Final Countdown

Okay, it happened.

I’m sure a lot of you out there are now holding out hands and expecting your bookies to pay up on what, frankly, wasn’t that much of an outsider.

Since my last post in February, things have been a bit useless on the running front. I have no excuses as to why. Yes, I spent probably the best part of two weeks during March locked away playing Mass Effect 3, but that is only two weeks out of the last ten or twelve.

Having said that, those were some pretty influential two weeks with Mass Effect 3. This is how I dress for work now, for crying out loud. (Points to those who understand. Double-points for those who applaud me.)

I think during that time I’ve been to the gym a handful of times. The last time I can really have any recollection, I clocked up 8km in about 45 minutes. Which isn’t bad really, but then again it isn’t much better than how it was back around the New Year. It would be remiss of me to be so ignorant to say I’ve hit a performance wall and not realise why. Performance obviously improves with training, of which I have done next to none.

The “big race” is in two weeks as of today, and I haven’t been training in the past 9 days for one simple reason – a bloody cold (no, I’m not sneezing blood, I was just cursing). Yes, of all the times to get a cold, I end up with one smack bang in the month before my big test. I wrote a blog entry way back last year about having a cold, and how my research clearly told me to avoid running, otherwise face nastier consequences. So, I’ve followed my mother’s advice, “kept warm, had fluids and rested”. And rested. And rested. And now, after nine days of resting, I’m rather pissed off. There is still phlegm rattling around my chest. My nose still needs blowing. And I still need more time to shake it off.

Last week, Bupa sent through my pre-race pack. My number patch, or whatever running people call it, informs me I’m number B2937 in red. And, according to the race guide, that places me in the second wave to be released out of nine. They release the elites and pros, and I’m literally in the next wave after that. I feel like raising my hand and telling the race planner “Excuse me, you may remember I filled in my form to say I’d do this in 40 odd minutes, like everyone else with a red ‘B’ on their chests? Well, that may have been a tiny lie. Maybe you should give me a patch with a green ‘C’ on it, like those guys over there running as a camel.”

And yet, another part of me thinks that this is still do-able.

Realistically, I’m going to be running again come this Tuesday, which is the 15th. With or without this phlegm in the back of my throat. I’m now off work (well after tomorrow anyway) until we go down to London, which leaves me with…(counting on my fingers)…10 full days to make a dent in my training.

That just leaves the question as to what I can accomplish in 10 days? My brain, raised since the 1980’s on movies where the hero always manages to overcome any obstacle, means that I’m left with acute optimism. However, I’ve learnt one important lesson from my brief fling with running so far. Positive mental attitude isn’t everything that athletes make it out to be. Not unless you’ve already trained your body to peak physical perfection. Otherwise, like in my case, I slip on my trainers, switch on my running playlist, and for the next 10 minutes I feel like nothing can stop me…and then something inside me really wants to. Whether it’s the niggling early onset of a stitch, a weird twinge in a calf muscle, or just an elevated heartrate that seems unsustainable, eventually my body will fail on me.

Yes, I can slow down and maintain a comfortable, constant running pace. But, when I’m out there in London in two weeks’ time and I’m in the middle of a group of racers who believe (and probably can) run the race in about 40-45 minutes, that means they’ll be running at something like 12-15kph. My current comfort zone is closer to 10kph when I set myself up on a treadmill, and when I do what feels right on the road, I end up at 13kph and end up with one of the list of ailments above well before I hit 5km.

With 10 days to prepare, I’m both excited and utterly, utterly intimidated by this situation. And above all, pissed off with myself for giving up when the going was good. I hate to think where I would be now if I’d kept running properly for the last 5 months. Probably running 10km in 40mins I guess.

I guess the big question is this – can adrenaline and sheer determination save the day? 

I admit it. There is not a single reason that this picture is here other than a fairly useless tie in to the blog title. However, Nick does look like he’s gazing at me with the disappointment he rightfully has in me. Suzie and Rachel seem happy though. Fair enough – with their support, I can do this dammit!

Thinking with Portals

The weather is getting better, thankfully.

As enjoyable as the gym and the treadmill is, I’ve been really missing the road. It’s been months since I’ve been out there, and I’m starting to feel like I’m detached from reality.

Proof of this comes from when I’m running with my Nike+ sensor on the treadmill, and I seem to run further (based on my feet movement and pacing) at 9.5kph vs 11kph. Which makes no sense at all, and just demonstrates how un-natural the treadmill is at simulating what your feet do when given the freedom to just run.

GLaDOS is a lot like Woman, actually...

