Saturday, April 30, 2016

Target180 weekly sum-up: a week of good progress

So I went and declared much of my intention in my last post around turning my fitness around in roughly six months, and now I am going about working on some of the key elements.

So this week just gone I have been busy racking up as much walking as I could without taking time out of other things. Walking into work one day, taking my lunch out to the park and walking a couple of laps, not taking the lift using the stairs, walking to a meeting across town rather than ordering a taxi - all of which have felt great and haven't left me overly tired.

The bullet-point for the week summary runs something like :-

  • everyday this week I crashed through the 10,000 steps mark, topping out at 20,868 one day.
  • ran on Tuesday (5km) and Thursday (8.3km)
  • ran at a better pace than I have in months in both run sessions
  • dropped another 1.5lb of body mass
  • my trousers are definitively looser and my back is feeling much better
  • generally noting that my face looks less puffy and bloated - even got a complement from Mrs.H. that I was looking better (!! heheh)
  • made some great choices around food without feeling that I was depriving myself
So basically without following any of the many many regimes listed on (really there is such a page and such a list), I have eaten sensibly without changing the nature of the food, and moved more. Holy-moly I think I may have hit upon a genius new diet fad system... ah no, wait... "eat less, move more" I've definitely heard that somewhere before.
Fabulous dinner earlier this week - Honey mustard chicken thighs with spinach and peas (something from a BBC Good Food recipe I think)
The next measure of 'progress', or moreover my current fitness, is the Milton Keynes half marathon on Monday. I am really looking forward to it even though my race pack was lost in the post and I have to go to the trouble of queueing for a replacement on the morning of the race (the race pack and number arrived at the eleventh hour, so I'm all kitted up and ready to go). I have a huge soft spot for the town, and the event as it where I ran my first ever marathon four years ago (time flies). We are travelling as a posse and if the weather plays ball a good time will be had by all - I don't mind rain while I run, the family stood watching tend to have a much clearer preference for the dry.
Blue Concrete Pavement With 100m Sprint Paint
Just have to remember Monday is a half-marathon and not one of these :-)
Pacing wise I have to be careful not to let my head lead the way, and listen to my body instead. The 'plan' is to go out close to my average pace for the Cardiff Half, where I blew up in the last quarter of the course, and take this run more conservatively. The people around the course in Milton Keynes are usually fantastic so I hope to enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy the process of running a half marathon with no pressure or anxiety.

Have a good running weekend and I hope your projects and targets are going well.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Target180 - my new personal challenge

Having turned over most of the bad habits of the last few months and reset myself pretty well I started to look at goals / challenges. I wanted something to hang my efforts, on a little phrase (a mantra if you like those sorts of things), a short memory aid, something to keep in mind during a long run or tough session. I mulled over all sorts of stuff numbers came up quite a lot, goal times, numbers of events run, that sort of thing.

Eventually, I settled on 180 - the 'logic' being I should be able to turn around my running form in about 6 months (a sensibly long time I reasoned), and at the end get a personal best in some event or distance or another. Probably targeting the autumn Cardiff Half marathon, though not definitively as I'm leaving it open so that the chosen event doesn't consume all of my thinking - I want this to be about process and all around signs of improvement. So, 6 months is sort of 180 days taking 30 days in a month... then the number resonated and caught my imagination - 180 degrees, an about turn, a complete change of direction. An about face on the slide in fitness, activity, and body weight since the New Year.

So to set some benchmarks and give a feeling of the scale of this process and progress towards my Target180...

  • I just ran my slowest half-marathon, 2:13:44 (Cardiff World Championships half-marathon, 26th March)
  • This weekend just gone I ran my third slowest timed 5K, 28.08 (Cardiff parkrun, 23rd April)
  • I was at my heaviest in over 5 years, at 15st 9lbs (99.3kg), on the 13th of April
The early signs are good, I've dropped 8lbs, my trousers which were getting uncomfortably tight are fitting better, my running feels less of an effort than it has for weeks, and I am generally finding lots of small ways to increase my movement. Motivation at the moment is very high and a little like the early progress needs some careful looking after. In fact the biggest challenge in any journey like this is to manage your expectations and cultivate your patience. It is far to easy to rush at the target and forget that there is a timeframe. Despite immediate look of all those before and after pictures that flood the health and wellness social media (and mainstream media) there are always large gaps in time hidden between the two photo - unless they are faked of course, as many reportedly are.

