Tarmac

Today would be one of those old fashioned “Dear Diary” days. More than the usual criteria necessary to write a blog – something actually happened that, at least from my viewpoint, was rather important.

I spent the day painting the kitchen – the last of the rooms at home that needed a fresh lick of paint. Being such a cavernous space, the chore took me the best part of a day, even after starting quite early on.

By the time the evening was well and truly upon me, there was an obvious whiff of paint fumes lingering in the house, and I was sick to death of staring at the pale white, apple-y shade of wall – a massive departure from the pale white, apple-y shade of 24 hours ago.

Long story short, the treadmill wasn’t looking an appealing option at that minute. It was a pretty warm day, and there was the usual lack of a breeze coming into the house. Plus, I was starting Week 4, and “Woman” was expecting a big increase in performance from me….well, 30 seconds more running anyway.

And so I laced up my trainers and headed outside.

Actually, it wasn’t that spontaneous a moment. After shaking off the idea of getting onto the treadmill at about 6pm, I then sat down and thought about going outside. It was still pretty warm, and I figured that I should wait for the sun to go down, and maybe try things out at 8pm. That gave me 2 hours to think about it properly.

This all sounds rather pathetic. After all, I’m sure 95% of runners out there set out on Day 1 by walking out of their house and just putting one foot in front of the other.

But, as it stood, I was interval training. I was running for what was, to a third person, not a great deal of time, and then walking causally whilst my sweaty body recovered in a series of pants and wheezes, and my heart was deciding whether to leap out of my throat, or risk hanging around inside me for a while longer. This was not a good look to be sporting on my local pavements.

By 7pm, I decided that I could get over myself, and then turned back to my dear old iPhone to see if I could get some App support.

As previously, I already had an App in mind when I did so – the Nike + GPS program. Without going into too much detail, Nike + is a system which involves you popping a little sensor into the sole of expensive Nike trainers with a little hole to fit said sensor, and then either your iPod or a Nike watch can track your movements and make a good guess at your speed, distance and calories.

However, instead of paying £14 for a sensor, you can pay £1.99 for the Nike + App, which works with the GPS chip in the iPhone and basically removes the need for a sensor in your shoe, and live tracks you on GPS. This way, you get your speed stats, calorie count, as well as a pretty Google Maps-embedded illustration of your route, which is colour coded to show you the green parts, where you were actually running, and the red sections where you were walking and gasping for breath.

App installed, I rather cleverly dual-ran both the Nike App and my Couch to 10k App, meaning I would get the best of both worlds – GPS tracking, and “Woman” telling me when to run and when to walk.

Setting off, I already had a route in mind. My parent’s house was roughly 5km away according to Google Maps route. 5km sounded perfect, particularly as that was the sort of distance that my treadmill always tells me I’ve done once “Woman” allows me to stop.

In lieu of giving you a blow-by-blow account, let me just summarise and highlight by saying how much of a pleasure it actually turned out to be.

The day before, I had been speaking to my runner-colleague at work, and he was telling me how much more impact a road run has on your knees. I can’t really concur with that.

My route took me through Newcastle town centre, and then down the long, straight road to my old village, across a sports field and ultimately into my parents’ housing estate. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find it difficult, because I really did. The interval training meant that I worked through about 4 or 5 sessions of running and walking by the time I reached the outskirts of my village, and by this point I was tired and ready to give up. Furthermore, a stitch suddenly developed on my right hand side – an enemy I recall well from my, what, three school cross country sessions.

I confess that I faltered on the next session when “Woman” asked me to run for two minutes again. However, after falling behind briefly, a ran a little longer during the walking bit to make up for it, and before I knew it I was at my parents’ driveway.

When I say “before I knew it” I mean it too. It took me just under 40 minutes to travel 5km (I know, rubbish, but let me get to my point). On the treadmill, when I thought I was pushing myself to optimum speeds, that same distance takes me the entire 50-60 minute interval training session. Clearly I was running much faster than I thought I could.

