left in particular being very tender indeed. I completed two runs this week, each of which was too early in my recovery and ended up being curtailed as it was just too painful to run at all. Strava summary below. I have taken advantage of clement weather and cycled where possible.

Data

Relive

Relive is a superb app I discovered recently. It reads your workouts from whichever app you use record them – in my case Strava or Garmin – and uses the data to generate a 3D flyover-style video. I will definitely being making use of this in future.

Nutrition

I am still fasting, however I am trying to push my time without food. Right now I have the willpower to fast for a whole day, however when I go past approximately sixteen hours without food I get an absolutely paint-stripping headache. This may sound bad, however it is a positive because that limit used to be fifteen hours. I have been slowly pushing this interval longer and longer. It is frustrating to be in a ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ position but I clearly need to train my body to accept longer periods without food. Right now the headaches are absolutely unbearable. I suffer migraine attacks and they are equally as debilitating, which means I am essentially incapacitated by the things. I am slowly winning the battle however, so I only need to keep modifying my diet slowly and hopefully I will be able to start doing day-long fasts without side effects.

Pushing Ahead

Right now my priority is to work as hard as I can. I can only wait for my feet to heal so that I can push my running distances again. In the meantime I am working hard on my nutrition. This week I felt the nip of autumn in the air so I am going to make the most of good weather whilst it lasts and push hard as soon as I can run again.

Pushing for Endurance

Is it possible – or indeed advisable – to run hard in the morning and then hike a mountain in the afternoon? Well, it is definitely possible because I did it today. Whether or not it is a good idea remains to be seen, but I do know that it stretches endurance limits and it definitely felt good to do it.

Running

This morning I broke through the six mile barrier.

This felt pretty good and I was well worn out but not as much as previously. Presumably my body is adapting well to endurance sports. Every time I add a mile or half mile extra it is that last segment in which I find myself longing for the run to be over so mentally I seem to be strengthening also.

After a couple of hours rest I then dragged the kids over Pen Y Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales.

Hiking

This is the opener to the Yorkshire Three Peaks and it is also an absolute sod of a climb, very steep, and you gain altitude very quickly over short distances. There is also a ton of scrambling to do through the protruding limestone which takes a lot of patience, effort and strength.

I have said it before: if you want to work your whole body and get strong quickly then fell and mountain hiking cannot be beaten, particularly if you wish to build stamina too. There is not a single muscle in my body that is not aching and glowing from usage. The beauty of it is that when you climb like this, or scramble, or similar then you not only use your whole body, you also move and rotate your body, joints and muscles on all three axes. I really cannot think of another sport like it. The first few times you do it you will be exhausted because there is nowhere for your muscles to hide from effort. What is remarkable is how quickly the exhaustion recedes and you get used to the exertion. Eventually energy levels slowly improve, as does stamina, and suddenly you realise that you want to do all three of the Peaks in twelve hours, which is the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge.

Keep pushing, and keep improving.

Lockdown Progress is Still Progress

Last week I pushed up to five miles running, did plenty of (slow) cycling with the kids on the tourer and on Saturday I did a red hot, scorching hike over Whernside.

Yesterday I cycled in the evening with my boy and I have been amazed to see how quickly he is becoming powerful, fast and strong. He will be better than me hopefully! Captured the gorgeous sunset too. Check out the glitter path below.

I also fond a lovely outdoor location to explore, Rivington Pike near Bolton.

I remain on a 16/8 fasting diet which is working hard for me right now. I have literally stopped all refined sugar intake and I recently discovered that barley has a glycemic index of 25 – ridiculously low – so I am using that as a base for my cooking. That along with quinoa and a few other whole grains like buckwheat. I am already, in two weeks, 3.5 pounds lighter. The best part of this is that I do not think I have ever felt so stuffed in my life! I have only ever counted calories once and it was a waste of time. This way I am tracking my weight with a weekly weigh in and just eating good food, and boy is it working. Plus, barley is 55p a bag so my bank balance likes it too.

In my 43 years on Earth I think I might have weighed myself four or five times so I am hardly obsessive, but now that the kids are old enough that I do not have to spend every single minute refereeing their skirmishes or just keeping them alive, I have time to focus on my health much more. This is bringing great results. Having spent over a decade doing whatever exercise I could and eating what I can as best as I could I now relish this second innings of living. Any parent knows that the first ten years of child rearing are nonstop sacrifice, impossible to plan or work around and you spend most of your time exhausted. Now I get to take them out with me and they can be exhausted!