My Target180 is a journey and it has started, it didn't have a hard start date and won't have a hard finish date, after roughly 6 months the aim is to have made that turnaround and be travelling towards better fitness.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I wish I was running the London Marathon

I have tried for years, for longer than I have been blogging, to get into the London marathon via the public ballot, and for years I have failed. Of course I could have asked for any number of charity berths, raised the required amount of money, and run in any of those years, but something of that extra undertaking with the pressure of a financial target on top of training, home- and work- life stopped me. Then again I could have gone and trained and gained a good for age pace, but all signs point to me only ever being an average runner of average talent (take a look at my 'event history' page for proof), and moreover an average training budget* [* time I have 'spare' to train].

Does it look like I am bitter? I have after all run the Berlin marathon twice and a proportionally smaller number of people from the UK will have done that. I am not sure if I am bitter or not, but each passing year I get a little more jealous of those that have done it, a little more keen, and a whole lot more convinced that if I ever do it it will be a massive highlight of my running 'career'. I ask myself after I ponder each passing London "How would I feel if I never do it?" and feel a more than a little sad at the prospect. Next year I am finally contemplating biting down on the wooden stick and asking for a charity place. My big fear is that by that time I will have nibbled away at my family, friends and colleagues for charity offerings once too often in recent times and that it will be an uphill struggle for a race that I would really want to enjoy to its fullest.

It isn't long until the next ballot opens and I will earnestly begin my annual calculation of what I might do for next year if a "No" comes of it again (go around the ballot route the following year, or chase that charity spot). In the meanwhile I will watch the coverage, with many smiles of joy at the stories and incredible tales of triumph over adversity that always come out of every London marathon, and all the while quietly hope that next year might just be my year.

Good luck on Sunday if you are running London, go out enjoy it, and run a blinder for me. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Time moving, time not moving - the return of wittering on Wednesday?

Time moving yesterday was 20 minutes running with Dr.C. last night, it was excellent and a fair bit quicker than any of my other recent sessions. It was good banter that always distracts from the distance travelled. Perhaps the most stunning part of the run was that my Garmin found a satellite in reasonable time and moreover the sun was out.
The park in the sunshine yesterday
The time I spent not moving was sitting in the park at lunchtime enjoying the spring sunshine and eating a bar of chocolate very slowly. It took me over five minutes of mindful eating to savour the treat, which is greater than 10x more time than it would have taken me to eat it a month ago. While it is not a job completed over the last week I have been reacquainting myself with good food habits and feeling much better for it. Too early to report my slump is over but the signs are looking hopeful.

On another day I would demolish these in one sitting
I hope your Wednesday is full of good news and not to much chocolate.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Our adventures at junior parkrun

Volunteering at junior parkrun* is just the best thing I have done in running (well not actually physically running, but you know what I mean) this year. Each Sunday morning the family get ourselves over to the second nearest junior parkrun to us because the start time means we simply have enough time to get there and because it is in the grounds of a National Trust property (Tredegar House, Newport). The location is great, the team are super friendly, the course is nicely contained, the Brewhouse tearoom (and shop) is fabulous after each event - the kids have a minor hot chocolate addiction growing because of it, and the adults likewise a cake addiction.

Keen runners at the startline
Volunteering was a revelation for me, not because I haven't volunteered for things in the past but because of the huge buzz I get seeing the kids run with such freedom and joy shining out of their faces (most of the time) . The weather plays a role each week, and quite apart from the ever changing cast of characters, sets up each run in a slightly different tone. Be that the joy the children get jumping in muddy puddles, the smiles of parents when the sun is out, the stoicism of the volunteers when its windy. There is always something that reminds you of the best sort of human kindnesses and joys in the simply free fun 2k run.

Finish tokens ready to hand out
Junior parkrun has athletic royalty as a figure head, Chrissie Wellington (multiple Ironman distance World champ) who has as her twitter handle @ChrissieSmiles - something apparently she was famed for during her competitions. That is actually, for me, junior parkrun in a nutshell, the secret to the whole thing, smiles - most of the time everyone just smiles.

Our kids have a ball, chase friends, ask for their times, enjoy the hot chocolate (!), and hopefully most of all are learning that sports, sports event and sports participation are something for life and something for smiling about. I certainly feel awful on weeks we can't make it as I miss the buzz, but moreover those weeks we can't go the kids get upset too :-)

The family all in after a rainy Winter run
In a week where events in the UK parkrun world have been shaped by people who perhaps don't fully appreciate all that parkrun is, or all the it gives to a community and try to draw money out of it, I thank my lucky stars that we have something as elegantly brilliant and accessible on our door step. I could write simply pages about my thoughts on the Little Stoke parkrun situation, but instead I will simply enjoy the buzz from yesterdays junior parkrun in Newport and hope that a happy settlement will allow others to continue to enjoy the same free from imposed costs parkrun joy.

