A Year in the Life of a Runner

Okay, so for the sake of transparency and honesty I am talking about an academic year here. I am a teacher so I measure my life according to school terms and academic timescales.

Since the school year started in 2020 I have been running as consistently as I can. I have had – and been flattened by – coronavirus, and I have been running and meditating in the early morning hours, rising around 0530 to get out between 0600-0630. Here is what I have learned and accomplished.

1. If you want to run seriously then do it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

Doing middling to long runs on a full stomach would be a nightmare. I have no idea who these people are that eat before a run but I cannot imagine doing this stuff with food sloshing around my digestive tract. Also, running first thing is extremely meditative, reflective and sets up the day. In the evening I am just exhausted so smashing the day into the stratosphere means running first, then sitting down to meditate. No food, but always chug a coffee first.

2. Measure and record every metric.

If you do not know where you have been you will never get to where you think you are going. It may seem laborious, but graphs are cool, and thanks to the miracle of Garmin I have been able to track and plot progress using my Quatix 6 and their Connect back end. I do not use the social side of exercise apps so you will not find me on Strava or any of that nonsense, but I do value the fact that Garmin lets me track my progress. At the risk of being repetitive, you have to see where you have been in order to get where you are going.

3. Whatever you do, just keep running.

Some days I can barely get moving and it feels like even running a mile is going to be impossible. Five miles later I realise the obvious truth. Just keep moving and the miles will take care of themselves.

It is so cliched but so important to remember that you just have to keep going and do the hard miles when your warm bed is calling and you would rather laze around. Once the muscles loosen and the feel good sensation hits I suddenly find the miles in my legs again, and nothing has ever felt better on the trail.

4. Dump the phone.

I know that it is almost blasphemy to not carry a phone everywhere but you really do need to unplug. There are times when I feel as though I am a cyborg, however the terror of not being connected to the world is an illusion. You will survive, as we humans have done for almost all of our – mobile device free – history. The right to unplug is a luxury and also a necessity and we ought to all indulge in it. I have long since binned social media, the most pointless use of time on Earth, and the improvement in my mental health has been immeasurable.

So, leave your phone at home. It will not kill you to be alone for a while.

5. Decide what you will be and then do what you have to do.

Enough said.

Battling and Recovering

Coronavirus got me, and by god did it get me. In addition to two weeks in bed I have taken a long time to get over it. It was as bad as when I have had flu, and I mean real flu and not a cold. Of course, one by one it was transmitted to my family and they all had the sniffles. This is a thing. Whenever there is a respiratory ailment doing the rounds everyone else gets the sniffles and I get absolutely smashed by it. Man flu jokes aside I must just be susceptible. This of course makes personal fitness even more important so I have religiously adhered to my intermittent fasting regimen, and now I am back on the road. The weather has permitted me to run twice recently, and today I just did a mile in the snowy, freezing cold winter. Garmin very kindly gave me a badge as a result:

I chuckled when it said below that I ought to try for the toasty badge by exercising in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Clearly those guys have never visited the north of England.

I Never Learn

I have indulged myself in another watch upgrade. I just cannot cope with Apple Watch and I think I finally know why. As an introvert it is common to switch off and zone out when completely overloaded with sensory input, and Apple Watch is all about data, nagging and constant contact with technology. I have owned three and each time I have lasted a few months before I had to get rid of it. Introverts are at their best when functioning independently and left alone. Apple Watch is the antithesis of this. I have, hence, bought a Garmin Fenix 6S. It does not support media playback so, to avoid taking my phone on runs I have broken out my ancient iPod Nano. One day I will upgrade to a Garmin watch that supports media playback but right now I am just glad I can use it for sports, then take it off and put a proper watch on. I know I could do the same with Apple Watch but it is not designed for people like me or that sort of usage. It is a very needy device and designed for constant interaction. I just cannot assimilate all of this data from Apple. It is too much. I prefer to take what I need and then be left alone.

Sadly it took me three iterations of the damn thing before I figured this out. In my defence, introverts are so often placed in such positions. Ask any introvert and they will tell you that this is common and that we are often treated as though we are malfunctioning. Thankfully a solution was readily available, and thank god for Garmin.