I am very much enjoying trail running. I have never been a fast runner really so I have nothing to prove on that front, but I can endure quite a lot so right now I am focused on off road activities and working out the best planning for nutrition. It seems that fasting of some kind works brilliantly – I even climbed Whernside in a fasted state – and thinking more about food is working. I have been a vegan for years and years but to get the best from myself means that my enemy is sugar. I really cannot believe the magnitude of difference that it makes to my physique if I stop eating it completely. All of the reading I am doing says this, and it all advocates fasting regularly and also straining the body, meaning to push hard in terms of endurance.

I guess that this week the results will prove me right or wrong.

Five Miles Broken

I do not know whether or not I mentioned it previously, but I am trying to run on the trail as much as I can. Running through a forest beats the roads every time for me. I feel as though I am immersed in nature. It is absolutely beautiful. I am very much an outdoorsman in that sense. Luckily, living in Lancashire in England means that trails and off road routes are literally everywhere in any direction.

Today I hit five miles, and despite both Garmin Connect and Strava recording my fastest mile at 10:31, my Garmin Vivoactive HR watch proclaimed that I had broken a record at 10:26. I have no idea what happened there, however I am assuming the longer time to be correct.

I am now bearing down on breaking through ten miles. I am sure at some point in the near future I will have to run on alternate days so as to recover effectively. My best ever distance is fifteen miles and I am determined to beat that – by the end of September hopefully.

How to go From Couch to 5K in Four Days. Bonus Level: Records Broken Also

After outlining my running ambitions previously I managed to get injured practically the next day. No good deed goes unpunished, right? I guess I asked for it really. Even more astounding is that the injury was in fact gout. That is right, a (then) almost, (now) completely teetotal, vegan, twenty five year + veteran cyclist, runner and swimmer received a diagnosis of gout. Unbelievable. I can only presume that it runs in the family because you do not get lower risk than me for gout, typically the disease of ale swilling, red meat guzzling, Henry VIII type bloaters. Ho hum, so it goes. I have beat it into retreat with careful diet management, dispensing with crap shoes, exercising and resting properly and so forth, and now I am back on the trail.

How I Did Couch to 5K in Four Days

As silly as it sounds, I just did it. I have noticed that, for me at least, when I take a break from running the first three or four stints back on the road are like dragging a sack of lead around. Only after I push through this do I start feeling the Afterglow of Champions (I just made that up but I am so trademarking it). The sense that, suddenly, out of nowhere, the agony of laborious effort is receding and suddenly I feel as though I can run a marathon. It is a great feeling and I appreciate it more and more with age as my body starts to need more work to maintain great health and performance.

The sequence is as folows:

    Day one: 2 miles
    Day two: 2.5 miles
    Day three: 3 miles (probably 5K)
    Day four: 3.5 miles (definitely 5K)

On the way I scored my fastest 5K and recorded several fastest miles, with my current best being 10:30, which is bang average really, but still an improvement. All of these runs were done in a fasted state. I am still fasting 16/8 and intend for that arrangement to be permanent. Right now my trousers are falling down as the weight is falling off me, and I am not fat at all, but I am shedding residual body fat so quickly that I need new clothes already.

I have to once again acknowledge the power of incremental change. Ever since I was a wee nipper I have known its power, as my mum stopped smoking when I was very young, and ran to the traffic lights on our road and back. Eventually she ran multiple marathons. It is that simple to me. Start where you can, go where you want, do a little bit more the next day. Small beginnings, no matter how insignificant they may seem in the moment, yield results you could never dream of because no matter how little you do, it is more than nothing.

Here in England the NHS is always pushing Couch to 5K as a great achievement, and for sure it is for anyone, but simply by pushing myself pretty gently in increments I am already there. At this rate hitting marathon distances by the end of the year seems trivial. Doubtlessly it will not be that simple, but it will not be that hard either, provided I give the effort that I know I can and I do not get injured. Combining this with a high protein, low GI diet I am making gains that seem remarkable but which are really just good outcomes based on the science.