* junior parkrun events are run over a 2 km course for juniors only between the ages of 4 to 14 years old.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Starting with the inside work - Headspace

A footnote was added on the 17-04-2016.

I have a future event that I mentioned in my last post, the autumn 2016 Cardiff University Cardiff Half marathon, is now definitely my fitness 'target'. Over the last days my thoughts and feelings around getting back to where I was (lighter, stronger, faster around 13.1miles of running), have really crystallised bringing with it a sense of growing purpose. It is easy to suggest that I might be putting all my eggs in the one basket ,but a clear the distant enough goal works for me and I will be aware not to over endow the half marathon as the 'be all, end all' of my focus.

So I have a point on the horizon, and again there was somewhere else to start from my last post - the realisation of nutrition issues. Here is where the core of the work has to begin, my body will absolutely tell me what it thinks of running this heavy (with body fat) with likely feedback in the form of injury. To tackle the issue I tried the old approaches only to come to realise that I had to smarten them up. How? Well with some specific inside work on my brain itself - I had a lobotomy - I got some Headspace.

What is that?
Headspace is a system / app / technique for mindful mediation in a busy life{1}. It sits on my phone and I tap the app once a day to follow a series of 20 minute meditations{2} led by one of the founders of the company, a former Buddhist monk and circus arts graduate, Andy Puddicombe. Web search either the app or Andy and you will easily find / read a quite unique origin story to Headspace from multiple sources and outlets.
This time I am using mindfulness to recognise and be comfortable with my thoughts around eating. Looking to be more aware of what and when I put things in my mouth. No, it is not a diet app and I am not aware of any packs (series of sessions) on nutrition / eating specifically, I am simply using it to remind myself to be present in the moment and monitor my reactions to my habits. In fact I have had the app for a long time on my phone and revisited it periodically to try and form a habit of doing it (I had a PB of around 7-8 consecutive sessions), always seeing benefits but not managing for a string of 'reasons' to stick with it.

Thus far I have set a PB for sessions days completed (not that it is ever about notches on a post) and found that being generally more mindful has indeed benefited my eating... it has been several days since a chocolate binge (or similar). It isn't fitness work in the mechanics of running sense but in every other sense it is absolutely about fitness - fitness of my grey matter, fitness of my habits, fitness of my nutrition. Long may it continue, as 'doing the inside work' really should be at the foundation of most endeavours. Getting out of your own way is often the key to getting started. The balance that I am beginning to pull together (I have much still to do), is the base upon which I look to build good things.

{1} nothing in this aside about the Headspace app was inspired by anything other than my own meandering experiences, trust me a search for info on them will quickly show you that they don't particularly need my endorsement.
{2} the entry to Headspace is via 10 free 10 minute sessions, so don't let the sound of 20 minutes put you off trying it.

Somewhat coincidently Andy tweeted this on his twitter account a few hours after my post, and got me thinking about the tone of my original post. I was not in any way implying that I was using the app to become something I wish to be. The purpose of the meditations I tried to explain here are to simply be more aware of my thoughts through any given day and observe how they are impacting my choices and decisions around food. Basically noting the noisy habitual clutter of busy thinking that I am in the habit of using to shroud and ignore in the moment day-to-day choices. I am clearly not quite skilled enough to describe quite what I am getting out of mindfulness practice, but please don't let me put you off of your own discovery experience...

Andy Puddicombe (@andypuddicombe)
Headspace: less about projecting who we wish we were, and more about becoming comfortable with who we are. #mindfulness

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tired of starting over - trying to refind the joy

The thought of starting over again is filling me with a sense of foreboding... I am a very long way from where I was and from where I would like to be. Happily I have started planning and have begun making some decisions. There are for example 24 weeks until the autumn (standard) version of the Cardiff Half marathon where I can run the same course that I just set my personal worst on, and see how far I can put that right.