All of my stats, as useful as they are, aren’t really telling me too much at the minute. Especially as I’m now clearly much fitter than I was last September, and yet my old records for the 10km haven’t been dented since then. I mean, I can even remember writing on here, way back when I was barely running, that I was completing a 10km road circuit in just over an hour, and I still “appear” to be at that skill level.

I need to get out there and see, don’t I?

Because We’re Better Than You

I’ve started to feel like White Goodman recently.

A few months ago, I found comfort in the company of the unfit at the gym. Happily jogging along on the treadmill whilst people quickly came and left gave me comfort and confidence that I was doing well. Nowadays, I’d much rather be at Globo Gym.

The other day, I became fascinated by a fat man wandering around the resistance weights section. I’m talking about a proper fat man, the sort you get on Biggest Loser. The area was all free, and he could have used any item of equipment. What did he pick? The weird machine where you push up on your tiptoes to strengthen your calves.

His calves were fine, everything else was not.

And then we have the same old gang of slim girls who think that wandering around on the treadmill, set at a slight incline for 10 minutes, is enough to keep them looking good once their adolescent metabolism leaves them.

It all annoys me, particularly when I’m working really hard and feeling self-conscious for displaying a bit of sweat.

So, if anybody knows where the next best thing to Globo Gym can be found, get in touch. Please. Before I beat a fat woman to death with a kettle bell.

Beyond Limit Breaks

Running on the treadmill last night, two thoughts occurred to me:

1. The Nike+ system is not very rewarding in terms of showing your progression. I mean, I’m currently at “Green Level”, because I’ve done something like 300km, but I won’t get a higher level until I do 3000km, which is a bit rubbish.

2. I really do like my analogy for the “limit break” kicking in when I get past 40 minutes in a run. To reiterate my earlier blog, a limit break is something from the game Final Fantasy 7 whereby you earn a ‘super-attack’ for taking so much damage / punishment. The buzzy feeling I get in my legs after 40 minutes really does make me think I’m going through a Limit Break.

Therefore, during my lunch hour at work today, I conceived a new tracking system for my running progression. Funnily enough, based on Final Fantasy 7.

This all makes perfect sense.

I basic terms, my total calorie burn allows me to “level up”, meaning I’m currently level 14 out of 99. My total run distance unlocks different, superior weapons for me to use in battle as and when I achieve them, my average pace unlocks extra magic abilities, and my furthest run unlocks summon monsters. I really don’t think I should be bothering to explain these all to you as you will either know what all this means and be smiling by now, or otherwise have no interest in it, regardless of explanation.

Just let it be clear that this tracking system is a massive motivator for me. I really want to, for example, get some more advanced curative magic, unlock Bahamat ZERO and be able to use Ultima Weapon the next time I go to battle…in my mind.

Shut up. This helps!

Fus-Run-Dah!

It has become pretty obvious to me now as to why the running has been relegated into second place…Skyrim.

It took me a while to realise, however it should have been rather obvious, after having poured in excess of 100 hours into a video game in roughly two months.

For the uninitiated, Skyrim is the latest in a long line of role play games, in this case placing you into the role of “the chosen one”, born into a harsh northern realm, plagued with dragons which only you, being the “dragon born” can deal with.

A dragon born can “shout” in the dragons’ tongue, one such shout being “FUS-RO-DAH!” which means Push, Unrelenting Force. And I don’t know why I even wrote that.

Anyway…it’s a big game, and it was a game that was one of few games that I realised that I could earn a prestigious Platinum trophy playing. Again, to explain, on the Playstation, you are awarded trophies for doing certain things within a game, and getting all the trophies earns you a Platinum.

Now, for me, such a possibility is usually remote. You either have to play through on a ridiculous difficulty setting, or have to play both alone (great) and online with others (rubbish). Therefore, I usually write-off most games straight away.

There was one other game where I nearly did it. I earned 91% of the trophies on Assassins Creed 2 before I attempted to get one of the last 3 trophies, only to have the game glitch on me, making the whole thing an impossibility. Wonderful.

And so now, looking at the trophy list on Skyrim, I realised that it was a) not dependent on difficulty and b) single player only. Perfect. The only two things standing against me were the length of the game – probably 120 hours or more, and the fear that the game – renowned for its glitches – would be another impossibility.

Alas, after 100 hours, the end is in sight, and I have a handful of trophies to clock up in order to get the Platinum. I will get it. And unfortunately, it means that trips to the gym are a second priority.

Sorry that this post into my running blog has nothing to do with running, but that’s how it is right now. The sooner I get it done, the sooner I can get running again.

Gaz Begins (Again)

As I lay on the floor of the now-battered elevator carriage, looking up at the fiery carnage far above, my faithful butler took the opportunity to quote my absent father.