Looking Forward

I want to get the drop on spring by working hard in winter. Coronavirus and the five weeks of self-isolation I have had to endure have each, obviously, been difficult. I am still fitter than previous years when I have been in this position so I will get up to speed quickly. Despite doing just a mile today it is progress. I could have gone further but it was -2C. You can knock that even lower if you include windchill, and breathing air that is so cold can be very painful. Thankfully the nights are getting lighter so I can easily be up to double figure distances by the time warmer weather arrives. I think that, even without factoring in lockdown, this has been a bitter and long, dark winter. The biggest challenge has been mental health and at my age I manage it scrupulously and without slacking off.

After a horrible year in 2020 it’s time to get moving.

Shaking Things Up – Time Over Distance – Bonus Content: Gout Can Eat my Ass and Balls

A brief summary of the key points in this post today:

  • I have gone over to the new Apple Watch, using the native workout app and Healthfit for syncing and export
  • I have recovered from another gout flare
  • I am tweaking my diet again
  • I have started running for speed
  • I have upgraded from Garmin Edge 1000 to the Edge 1030 sensor bundle for cycling

Details

So that list is quite a lot. Thankfully I have quite a lot to say so hopefully this will be a blog post of a kind most revelatory.

Apple Watch

I continually flirt with gear and currently I have left my Garmin Vivoactive HR aside and turned to the might of Apple with its Watch Series 6. I avoided Apple Watch for a while as the notifications are so annoying, however I have been able to turn most off so now it seems to be an option. Additionally, and I hate to sound shallow, but media functions matter to me. Running without a long form podcast or an audiobook is, for me, intolerable. Not only due to boredom but also I view it as a missed opportunity to work my brain whilst I exercise my body. Right now the best Garmin can do is sync media to its watches using a wired connection to a computer and I am sad to say that that is just not good enough. This is supposed to be cutting edge fitness and navigation technology. When Apple Watch will synchronise it all as I need, wirelessly whilst I sleep is Garmin really offering nothing better than a 25 year old method to get media to listen to? Plus, now that Apple has retired iTunes and separated music, podcasts and video I would have to wait for Garmin to update its sync software, to say nothing of the fact that the software that Audible provides for getting audiobooks onto devices looks like the ancient software I used to use when I owned a Palm PDA – now there is a retro tech reference for you.

It seems to me that for someone in my demographic Apple Watch is the best I can get, so I did. The options and apps available are superb and now that Healthfit (£3.99) will export everything I need and connect to Strava I have to say that I am sold on Apple Watch going forward. For massive day hikes such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks I have my Vivoactive HR ready to go but as an everyday device it is surpassed. Things can change in future as always, but that is my roadmap for the time being.

Health

Gout is garbage. I still curse my bad luck at being susceptible. Even my GP cannot believe it. A teetotal, outdoors-obsessed plant muncher should not be so unfortunate, but there we are. My body simply cannot process uric acid as efficiently as necessary and from time to time I will have to put up with this crap. This time I needed two courses of prednisolone to get rid of it, and be under no illusions about what a horrible drug that is. Naturally I have not done much exercise recently, until the last couple of days.

Diet

I am attempting to tweak my diet to see if I can get the drop on gout. The current view is to get my kidneys to flush – more efficiently – the uric acid, so I am consciously drinking even more water but also I am adding pomegranate juice and powder to my diet. Allegedly this can help. The science seems to suggest that free radicals are raised during a flare and pomegranate contains a powerful antioxidant that will counter this problem. I will also be creating a tincture out of which I will make a herbal infusion to drink daily.

Speed

Today I ran 2.5 miles, prioritising speed over distance for a change, and with relative ease ran my first and second fastest miles, and weirdly Strava said that, according to my heart rate, this was easier than usual, so I need to do some thinking on this front. I do remain convinced that my diet is affecting my performance massively however, and all for the better.

This is much faster than normal and I definitely felt I had more to give.

Cycling

I have upgraded my cycling computer to the Garmin Edge 1030 sensor bundle so I now have a cadence sensor, speed sensor and a heart rate strap. I plan to spend the next few weeks and blog posts going through the Garmin sensor metrics to which I now have access and see what I can do with it all to improve my performance. Stay tuned for that.

Tribute

Today is a day of sadness, and those who understand will appreciate a simple pictorial reference. Goodnight to the Mozart of the Electric Guitar.

Should Cyclists Run?

Today’s Ride

This is an interesting topic. I am inspired to think about this for several reasons. Firstly, I want to run and cycle so I need to ensure that I do each well and safely. Secondly, I am now about to hit double figures for running distances so I am ready to start alternating cycling and running days, mainly to spare my body the pain of daily recovery from an impact sport like running.