First things first - nutrition! At the moment I am eating extremely badly, worse than I have for a long long time. I have on several occasions found myself (and it does feel like I found myself because it is so 'mindless') binge eating. At the moment I am lacking what some like to call 'balance' in my approach to food. Truth be told I am just not enjoying my food at all at the moment, it feels like a chore or something I should just grab between doing other things. So I tried to restore a bit of mindfulness to proceedings by picking up the food tracker app... that didn't last very long as it seemed to add to the feeling of food as a process not as a joy.

So apart from trying to rekindle some run training over the next couple of weeks I have a bit of a battle on my hands to readdress these bad habits that have grown up like pernicious weeds around my eating. I am going to try and make things as simple as I can and give myself as much opportunity as possible to sit with my food and enjoy it - eating mindfully and not mindlessly - and find some form of balance to stem my insistent and steady weight gain.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Wading through treacle

At the moment I just have the deep seated feeling of being stuck, wading through heavy treacle, this is more than just losing my running mojo. I am at the heavy end of my weight yo-yo and threatening even to top that. When I get into exercise I am fine but I am struggling with eating it is just too convenient and to quick to shove in my mouth. I am comfort eating at the moment, with all that has gone on this year I seem to have lost my resistance and sense of food proportion. It is not as if I haven't tried to get things back on track I have but no old tactic seems to work for more than a day or two. At the moment I am drowning in the 'shoulds', and can't seem to shake even one of them.

Targets? I have them in abundance just don't ask me to do anything about them at the moment - I'd just as soon carry on soaking in the self-pity. What is so bad that I am enjoying a pity party? That is just it I can't say for sure as it is a mix of small and big stuff that seems to have formed a formidably large dam. Probably the biggest thing is the lack of any routine as just at the moment I seem to be in permanent response mode.

Worst of it all is that I know that I have all the answers and know where I can find all the tools I need. I just can't quite reach out grab them and get on with this. We have a long weekend coming up so all I can do is try and gather some energy during that to get to fixing some of the small stuff to get my feet out of the treacle.

Hope things are going well where you are.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

First bike ride in ages with a long way to go

This morning I actually got around to getting my stuff together and getting on my bike for the commute to work. It was so overdue, and in fact so revealing... it was not comfortable! I have always been someone who enjoyed just jumping on a bike, but this morning I found that the combination of my grumbling back, my utter lack of base fitness, and a overly heavy back pack just didn't make for much fun at all.
By Alex E. Proimos -, CC BY 2.0,

Rome allegedly wasn't built in a day, which I am glad about because whilst I may not quite be the size of an nascent ancient city I clearly have a lot of ground work to do. The size of my current task is dawning on me in the form of a huge smack around the face this week.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Bloggers no more - retiring some blogs from my blog roll :-(

Photo Stuart Miles.
Stock photo - Image ID: 100258862
Looking at my blog I realised that there are links to some blogs that look quite dated and haven't been updated in a long while. I go long periods between posts but this handful look to have properly come to natural ends.

So these are blogs I used to read but that have sadly stopped posting for over 2 years :

2 Slow 4 Boston - used to be an active and creative blog that I found a little late in its run. Jon even went to the trouble of producing a database for run bloggers that aimed to connect the community in the USA (and elsewhere). The blog though no longer updated after 3 years remains a fun read, with plenty of pitcures, charts, and chat.

La corredora - Clara, a self confessed lazy ultrarunner was never lazy about the detail in her posts. Engaging reads and a flavour of the longer run life, stopped posting 2 years ago (having blogged for 5 years).

beyond DESTINATION 26.2 - a fun and often high energy blog that came to a halt for incredibly sad and thus entirely understandable reasons. I do hope that Linz's world is now more settled and that her family are all well - her last post was titled "Life..."  Have a look back through at some fun stuff, including some interesting smoothie recipes.

Fit Goddess - adept at race reports with pictures (something I have failed at many times in the past), and with a lovely sense of fun I found this blog a bit late too. Always an uncluttered and easy read, a shame Theia didn't keep things going.

Morning Runner - looking at the four blogs above, this follows a similar pattern - started in 2008, enjoyed a posting boom, and then sadly petered out (final post). This blog followed Jen, a former college athlete, in her running adventures and the challenges / fun of balancing life - work - training - races. Like any of the previous four it is well worth poking around the blog archive for some gems of wisdom (and recipes - not that thats all I look out for).

I am off to look for new running / run fitness blogs to read and include... I am hoping the trend of dead blogs on my blog roll isn't indicative of a complete move away from long form blogging to the 'microblog' worlds of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, et al.??

If "FollowFriday / #FF" was still a thing, and these blogs were active, I would have had these as mine today.