Outside my parents’ gates, I could hear them sat out on the patio enjoying the evening, so I decided to shout to them to get their attention. It was only at this stage, letting out a breathy, high pitched “Hello!?” that I realised that I was actually worn out. My voice was so distorted by my run that a further two shouts didn’t convince my parents to come to unlock the gate for me. Which left me ringing their phone and telling them where I was. It turns out I sounded like a neighbour. A female neighbour no doubt.

I was offered a welcome glass of orange squash, and my parents looked at me rather proudly, seeing me sat with them in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts and trainers. It was at that point that I remembered that the last time they had likely seen me in such a combination of items would have been at my Year 6 sports day. And even then, failing to win any races, I hadn’t made them proud in any sporty sense.

I told them about my plans to run a 10km run, and this seemed to send them back into their original mindset, thinking I was rather delusional, but cute for imagining I could do such a thing. They then asked me if I was planning to run back home for another 5km, but when I looked at the clock and realised Sarah was due home from work 20 minutes later, I sheepishly asked for a car ride home. This seemed to settle my parents’ worries that I was an imposter, and Dad drove me home.

Back home, I logged onto the Nike website and checked my data out. It all read rather well, if I do say so myself. And there is something to be said, something rather rewarding, at being able to look at a map and seeing a decent-sized line drawn upon it, knowing that was you not too long ago.

There is also a much more friendly lady who talks to you through your earphones on the Nike App. She told me when I had run a kilometre, and then would tell how long I had been running for and what my average pace was. “Lady” is much nicer than “Woman,” but both are equally important to me during a run.

In conclusion, I dare say that I’m going to be returning to the local roads. I thought I’d be freaked out at being seen in public, but after not dripping in sweat – clearly thanks to the airflow caused when actually travelling during a run – I was only about as 10% as sweaty as indoors. And I figured that when people drive past me during my 2 minute run sessions, they will only assume I’ve been running for miles. And if someone sees me walking, they’ll just think I’m walking home on a cool down or something. And if the worst comes to the worst, and someone thinks I’m unfit? Well, I should just remember that I hate the general public anyhow.

This would be a good moment to misquote Doc Brown in an appropriate manner. But I figure it would be a bit pathetic.

 

“Roads?…”

 

 

Positives

My last post read rather negatively, so I thought I’d try and balance it out with a more positive skew.
I’ve so far neglected to mention the genuinely good feeling one of my training runs is generating.
I think we all know that it’s an established fact that the chemicals and hormones that your body churns out shortly after physical exercise give you a nice buzz, but seeing as I’ve always been a rather docile character, this “rush” after a run is a rather new treat. It genuinely is encouraging me to go back for more, to push through the hard slog and get to the hormonal reward at the end.
Another quite literal perk is that, for about 2 hours after a run, all my muscles seem to tone up and make me look and feel rather fit. When I wander past the mirror after hopping off the treadmill, (ignoring the sweat) I’m rather impressed by my stomach and it’s sort-of-2-pack appearance.
It’s good enough to drag me back again in a few days time.

London

No, I haven’t done a dry-run for my 10km race, I’ve spent a few days away in the capital visiting Dave, and doing a good deed by picking up Sarah from Welwyn on the way back North.
I managed to cram Day 1 of Week 4 in just before I set off, and I’ve just ticked off Day 2 after getting home.
I’m going to blame 2/3 days of lethargy, but it’s getting pretty tough now.
“Woman” has me doing 2min runs and 3min recoveries for over an hour, and it hurts. By the time I get to the end, I’m overwhelmed by a sensation of relief that it’s actually over.
I’ve done about 12 sessions with the program now, and I’m not too sure I’m getting anywhere with it. Yes, I’ve gone from running 30 seconds at once, up to 2 minutes, but I think I always could run this much before, and I can’t improve. After all, I’ve cranked down the treadmill speed to cope and run more if what I would call a jogging pace now, like I think people road running do.
I’ve got one more run at thus rate to do, and “she” will be expecting me to run 2m30s and recover 2m30s. Genuinely, that worries me.