Why?

Well, I am not one of those gym bores who bangs on endlessly about targeting muscle groups and suchlike. If that is your bag then crack on but I don’t really envy you. I still love cycling with an indescribable passion, much more so than running or any other sport. I consider myself a cyclist first and hope that whatever else I do will contribute to my prowess on two wheels. That being said, it stands to reason that better runners will be better cyclists, and so I am experimenting with a complimentary approach. Right now I am at the beginning of collecting data and analysing patterns so this is all very new and with that in mind I have to remember several caveats.

  • I have a small data set gathered over only a few weeks
  • I am slightly over eight pounds lighter than a month ago
  • I currently cannot measure things like power whilst cycling

Clearly in future I will need power meter pedals, and a full suite of Garmin tools to measure everything. I will also be a great deal lighter by the time that comes around.

Okay, my bets are now hedged, so I can report early findings. Today I did the Crown Point circuit. I last did this exact route on August 30th this year so below is a chronological data comparison.

The difference is striking and glaringly obvious. In roughly 2.5 weeks have gained 1.4 mph in average speed over the same course. Below is the speed graph comparison from my Garmin Edge 1000.

The results are again obvious. I did not have a particularly fast downhill segment today – there was quite a headwind as it happens – rather I was just faster over the whole course. This suggests a major improvement in physical performance.

Reasons

Is it running that has generated such powerful results? Possibly, however I have also refined my diet from plant- based to whole plant-based. I do not count calories or macros as I have long been convinced that weight gain is caused not by calorie intake but insulin. My commitment to eating whole foods, low glycemic load meals and eating plenty in general means that I am likely gaining significant muscle mass at the expense of body fat. Eight pounds lost in under four weeks is no fluke.

Takeaway Thoughts

Right now several things appear to be working in my favour.

  • Eating a plant-based, whole food diet
  • Fasting at least 16/8, although I often try to reduce my feeding window
  • Varying exercise routines by type
  • Also, forgetting about how fast I run and running on trails that, whilst slow because of the terrain, I actually enjoy. This is better than pounding endless pavement trying to pick up speed and being bored out of my mind.

Clearly things are working. I am on target to be under 14 stones by Christmas, although there is many a slip twixt cup and lip so I am not treating that as a serious target. What I do know is that yes, I think that cyclists should run, and that fasting and eating whole plants rather than just plants is causing me to shed weight so quickly that I’d better be getting some new threads as Christmas gifts!

Running the Treacle Miles

I have a new phrase: treacle miles. I coined it to describe the days such as today when I feel as though I would rather just take it easy in the morning than go running. Those miles can often feel as though I am running through treacle, heavy legs and all that jazz. This morning I did three such miles. The weather looked grim - more so than it actually turned out to be – my legs were heavy and I felt as though I had every reason to stay in bed an extra hour. These are the times when pushing hard is most important, and I completed a three mile run today, again stopping whilst I still had fuel in the tank so as not to go too hard too quickly, or to hurt myself.

Relive

Garmin

Hopefully running through the treacle miles will push me to long distance glory and real endurance running. Smash those treacle miles!

Thinking as Hard as I Cycle

Today’s Ride

Relive

Breakdown

I am slowly adding power and pace to my rides. Yesterday’s and today’s bike ride data summaries are below, sourced from Strava.

As you can see I added distance, elevation and speed to my rides. This is important because I actually had to think about this. As I am increasingly coming to believe, almost all speed gains come from climbs rather than fast downhill cycling. This is partly because cycling where I do there are very few long stretches of downhill or flat road so I just cannot put together long speed segments, and also because I naturally rest a little during downhill segments. I also would suggest that there is more to be gained from working harder on climbs. There seems to me to be more capacity for improvement as I lose dead weight (fat) and add muscle bulk. An extra 2mph added to a climb is surely worth more than going ever faster on the downhill. Plus it is far easier to hit one’s natural speed limits on the downhill than on climbs.

Right now I am hovering around 12mph average speed (this has improved incrementally over time). I want to hit 15mph average as quickly as I can. Most of this gain should come from climbing intelligently and also weight loss. I am burning off fat so quickly that I am visibly changing shape almost daily.

Right now fasting hard and thoughtfully working hard on rides is working.

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.