“Why do we fall, Gaz?” he paused in his rhethoric. “….So we can pull ourselves up again.”

He, and my father before him, were both right. Firstly, the GazCave was still intact, and I still had a chance to make a difference. Secondly, I was highly delusional and fabricating a plagiarised fantasy in lieu of the reality.

Aside from a rather wonderful session at the gym on Christmas Day, during which I was literally the only soul inhabiting the place (and therefore free to belt out my songs as loud as I fancied whilst I ran), I don’t think my running log will show I ran at any other time during December. And if it does, not really very much.

I can’t really say why either. The cliché might be that I had a hectic social calendar leading up to the festive period, and I was drowning in work before the office closed down. But neither would be true. I survived a rather lacklustre office party without alcohol, and I seem to recall perhaps two or three evenings of meeting up with friends. And the office is rarely stressful enough to spill itself over into the realms of overtime.

No, I feel that the truth is likely much more straightforward. I had fallen off the wagon, strayed from the path, spent more time quoting clichés than going to the gym.

Throughout December, I was acutely aware of this fact, and yet felt powerless to do anything about it. Every night after work, there would seem to be one of those great reasons to stay tucked up in the house (“It’s a half moon and I need to cut my nails!”), and before you know it, Christmas turns up, and the very day when you are allowed to do less than nothing is the one day that I could genuinely say to myself that I had the time.

I forget now what my running time was, but it was something like 30 minutes at a mediocre pace. About as average as my Christmas was this year, to be frank.

And then it took another two weeks until tonight that I managed to twist my arm into going back again.

In this instance, the short sharp jolt kicking me back onto my feet and onto a treadmill was not the destruction of stately Reynolds Manor by the private army of an undead supervillian, but a belt notch.

You see, through the joys of running for the past few months, I’d been able to tighten my trouser belt up by one notch. A major coup for me personally, and one of those physical things that reminded me that what I was doing had some consequence and some benefit.

This evening, I got home from work and suddenly noticed that I had now been cramming my waist into an uncomfortably tight belt. Releasing the clasp made me sigh, and I could feel my belly relax and expand in its new-found, belt-free world of elasticated waistbands which was my tartan loungewear trousers. Hopping on the bathroom scales showed a festive increase of 2 pounds.

At that moment, my house had been torched to a cinder and I had flung myself down the old elevator.

It was time to exact my revenge.

Hopping onto the treadmill tonight was a nerve-racking affair. Even with the relatively fresh memory of getting through a 30 minute run a week or two ago, I had the horrible feeling I may last half as long. It had been a tiring week of early mornings and late nights, and I had decided to dose myself up with a power-shake of protein, oats and dextrose, as well as carry a bottle of Lucozade Sport for the run itself.

I am humble enough to admit that all of the potions and solutions coursing through my body were likely responsible for my survival of a 40 minute, 7.5km run this evening. My mind was certainly trying to dissuade me from continuing after the 15 minute mark.

I was, in truth, trying to complete my Week 11 / Day 3 run with Woman, which is in fact a 40 minute run, 1 minute walk, and final 10 minute blast. But, come the 40 minute mark, I was genuinely fatigued, and there was nothing that was going to get me back to a running pace once I slowed down for my walk. But I was happy with 40 minutes, considering my misbehaviour.

It’s now more or less five months until the race. Taking today as the benchmark – 40 minutes equating to 7.5km, it’s quite obvious that I need a 30% improvement to reach my race pace goal.

As is my nature, I’ve cooked up a spreadsheet showing what I need to do, what speed and what time, and it looks like I’m going to have my work cut out for me to get race-ready by May.

To summarise a screen full of numbers, I’m currently running comfortably (or at least without collapsing in a heap) at 9.5kph for anything up to an hour. Obviously, a simple sum tells you that 10km isn’t clocked up within an hour. Running for 50 minutes nets you 7.92km.

Instead of running for longer, which I won’t be planning on doing for the race, I plan to run for 50mins, slowly increasing my pace from 9.5kph by 0.1kph each session, three times a week, until I hit 10km. In the 2nd week of March, I’ll be running 12kph and clocking 10km in 50mins. Then, I’ll keep creeping up the practice of increasing the pace. By week 2 of April I’ll be hitting 10km in just under 45 minutes. Pushing it all the way up to the first week in May (body allowing), I’ll be touching 10km in 40 minutes. My original estimation of 43 minutes, which I submitted to the race organisers, will be achieved in the last week of April.

So, it all sounds wonderfully theoretical and perfect. But we’ll see how it goes. My theory is that by only increasing my pace by a total of 0.3kph over a week should mean that my body naturally improves and never feels too pushed.

