What I blog about when I blog about running

At the time I stopped blogging in early 2016 I was preparing to run my first 10 km race, which I did in April of that year. I immediately signed up for another that September, and before long I was regularly running that distance or farther just on regular weekend runs and eventually even on my commute. I always expected that all of that moving would eventually result in some weight loss, but somehow my fork was always able to keep up the pace. But I was fitter than I’ve ever been before.

In late 2017 I set my sights higher (or farther) and planned to do a half marathon, but had a lot of bad luck with organised races being postponed or cancelled, and with my own life getting in the way. Eventually I ran a half marathon distance, 13.1 miles, by myself in April of 2018. I did that several more times that year.

I hadn’t told anyone else this at the time, because I wasn’t sure I was up to it and didn’t want people to know if I chose to drop out, but by the time I ran that half I had already signed up to take part in the Dublin Marathon in October 2018.

My Dad had taken part in one of the first Dublin Marathons in the early 80s, so I grew up with a photo in our front room of him crossing the finish line, a clock above him reading 3:45 or thereabouts. Even ignoring that he would have started farther back and not even crossed the start line until 10-15 minutes after the official race start, I never had the pace to approach a time like that. My 10 km best is a slower pace. But if you want to be a runner you need to embrace the fact that you’re only ever competing with yourself.

So October came around, as it always does. I had built up my training distances and peaked at 30 km in September. I hadn’t kept anywhere close to my training plan, frankly. I didn’t feel ready. I even messed up my planning for the morning of the race and ended up running the whole thing having had just a banana for breakfast. I didn’t know if I’d ever run another marathon, so I decided to let myself at least enjoy the part that it’s possible to enjoy, so I ran the first half far too fast. Then I hobble-ran the second half with much less gusto. Five hours later I crossed the finish line, collected my medal, temporarily lost the ability to regulate my body temperature, and swore I’d never do it again.

One week later I signed up for the 2019 Dublin Marathon.

My training was no better this time around, but my race was. I stayed overnight in Dublin instead of at my parents’ so I didn’t have the early travel in to the city. I paced myself much better so I spent about half the time on each half of the race instead of the previous year’s 40:60 split. My time was almost exactly the same, but I felt I’d done a lot better, and I was happier afterwards than I had been the first time.

As I had done after the 2018 race, I reduced my running a lot for the next few months. It’s hard to stay motivated to run in London in November to January, and having completed a marathon feels like a good excuse to take the foot off the gas. I had some travel in February of 2020 but was ready to really pick things up again in earnest in March. You see where this is going.

Actually I did a pretty good job of working running into the new routine of working from home, with the occasional interruption from last-minute changes to school and childcare arrangements. I didn’t cover as much distance in 2020 as in previous years, but I didn’t have any huge gaps where I didn’t run at all.

During these days of lockdown where we can’t go far from home it’s such a relief to be able to run beyond the 2-3 km radius of home that I’m otherwise limited to. If you can run 15-20 km there’s a lot of places to explore in London. I was regularly visiting Hyde Park, which for me is a 10 km round trip just to reach its closest corner, plus whatever distance I cover inside.

Unfortunately I started to suffer some back pain at the end of the year, so I was forced to ease up a lot. A few times I pushed myself too hard and ended up needing a week to recover, then I’d get a couple of runs in over a few days before I did it again and needed more time off. The pattern was frustrating. Eventually I identified the culprit as my hamstrings, particularly the left.

I’ve been working on hamstring mobility for a few weeks now, and it seems to have improved a lot. I’m very carefully ramping up distance and speed again, trying not to undo the good work. Today I ran 4 km. I plan to do the same tomorrow. All going well I’ll go up to 5 by the end of the week. Once I get past about 5 km that’s when I start to be able to visit places that I can’t reasonably walk to without it taking up a big chunk of my day. I really want to be able to go back to Hyde Park when the weather is better.

And now we play the weighting game

Over the last few years I’ve made occasional efforts to lose some of my extra weight. A few days or weeks eating slightly less and feeling guilty about the food I did eat. Brief flirtations with activity or calorie tracking apps that always felt lacking. A surprising stream of new and imaginative reasons why “this one doesn’t count”.

Weigh is not a topic that comes up frequently in conversation, at least in my circles, but it raises its head just enough that I know that people are thinking about it even when they’re not talking about it. I think maybe we could do with talking about it.

Even at my worst I don’t think I ever really considered that I was any more overweight or out of shape than “normal”, which I would have defined as a pretty wide range. There’s always someone else nearby I can point at (not literally) and say, “I’m not fat. That person is fat.” As if a decade or two down the line I’d be diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease and wriggle out of it by pointing at someone else and pleading, “What about him?”

Bubble football

In fact several times over the last few years, including as recently as this July, I edged over 90 kg (about 200 lbs). At only 174 cm (5′ 8″) that weight put me into the category of obese. I had more than 30% body fat. I was technically too heavy to safely play bubble football (not that it stopped me).

After that weigh-in on July 21st I decided it would be the last time I weighed more than 90 kg. It wasn’t my first time making such a resolution, but I think it will be the last.

I set out first to find out what my goal weight should be, and then to reach it. Body mass index (BMI) is an imperfect tool for many reasons, but for most people it’s a reasonable guideline for ideal weight. It’s recommended that you aim for a BMI between 18.5 and 25, which for me at 174 cm means a goal weight of 66 kg ± 10 kg. That took me by surprise. Having lumbered around with the delusion that I was “a little on the heavy side of normal”, it was striking to learn that I was really 14 kg heavier than the top end of the normal weight range.

Three months later I’m happy to report that I’m now more than 10 kg closer to my goal, and I haven’t slowed down. Looking at myself today I realise two things: that the first 10 kg already makes a really big difference to how I look and feel; and that it’s much easier to see now that I actually do have another 5 – 10 kg to go. That surprising number I worked out back in July wasn’t a mistake. There are just more ways to hide extra fat on a human body than I thought.

Down and to the right
Down and to the right

If I keep up my current rate — and I’ve been pretty consistent up until now — I could be in the recommended healthy weight range by the beginning of next year. With Christmas in between it might be more reasonable to expect it will take a couple of weeks longer. But it doesn’t really matter all that much how long it takes. What matters is how long it lasts.

100 Push-Ups

Last weekend I started the 100 push-ups plan. In six weeks it’s supposed to bring you from whatever level of strength and fitness you happen to be at when you started to being able to do 100 push-ups. This seems quite suspect. The person who struggles to manage a single one on their first day is unlikely to reach the target in a month and a half, while the guy bashing out 98 of them every morning probably won’t take the full allotted time to master those final two.

Still, I cranked out a not-entirely-shameful 20 at the beginning, so the six week limit looks both achievable and mercifully distant at this point. I wavered on the last part of the day two routine of 12, 12, 10, 10, 10, though I will point out that due to technological limitations in the iPod clock application I was only taking 60 second breaks instead of the recommended 90 (check me out—I’m such a beefcake).

Expect to see a post filled to the brim with self-congratulation if I complete the full century by September 6th.