Running Magazines

Sarah bought me a magazine called “Men’s Running” the other day.
It’s quite interesting that they are clearly capable of filling a magazine with enough articles each and every month. I personally would get writer’s block after scribbling the word “run” in capitals in the middle of my notepad
The same thing has always fascinated me about all of these sorts of fitness publication. Surely, after a few months, you have shown everyone enough ways to get “beach buff”, and explained proper diets, and you can surely sit back and stop writing, safe in the knowledge that every man now “gets” the whole fitness lark.
Obviously, these people want to sell magazines, so they keep tweaking their angles each month, and show you how to get buff in each season, and what do eat alongside each said regime.
When it comes to “Men’s Running”, my magazine told me about diet myths and tried to explain how to train on a busy schedule. Which is all well and good, but once again there is the assumption that you can at least run a fair few miles when you pick up the mag. Telling me to do a mixture of fast and long runs, along with one run up a steep slope each week isn’t very inspiring right now.
The magazine is also full of gadget and shoe reviews. It seems that, much like me, the “man runner” is as keen to shop for new things as he is to trim a minute off of his marathon.
For more than a brief moment, my eye was caught by a rather expensive looking Nike watch-cum-GPS tracker thing. Which would really be quite daft at the moment (“you are still stood on a treadmill in your kitchen…and you are still slow”).
There was also a little article showing a picture of some rather happy men holding medals after completing “my” Bupa 10km. Great. Another reminder.
However, I have to admit I’ve learnt a few things from reading this magazine, and the main thing is that it explains that you can’t expect to lose weight running, unless you also overhaul your diet too.
That sort of made sense, but I was hoping that the 500 extra calories a run was burning would have at least some impact. However, after losing a few kilos in the first week (according to my bathroom scales anyway) I’m not dropping below 80kg at the minute. This would also explain to me why I see people run rather impressive distances with rather unimpressive waist sizes.
Which is fine, seeing as I’ve never been too worried about weight. As long as running, and ultimately the gym, can tone up my spare tyre, then I’ll be happy. I think I’ve started an intervention just before the dreaded “point of no return”. I can still see my toes when standing, and I don’t have an overhang over my belt.
I reckon a good run can suck in this gut of mine, no matter what this magazine has written for the 17th time.

I was right…

So I thought I’d prove the theory I set out in my first entry – you can’t find any blogs about truly rubbish runners.

They all start of implying they are beginners, but then you read past their opening blurb, and at it’s all “…did a really difficult 10 miles this morning. I’ll never run a marathon in 3 weeks at this rate.”

Listen, blogosphere – you aren’t beginners at running. Me and the man with half a lung, or perhaps the woman over there just learning to use her new prosthetic leg, are proper beginners. Stop it!

Or Homer

If you want to see if a really unfit bloke can churn out a decent time in a proper race in a few months time, then stay tuned. I know I’m god-damned curious!

This Sh*t Just Got Real

So, there I was, sat in Starbucks with a work colleague during our lunch break (as one does now one has a better job) and I was trying to relate to his anecdotes of running a half-marathon by telling him how I was training (no need to tell him how slowly, in both a speed and time sense), and he says to me “So why don’t you set yourself a proper goal to stick to?”

Now, I already had a goal, but I didn’t think saying “But my goal is to look cool when I start the gym,” would have won him over. So I shrugged, which was interpreted as “Pray, tell me what my goal should be, Master.”

Anyway, after something of a blur (much like those nights when I agreed to drink Snakebite and Black, only to wake up the next morning covered in purple slime), I’ve only gone and signed myself up for the Bupa London 10km for next year.