And so maybe, just maybe, I can save this city from itself. I’m not the runner that Stoke on Trent deserves, but the one that it needs.

I'm very conscious in the gym shower, and so have taken to wearing a combat suit whilst conditioning.

Disappearing Act

So, what the hell happened there? It’s been like 6 weeks since that last post.

During my absence, I was inundated with literally one message querying my current mortal status. Worry not, I’m alive and well, and more to the point, do not worry that I have given up.

The running is going rather well, I must say. Though it seems a little ridiculous to use the chronology of this App after so long, I’m now just coming to the end of their “Week 11”, leaving me with about 4 more sessions before they kick me off their training wagon and tell me to sort myself out.

And that shouldn’t be a problem, based on my current progress. 6 weeks ago, when I was last talking to you about the interval training, I was whinging about it asking me to run for 10 minutes with a 1-2 minute break in between. Well, not long after that, the difficulty curve went up pretty quickly. 10 became 20, then 25, 30 and now I’m being asked to run for 40 minutes, take a 1 minute breather, and then top it off with another 10 minute blast. And the remarkable thing is that I’m managing it.

The last session it had me running 35 minutes, taking a 1 minute walking break, then another 25 minutes. Which equated to 11km. My pod tracked me to running the 10km target distance in just under 52 minutes. It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was talking about a 69 minute run, and wondering how I could improve it. Taking another 9 minutes off my time before the race next May seems rather straightforward now, if I do say so myself.

Aside from my actions on the treadmill – and perhaps linked to it – is my recent foray into the world of supplements.

I posted an entry a few months ago about taking vitamins and fish oils every day to see if they improved anything. Well, I dare say that they have. By now, just making my way into December, I would normally just be getting over my first cold of the season. Not so this year. The rest of my office have fallen foul of it, but so far I’ve gotten away with just a brief sniffle. I can only put this down to my vitamins and minerals, I think. And as for the fish oils, well my left knee still complains a bit during runs, but it’s never failed on me and caused me to take time off through injury. So that has to be something.

In addition to this initial phase of supplementation, I’ve also moved on to trying “shakes”.

Nope, not quite me yet

There is a vending machine at the gym which sells bottles containing a portion of this powder, which you take over to the drinks fountain and add water to. And they cost something like £2 a go.

Going to the same company’s website (once you get through the overwhelming number of products being thrown at you) you eventually work out that buying the stuff in bulk will cost you about £50 and last at least 6 weeks, taken twice a day, every day. Which is a lot cheaper, sufficed to say.

Basically, it boils down to the following:

Whey Protein – this stuff is the foundation of the shake mix, and comes in different flavours to form a milkshake (I’ve not tried it with water as it sounds nasty). It is pure protein which is meant to help you improve muscle mass, if that’s what you’re interested in, or just improve your diet if not. The certain variety that I buy also contains probiotics and other clever bits and pieces which are meant to improve your digestion.

Instant Oats – this is basically porridge oats which have been machine ground down into a floury consistency, which mix into the protein shake and 1) make it thick like a smoothie, and 2) give you slow-release energy. I find a shake of protein and whey at 6am when I wake up for work lasts until 1pm lunch, which is better than any other breakfast I’ve tried.

Dextrose – this is a type of quick-burn glucose that you drink after a workout session, and it instantly refuels your energy (and if you haven’t been working out, makes you go hyper for about an hour!)

Creatine Monohydrate – you put a tiny teaspoon of this into a shake before a workout, and…well, I forget what the website told me it did, but it something along the lines of helping your muscles to repair themselves and stops you getting that horrible next-day pain. Which it does.

So, you take the four items above in various different combinations based on the circumstances (though always the protein) and that’s it. No, I don’t look like the man in that picture, but then again I have put on a little bit of muscle here and there. Considering I don’t grunt and lift proper weights in the gym, I’m happy.

And seeing as I’m coping with these big runs nowadays, I’m inclined to say that these dietary supplements are a big helping hand. I know I started off on this whole quest saying that I wouldn’t stop eating my normal diet. And I really haven’t intentionally stopped anything. I still eat big fatty meals when I feel like it, and I still eat snacks when I want. But the truth is that I just don’t want what I used to. I can’t take sugar in my drinks any more, I no longer have fizzy drinks in the house, and I can no longer binge on a bag of those big cookies from the supermarket bakery without literally feeling rather sick. My body is changing. Not into some superhero physique, but enough that I’m optimistic it’s a degree or two healthier, and capable of keeping me alive long enough to grow senile and forget about all this hard work.

And doesn’t that make it worthwhile?