Why Wellness Matters

Fitness is big business, am I right? Everyone wants to be fit. Fitness, fitness, fitness. Well I am not too worried about fitness because for a long time now I have been prioritising wellness. Wellness, as defined by the sense of being healthy and well, feeling good and positive, of being fit for a purpose in life, able to carry a burden and so forth. Here are five reasons why.

1. Fitness is unattainable.

When pursuing fitness, when does one stop? Running a half marathon? A marathon? Lifting twice your body weight and the putting it back down again? A triathlon? An Ironman race?

The answer is none of the above, because fitness is relative. To get fit is to be fitter than you used to be. This all sounds very nice but at some point you will reach the terminus of fitness where it clashes with the rest of your life. Then what? You have not yet attained fitness, but now must make a decision, whether or not to chase fitness to your own detriment.

2. Wellness is aligned with purpose.

Wellness is not a pursuit. It is an end in itself. You are either well or not. There are no increments of wellness. Wellness is a target that is not only attainable, but once one achieves it one gains rest from the pursuit and other things can be done.

When I feel well I know what I did to achieve that, and I am able to maintain it. It is the point where I can swim, cycle or run or whatever for the joy of it, and that is a great place to be.

1. One cannot overdo or overindulge in wellness.

We have all heard it: ‘no pain, no gain.’

This phrase is so toxic. We all know what it means right? No, because that attitude causes injury, causes people to continue to train whilst carrying an injury and it promotes the notion that fitness must be paid for with misery and agony. Wellness is not like that. You will not exercise through pain when you wish to be well because you know that a rest is needed. Additionally, because you are not chasing the moving target of fitness you do not beat yourself up when you take time to rest. There is no problem because you know that what you are doing will make you well.

4. Wellness is generative.

I have radically raised my immunity by targeting wellness. Once my perspective shifted towards this as a priority I realised that running, cycling or otherwise training myself half to death is not what I need. So I have been taking vitamin D3 for a long time now. Whilst I occasionally pick up a bug as we all do, now I have noticed that I no longer get it every couple of months. By prioritising being well I have managed my body and it has been a radical shift in my health. Fitness does not cure sickness, wellness does. By working towards wellness I have generated better health, better immunity and a better lifestyle.

5. Wellness is liberty and freedom

It may well be a cliche, but when you have your health you have everything. Wellness allows you to live on your feet rather than die on your knees. Whilst none of us knows how or when the end will arrive, we can do everything in our power to avoid slowly dying of preventable metabolic disease, cancer or similar. I do not want to spend the last decades of my life falling apart. I may be unlucky, who knows, but I can make wellness my lifestyle choice and give myself every chance of a healthy and prosperous second half of my life innings.

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.

Lessons From the Trail

Things I have learned from running on the trail.

1. Silence is golden.

If you are introverted then running, or any other exercise that can be done in a solitary fashion, is the best way to start the day. I love nothing more than suiting up, plugging into a podcast or audiobook on my watch and disappearing to the middle of nowhere. Nobody knows where I am, it is quiet and deserted and the day has yet to begin so no cars or other fuss is around. Heaven. So good for the soul and brain.

2. Green is also golden.

Green is good for you. Not just food, but the spectacle. If you are outdoors in the greenery you are flourishing, and that is just a fact.

3. Sunrise is… er… golden.

Watching the sun come up. What absolute bliss, to be running through beauty, seeing beauty slowly appear and then watching it bathe the beauty in more beauty. Did I say beauty? I meant beauty.

Beauty.

4. Trails are better than roads.

If I must run on the road I do so on roads surrounded by green, but all things being equal I would rather be on the trail. Why? The soft grass underfoot, the animal sounds, the cool of the morning under a tree canopy, the moisture of life in the air, the smell of vegetation. I mean, can’t you just sense it all now?

5. Bathing in nature.

Gyms are stupid because human beings are meant to be outside. It is our birthright. Who the hell wants to spend time in a smelly, sweaty room full of sweaty, smelly people listening to dreadful music, trying to avoid eye contact with talking people who want to talk to you, all the while you are lifting things up and putting them down again. I mean, does that sound like appropriate behaviour for a real man? And then there are the posers who look at themselves all the time, the roarers who cannot exercise without panting and grunting and the talking people. Did I mention the talking people? These people want to talk to other people. I do not like the talking people.

Plus, why endure that when you can be outside, bathing in nature?

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.

Nine Minute Miles: Smashed

Today I ran around a local waterway, Clowbridge Reservoir, and by god I smashed the time, beating nine minute miles. Granted, this is only a two mile run but since I am building again after injury – getting good distance hopefully quicker than last time – I am putting this one in the win column. Hell, I kicked the ass out of my previous best by a minute per mile. I can only presume my whole plant diet is powering this because I barely feel at all tired after legging it as fast as I can for 18 minutes. If not then god knows where this is coming from, but I am not complaining.

Is it possible that I could get below eight minute miles? At any distance that would be thrilling for me. I guess I can only watch my data and see where this goes.

Strava

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!

Approaching Double Figures, Ice Baths and Smoothie Bowls

My most recent two runs are below. I am making good progress. I also tried my first ice bath as an aid to recovery, and I screamed like a big girlie girl, especially when the water reached my nipples. In my defence it was so cold in there that it burned, however it seems to have been effective as my muscles are nowhere near as sore as they have been. This will be an interesting ongoing experiment. I will keep doing it to see what the effect is on my body. Right now I can tell you that it felt great afterwards. My whole body felt like my mouth does after brushing my teeth! Extreme cold exposure is linked to longevity and excellent health and muscles recovery so I hope that this will help me get fitter faster.

Strava Data

The eight mile one was agony but today I flew over a new route and trail. The first half was more or less nonstop climbing, but the second half was a beautiful trail. Photo below. You can see that my time vastly improved today, which is encouraging because I climbed a massive hill on the first half of the run.

Double figures for miles covered are imminent. I have my eye on a half marathon, then to pass my best ever distance, fifteen miles. Once that is done I am going all in to to complete a marathon-distance run.

Food

In the meantime I have been scoffing plenty of good food, recipes to come soon, and below are some lovely photos of my smoothie bowls. Be sure to check out my Instagram for more photos and recipes.

The Joy of the Trail

I may have said on here, about a million times, that I am not a fast runner. This is true, and today I ran a very slow seven miles, however I ran almost all of it off road, often hacking through vegetation and running through muddy, swampy terrain, mostly uphill, occasionally power walking when it became very difficult and thick in vegetation. Despite being pretty slow, I think I can endure a lot which bodes well for the future. Below are the distances from the last three days.

Even better, my resting heart rate is now 44 bpm.

The Joy of the Trail

Slow as I may be, god I love trail running. Being in the countryside – on this occasion National Trust land – brings a joy that I simply find indescribable. Getting away from traffic and people is something that makes me feel as though I am experiencing life at its most beautiful. No matter how much faster I am able to run on the road, the hard work and graft involved in running trails, with all of the twisting and turning, and tough terrain, I simply love it. The happiness and exhilaration found in running under a wild tree canopy in a forest is the only drug I will ever need.

Relive