So as another month comes to an end, I realise that I have now been running consistently for seven months, having started with Couch to 5K back in August. On a recent run, I overtook a couple of people who were clearly following the programme and were in the first couple of weeks of walk-jog sessions. As I passed them, I reflected on how far I have come on my own running journey. My initial goal was to run 5km in 30 minutes, and I have now more than doubled that distance. Sometimes it is easy to focus on where we are now, and forget about where we have come from.
A few weeks ago I wrote of the trials and tribulations of returning to running as an overweight middle aged man in a post titled Fat Man Running. In the intervening weeks I have continued my battle with my challenging 12km weekend run, and I am proud to say that the hard work has paid off. I have broken my Personal Best for the route, not just broken it, but smashed it by more than three minutes. I have not yet managed to run non-stop up the toughest hill, but today I came very close. I have achieved this through a combination of mental and physical training. The physical training has seen me continuing to run on a 3 on, 1 off cycle with different pacings and distances. I try to alternate between hard and easier sessions to avoid burnout.
Run 1: 5km tempo run
Run 2: 5km steady-paced run
Run 3: 5 mins warm up, 90s intervals at 85% max effort and 2 min recovery jogs, 5 mins cool down
Run 4: 5 – 7km steady-paced run
Run 5: 12km easy/steady run (cross country and undulating)
Run 6: 5km easy run
In another blog post, I have talked about the use of gratitude as a mental strategy on tougher runs, but I have recently found myself using a different mental strategy that is also very effective: mental arithmetic. When I was a kid, I always struggled with numeracy, so it was a surprise to discover how effective this is. When I hit a challenging stretch on a run, I calculate sums in my head, the more challenging the better as it distracts the mind into solving the maths problem rather than concentrating on the pain in the legs, the pounding heart rate and the rapid, laboured breathing. I first heard about this method from YouTubers The Running Channel, and I seem to recall that it was a technique favoured by British Olympian and marathon champion Paula Radcliffe. I found that using the mental arithmetic technique was really effective at helping me break my PB.
Another technique that helped was using the concept of marginal gains. I realised that I didn’t have to run super-fast to get better, I only had to consistently run each kilometre a little quicker. By shaving an average of 13 seconds from each kilometre, I was able to drop beat my previous PB by more than three and a half minutes. I might not be as quick as I was in my youth, but this feels like progress to me! With marginal gains, it is clear that every little thing helps, and I am pleased to say that I have shed a few pounds this week, meaning that my power-to-weight ratio will have improved as well, meaning that there is a little less sweating carcass to drag over the hills.
I have decided that I am not going to start increasing my distance again just yet. Instead I will focus on improving my time over my current distances. I am sure I will let you know how I get on!