My ambitions to run ultra distances are intact, as is my body and I am going to do it if it kills me. Remember folks, it does not matter who you were yesterday as long as you are better tomorrow. Past is prologue, the future is for gods!

Strava Data

Weathering the Storm

So, here in northern England it has not only been three storms in a row but it is also so cold that the arthritis in my toe is painful even when I am just sitting around. Not to be undone, however, I managed to improvise. During storm Dennis I couldn’t run distance in such high winds, so I decided to run a mile as quickly as I could, with a pathetic time of 9:32, as you can see below.

Posting detailed Garmin metrics for this is pointless, but you see the point, that I am a painfully slow runner. I always have been, but I am pushing for endurance rather than speed. I would like both of course and I hope that as I keep stretching myself I can pick up speed. It will be genuinely fascinating to see the difference in pace when I run on a flat course though. Right now I have in mind to run from where I live to the city of Preston. This is mostly a flattish course that will clock in at around 24 miles, so clearly I have some training to do yet to hit that. The point is that I want to see what difference the course makes to my average speed. Right now I run locally as I am not passing 10 mile distances yet, which means I do some moderate climbing. This is because where I live it is more or less uphill in every direction. The exception is down into the town centre but obviously I won’t run there, so that leaves courses that always have a substantive elevation gain. I bet that when I am fit enough I will run to Preston and the pace will be better than my local running. This has certainly been the truth for cycling where I have found cycling great distances insanely easy when on a flat course. This brings to mind the time I did the inaugural Wiggo Sportive race and a bunch of Londoners couldn’t finish it because they cycled distance but not hills. Slackers.

So, yesterday I pushed up to six miles and it was a hard run. My muscles were achy, it was absolutely freezing cold, thus I was sluggish and my muscles needed to contract constantly. Data below.

Data Summary

Splits

Graph Data

In addition to thinking about how courses might affect my times and pace, hopefully just the change in the weather as it gets warmer should give me better times. I’m pretty pleased at how my distances are improving quickly in difficult, cold weather conditions and also I hope that my arthritis calms down, because that is very painful, right in the ball joint of the big toe I broke as a wee nipper. That can be very unpleasant, I can tell you. I hope that in roughly two weeks I will have pushed through ten mile distance running, heading towards my personal best distance of 15 miles by the end of April. That puts me on course, presuming I have no health issues, injuries or otherwise unforeseen events, to hit marathon distances by the summer holidays.

The other positive side of things is my health, my clothes are starting to hang off me! This is a great problem to have but I also have to start replacing my wardrobe. My waist diameter is down two inches already. After the horrible summer I had last year this is exceedingly gratifying. I feel like I am striking back at the challenges of life and hitting it harder than it hits me. I hate being cooped up inside the house so to have had to endure months of it was dreadful, but what is past is prologue. If I can hit marathon distances in time for winter then the great lost summer of 2019 will be nothing but a distant memory.

Hormesis Redux: Electric Boogaloo

Hot on the heels of my learning about hormesis I have decided to go, as they say among the bros, balls deep. If stressing the body is the way forward then I will stress the ass out of mine.

Today I ran five miles, one more than last time, in a fasted state and I started the run with a long, hard 400 metre (approximately) 2.5 mile climb. My extensive cycling experience has taught me that if you want to get strong and get fit, and do so quickly, then god damn it, climb. Just find a hill and run up it. It doesn’t matter how much you climb, how steep it is, or how quickly you can do the run, just find a hill and leg it up there, and no matter how hard it gets, don’t stop until you get to the top. Trust me when I tell you that the reward of running downhill after having done that successfully is superb.

You can check out the details of the elevation gain in the Garmin graphs below, but today I made sure that I did the climbing first, the ran downhill back home followed by a detour into the trail I ran last time I was out running in order to get wet, dirty and exposed to cold. It worked too. I arrived home filthy, cold, wet and absolutely pumped and full of energy. Of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do something dumb, so the data below is slightly lacking in detail because I accidentally recorded this as a bike ride! Thankfully you can edit Garmin data so it’s all alright.