I know it’s 9 month’s away, but suddenly I’m going from playing a bit of a game with myself, to signing up for an actual race. And more than that, I told them that I would do it in 45 minutes (you have to tell them your estimated finish time so they start you off at the right position in the pack, so you aren’t either trampled, or pushing past slow-coaches). I said that, having already read for myself that wimpy beginners do it in 60 minutes, and pros do it in 30. So, even though at this second I get breathless at the thought of running flat out for more than 2 minutes, I’m signing up to the concept of putting in a pretty damn good run time at my first race.

Oh my.

It doesn’t look any better when studying the course map either.

Basically, the avoid straining your eyes, I’ve got to run from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London- and back – in 45 minutes. I think the last time I was in London that was a 2 hour stroll, one-way.

Well, there you go. I’ve either set myself up for a real victory, or a massive fall.

Getting Serious (read: Buying Stuff)

So, I’m battling through the third week of “Couch to 10K”, which equates to the 1m30s run / 3m30s walk mix. Winding back the relatively insane speeds of weeks one and two seems to have worked, and although I’m working up a ridiculous sweat, I’m surviving.

The sweat thing is to do with the treadmill, I think. Being where it is in the kitchen, I’m facing a wall, with the patios doors open to my right. The only trouble is that it’s the middle of a fairly decent Summer and there’s no airflow. With no fans in the house, I’m a bit stuck, and consequently rather moist come the end of my hour on the treadmill. Looking in the mirror afterwards, I’m as red as a postbox.

I’ve tried wearing sweatbands without much success – about halfway through, they’re completely saturated, and just start to make my wrists damp and stinky. Not good.

Anyway, so with things *apparently* going so well, I noticed I was getting some pains in my calves. I was going to put it down to exercise ache / sheer unfitness, but it was a weird cramp, on the outside edge of my calves, and not the entire calf. It was a bit weird.

Now, I’m not sure if it’s a case of getting what you read, but…I’d been reading recently about getting some proper running shoes. I was currently running in a 5 year-old pair of Nike Air Max 360s, which were really comfortable for their original purpose when I bought them in 2006, for walking miles around New York City, but I wasn’t very confident they were too good for running.

I’d also seen lots of people on the TV swear by something called gait analysis, which is a very strange term for getting your stride and foot-fall analysed to work out your biomechanics, and consequently work out what sort of shoe (or more specifically, what sort of supportive sole) you need.

So I trawled the internet to work out where in the UK I could get something so clever done. And it turned out I could get it done literally 2 miles from my front door, at Bourne Sports in Stoke town centre. It’s a really old, established local company, which it turned out was a bit of a mecca for running supplies.

So I went down there with Sarah – after telling her the tale of the crampy calves – and the guy in the shop had me run on a treadmill for 30 seconds in my current Nikes whilst a little webcam recorded my feet and legs and fed it into some software. This turned my feet and legs into wireframe, and this let the nice chap very quickly point out to me that I – apparently – “overpronate” – another technical term, this time meaning that I naturally landed on the inside of my heels and balls of my feet, instead of the natural position in the middle of each. This would explain my weird cramps, and more importantly he was able to show me 6 pairs of shoes that would fix me. Basically, you end up wearing a trainer which has a harder material making up the inside portion of the heel, and with normal cushioning on the outside. This makes your foot fall straight, as he showed me on the video once I picked out my preferred pair.

Anecdotally, I picked up a pair of “New Balance” trainers at this stage. 1) because they were marked down from £110 to £80, making them the same price as the others, but technically more expensive, and 2) because I genuinely didn’t know New Balance, and figured I wouldn’t be a brand whore and just pick up a pair of Adidas or Nikes.

Lo and behold, I get home with my new shoes and, yet again, hop online to check them out. There they are – not only are they not a small, obscure brand, but they are also the sneaker of choice of Mr Steve Jobs. Damn it! Now I look like an Apple fanboy. Correction – now I look even more like an Apple fanboy!

So, I’ve been on the treadmill again today, and I’m feeling good. Week three of “The Program” is complete, and I’m feeling optimistic.

Sweaty, but optimistic.