It’s January, and whilst I don’t particularly do New Year’s Resolutions, I thought this month I would share some habits I’ve recently started and want to continue with.
One of the hardest parts of being in self-isolation was not being able to go outside to exercise. I’ve occasionally gone for a run first thing, but along with waking up earlier, I wanted to make this into more of routine. I’ve noticed previously that days that have started with a run have generally felt much better. Even I’ve mentally forgotten by the time I’ve gotten into the office that I started the day with a run, the psychological benefits last throughout the whole day.
And so I decided that every day should start with a run. Nothing complicated, generally just a simple run around my block (which is just over 2km). You may recall that I ran 5km every day back in September, so I knew it wasn’t impossible. I wasn’t going to run on weekends as I like to do my longer runs then, but even after only a couple of weeks, it already feels very odd to have breakfast without having been for a run first.
There is however a big challenge. Now we’re back in lockdown, exercise outdoors is only allowed once per day. A 2km run first thing in the morning is fine if I’m heading into the office afterwards, but if I’m working from home and only allowed out once per day, do I really want it to just be for a 2km run around the block? And what about days when I want to do a longer run anyway?
And that’s partly why this new habit is “exercise” rather than “running”. Whilst a 2km run first thing is nice (mainly for the smugness of being up and about before everyone else is up), sometimes it’s not going to be the best option for that day. And so if that means my daily exercise is staying in with a Joe Wicks workout video, or meeting a friend for a long walk, that’s fine too. Just as long as I try to do something every day.
Towards the end of August, I felt like I was in a bit of a rut and wanted to do something different. Chatting to a friend, he had read about a challenge to run 5km every day in September and suggested we both do it. He obviously ended up not even starting the challenge, but I did. And I finished it. (And I roped in my two brothers too along the way.) Here’s my thoughts on it:
Variety – Even before I started I knew that I would want some variety – variety in when I ran, and variety in where I ran. In the end, this turned out to not be so much of a problem due to my changing work schedule over the month, including being away for two of the weeks.
Planning routes – The challenge was to run at least 5km per day. I was thinking of doing some significantly longer runs in there too, but in the end I decided against this. I generally aimed to have runs between 5.1 and 5.5km in length since the GPS sometimes cuts off bits so I wanted to make sure I definitely hit the 5km and target, but didn’t want to exceed it needlessly. Having decided I would do a different route each day, this meant a lot of time spent planning where to run. My ideal route would be a single loop, starting and ending at the same point. I reckon I spent about 1 minute of planning a route for every 5 minutes of actual running. This obviously depended on the route, but some routes were much more complex. I also needed to have backup sections that I could add on if I hadn’t reached the 5km target when I thought I would (which did happen a couple of times). Only twice did I do an “out-and-back” run when I ran for 2.5km and then turned around.
Distance – My total distance for the month was 156.77 km, which averages out at 5.23 km per day. My longest run was 5.66km whilst my shortest was 5.02km, but otherwise they mostly all fell into the 5.1-5.5km range.
Speed – My total running time for the month was 14 hours, 33 minutes and 10 seconds, with an average of 29 minutes and 6 seconds per run. But since the distances varied slightly, and the terrain and the routes varied every day it’s not possible to realistically compare them all. For example, one of the days I ran through a woodland at night time without a torch, so spent most of the run waving my arms in front of me to make sure I didn’t run into a tree. Knowing that I would have to run every day, I deliberately ran at a pace that was comfortable, rather than going full out (“marathon not a sprint”). Since none of my runs were races, there was also no incentive to actually run fast. My fastest run was one of the “out-and-backs” along a straight country road, which shows that turning corners and crossing other roads slows the pace down. My fastest run was on the final day, probably because I knew it was all over and I knew I didn’t have to run again the next day. [That’s what happens when you write a blog post with three days of activity left to do.]
Anyway, here’s it all plotted on a slightly complicated graph:
As can be seen, there’s not much of a trend across the month in terms of distance or time, other than a slightly above average length run is often followed by a slightly below average length run. The speed has also stayed fairly consistent across the month, although there is a potential increase towards the end of the month. This is probably because I knew what I was in for towards the end so I knew I could go a bit faster without having to pace myself for another 20-something days.
The hardest part wasn’t actually the running though. The hardest part wasn’t even finding the time to go for a run each day. The hardest part was probably actually having the motivation to go out running again each day. The weather was never particularly bad and the sunset/sunrise times were still reasonable, but it was sometimes a struggle to want to run again. Generally though, once I had started running it didn’t feel as bad.
Now that I’ve achieved this, am I pleased? Yes. Although I feel that I’m more pleased that I don’t have to run tomorrow. Was this the different thing in my life that I was looking for? Probably not, but it was fun to try. Will I do it again? No. Well, maybe. At least not until this is so far in the past that I’ve forgotten about how painful it was.
After thinking about it for a long time, last week I finally got round to replacing my old running shoes (I had been waiting for shops to reopen, but I went online in the end).
In the fifteen months I had these shoes I ran just under 1200km*. That’s way, way over the recommendation of replacing running shoes after 500-800km. My usage averages out to about 2.3km per day. Obviously I didn’t run every day – some days I ran more and some days I didn’t run at all.
*I’m not sure this is quite right as there’s some activities which I wouldn’t have used these shoes for but are recorded with them. Conversely, not all my runs get recorded so it may balance out. Anyway, it still shows I went way over the recommended usage limits.
There’s a few interesting trends to pick out from this data:
It’s possible to see where I had big races in my schedule. I ran half marathons (21km) in March 2019 (the Big Half), September 2019 (the Great North Run) and early March 2020 (the Big Half again). These all show as an increase in training over the proceeding weeks (more distance covered), a small step increase for the race and then a reduced mileage afterwards.
I also ran a half marathon in August 2019 (the Thames Meander Half Marathon) which again shows as a small step increase, but this was part of my training for the Great North Run so doesn’t have it’s own associated training increase/decrease either side.
I appear to have taken a fairly long break from running in March-April 2019. This was partly from resting after the previous race, but also mainly because I was out of the country. I had taken an older pair of shoes to save on weight (not because my older shoes were lighter, but because I could use them for non-running purposes too – something I wouldn’t do in my almost new shoes).
I also ran less in December 2019-early January 2020. I had a cold/illness at this point (even if my family didn’t believe me) and I didn’t feel like running for most of the Christmas period.
Since the most recent race at the beginning of March, and during the lockdown, there’s been a steady stream of runs, some slightly longer ones but balanced out by some extra rest days. Without any races planned, I guess that’s what my regular running pattern looks like (i.e. when not training for a race and not resting after one).
Anyway, after almost 1200km and four half marathons, it was definitely time for them to be replaced. Time to see how their replacements hold up…