Garmin Data

Splits

Graphs

Hormesis: If it Doesn’t Kill You…

Lately I have been listening to the work of an incredible scientist, Dr David Sinclair, Harvard geneticist. His most recent book, Lifespan is essentially a document detailing his quest to cure ageing. One concept he introduced to me in this audiobook is hormesis, the notion that stressing yourself will do you good, aka the popular aphorism, ‘whatever does not kill you simply makes you stronger’. Having given this some thought recently I found a way to put it into action this morning on my run. The details are below. This was a starved run and thus hard work. If you are interested in the book but not sure then Sinclair was recently on the Joe Rogan and Rich Roll podcasts so you can try before you buy.

Garmin Data

Data Summary

Mile Splits

Graphs

Now, with the summary above done I can detail what I learned on this run. Firstly, I really ought to pay better attention to the pavement as I went over on my ankle twice, albeit not badly so thankfully there was no injury but it could have been worse. Secondly, I learned to stress myself. In his work Sinclair details several different stressors that can be hugely beneficial to humans: endurance sports, fasting and cold exposure. The first two I am working on already but the third had never occurred to me previously. Serendipity allowed me to improvise today, however. Running along the Leeds-Liverpool canal I came to a railway bridge on my regular route which was being repaired and thus the pathway was closed, so I had to improvise. This meant taking an adjacent path which either continues as tarmac, or, crucially, there is a short trail. I took the trail and got absolutely drenched, both from the rain and also the muddy filth and freezing cold water that was flowing liberally on the trail.

What I discovered was not only that running in crap conditions is great fun and feels amazing afterwards, but also that I need to get better shoes. I have to be honest and say that I haven’t done as much running as I would like over the last fortnight because here in the U.K. we have had some pretty severe storms and it’s genuinely dangerous to be out in the countryside in such conditions. Where I live you can’t go anywhere for more than twenty minutes before you end up in rural surroundings, and I try to avoid pounding road too much because it is hard on my 6’1, 16 stone frame. I’m a pretty big guy so softer ground is good. I also live in a place where, should I run distances, I end up on country roads where people drive like dickheads. Add that to storm weather and it can be pretty difficult.

That all being said, however, Sinclair’s work and influence has shifted my perspective. I have to start stressing my body more. If I am to run ultra distances as I previously committed to doing then risk is inherent to that, both of injury and some generalised danger. Also, when I thought about it I realised that people are far more likely to endanger me on my bike due to the bizarre cyclist hatred that exists in England and that never stopped me cycling so I think it’s time to start to really hammer myself to get good at serious endurance again. I’ve cycled over 100 miles on a good few occasions, so I can run it for sure.

This means that I can’t fast 5 days out of 7 though. I just can’t see how that is possible, so I have a plan. I will fast on non-running days, meaning that when I do run my fast will commence at 2000 that evening and I fast through to lunch the next day. There is no way I can run endurance distances without eating. That’s crazy and, whilst I am no nutritionist, it can’t be good or healthy for me.

When faced with a closed pathway I took the trail, got myself covered in crap, soaking wet and freezing, but it felt amazing. It didn’t kill me so it must have made me stronger. I then finished up the morning by cooking myself this delicious brunch consisting of savoury pancakes stuffed with potatoes fried in garlic, chilli, ginger and turmeric followed by a fruit salad. Yum!

Past is Prologue – The Future Belongs to Gods!

Today’s post is a line in the sand, followed by the data from today’s swim.

My best distance run is 15 miles. I have had ambitions to do a marathon for years, ambitions I upgraded to an Iron Man. Sadly when I was working at this I got hit by cars three times in two years whilst cycling. End of Iron Man. I recovered a while ago but had children and real life took over. Now I am feeling ambitious again. My kids are old enough that I have renewed independence and so I have committed myself mentally to pushing into major endurance running. Quite simply, I would like to be an ultra runner. Lofty ideas I know, but you have to believe right?

So, that is my plan. As the summer arrives and the nights get long I am going to push for serious distance, and hopefully by the time autumn is in view I will be hitting ultra distances. I mean, really, how hard can it be?

I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek of course but there is a part of me that genuinely believes in my ability right now. After all, a marathon is just an arbitrary distance. It’s not any kind of universal limit on human endurance. So, with the obvious caveat that it’s going to be hard, how hard can it be? I guess I will soon learn!

Today’s Swim

Here is the day’s swim data. Pushed up to 1250 metres in drills of eight laps. The extra 50 is because I did a ten lap drill by mistake.

Summary

Interval Splits

Graphs