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My 2019 Year In Running

It’s been a while since I wrote anything here, so I thought I’d reflect a little on what was a surprisingly active running year. I’m pretty out of practice with this writing lark, so apologies if it reads a little clumsy.

TLDR: It started optimistically. I got fat. I then lost weight. During it all, I ran some new types of races. By the end of it, I had clocked up loads of miles (2095, to be precise).

Started Optimistically.

I started the year with an accidental 18 miler, where I jogged to a Parkrun on New Years Day, ran it, found out there was another one a couple of miles away, jogged there, jogged that, got bloody nipples (there are photos in the previously linked Strava post, I’ll leave clicking through to them as an exercise to the particularly masochistic readers), and then realised that I was 6 miles from home with no public transport and Uber/taxis prohibitively expensive – so I jogged back.

It was a reassuringly smug (but slightly sore) way to start the year. Buoyant on a combination of adrenaline and Savlon, I gave myself a quiet mileage target of 2019 miles in 2019.

Got Fat.

In March, we moved house. My commute run grew 3 miles in each direction, the extra mileage led to an increase in appetite, the additional tiredness led to an inability to enact any kind of self-discipline, and like a shit Power Ranger, these attributes combined to create slow, inevitable weight gain.

I was eyeing the Rock’n’Roll Marathon in Liverpool as a late Spring race but ended up opting out due to an extra-stress-due-to-pork-pies-induced flare-up of knee bursitis. I get bursitis now and again, it’s a consequence of falling over a lot and not looking after myself. This was definitely the latter.

Lost Weight.

At the end of April, following my R’n’R did-not-start, I decided I needed to get on top of the weight situation or I’d see another streak ended. I have a long-lived todo to write more about my running streak – what happened to the original one, why I started another, etc – however, that’s a job for another day.

Using a spreadsheet I found on Reddit, I began to track my Total Daily Energy Expenditure and laboriously counted calories. I kept myself engaged by adapting that spreadsheet into a mini-side-project, teaching myself a bit of TypeScript, D3 and Gatsby. Again another blog post, but the repo/mini-write-up can be found on GitHub, and you can see my progress up until November on this little graph here. It stops in November because Christmas has happened and I’ve fallen off my chubby little wagon – again, another thing to come back to later, maybe I’ll get to it in my next year in review (i.e. the next time I update this thing).

New Types of Races.

2009 has seen me run 6 races. This isn’t all that prolific, generally speaking, but for me, it is a record. This year has also opened up new race experiences, from trail running, through to beer runs:

My “season” started in June, where I and a few workmates ran the Pizza 10k in Heaton Park. We did a 5k version in South Manchester last year, and this year it had expanded to two laps of Heaton Park. It’s a good atmosphere, has a fun & interactive warm-up (our three-year-old loved joining in), and we received an awesome pizza-shaped medal & a couple of slices of pizza at the end.

A month later, I ran my first ever trail race – the Royton Trail over by Tandle Hill in North Manchester. A small evening run, held over fun terrain, it was an absolute blast – and the egg mayo sandwiches afterwards were delicious. I liked the trail running experience so much that I actively sought out off-road races after this. A few weeks after, I was able to race literally across the road from my new house at the Hopwood Trot. I found it doubly hard due to it being 2 loops of an awful hill, but in retrospect, I think I performed well. I look forward to running that one again in 2020.

August contained the highlight of my year – the Marple Beer run. 4 pints in 4k. It was an entirely new experience, but one I’ve been passively training myself for since around 2013 – anytime I have a pint or 4 and then run home (would not recommend, by the way). Consequently, I performed way beyond expectations, to the point where I expect I’ll have to train extra hard next year if I want to get any faster.

October saw me take on another beer-related race – the Beer 10k, fortunately, this one was based at a brewery, and the drinks are consumed afterwards, rather than during. The pre-race intro was especially entertaining here – the race director went into all of the calamities that had befallen the race that day (from discarded drug paraphernalia being found during the pre-check through to a freshly fallen tree which required the introduction of a plastic “step” to help scale it) and had us all in stitches. Anyway, by this point, I was starting to feel the benefits of shifting the weight – I was down about 12kg and my times were coming down without really trying.

Which brings me to my most recent race – the 13 Arches Half. A beautiful trail marathon in and around Prestwich. My personal record for a 13.1-mile race was the Great North Run back in 2012, and I think based on this performance, I’ll be able to clear that if I run a bigger road half. I say this because I clocked in at 5 minutes under my PR – I’m not considering it a PB though because the mileage fell a fair bit short of 13.1 (0.4-0.8 miles depending on whose watch you go by). I wasn’t running this to any break records, it was a genuinely enjoyable trail race (even with it being a rainy mud fest), and I’ll go out of my way to run it next year.

Loads of Miles.

I kinda buried the lede with the whole table of contents in the tl;dr thing, but yeah, I smashed through my optimistic-at-the-time intention of running 2019 miles in 2019 by clearing 2095. It’s one of the reasons I’ve had an easy/fat December (my love of all things Stollen aside) – I cleared that target around the 7th December.

My lowest mileage month was January, where I struggled with ITB issues (I resolved to always stretch after that. I’m pretty terrible with resolutions of any type, it seems), but still managed to log 115 miles. And I peaked in October with 228 miles. No particular reason for that, mind – I was just loving running at that point in the year.

I have some plans for what I want to do next year, but I’m kinda keeping them to myself. I have found that what I once thought was some sort of personal-but-public call-to-accountability is in reality documented hubris. It leads to me making every “I’m-gonna-do-this-cos-I-wrote-it” promise an all-or-nothing-throw-it-out-the-window-when-things-go-awry weight around my neck.

And so, I’m gonna stop writing now. Mostly because I’ve run out of hyphens to spew over WordPress. Cheers for making it this far.

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Personal

End of / New Year update (2014/2015)

I’m not going to blather too much on here. Just dot down some bullet points to update you and remind my future self how things are going:
  • My running streak is still alive, it hit 3 years as of yesterday. My real celebration happened in October, when I passed day 1024:
  • Weight is once again well up. This is a problem I continue to have despite putting in 40-60 miles most weeks. It’s the result of a bad diet, a complete lack of discipline, and the high mileage.
  • I read “Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance“* over the Christmas break. It has given me a lot of ideas about how to lose weight while doing my lengthy commute runs.
  • One of the things it recommends is to track body fat rather than weight. So I got myself a set of Omron BF508 Body Composition and Body Fat Monitor Bathroom Scales* in the Amazon Boxing Day sales. I don’t know how they compare to “accurate” methods of measurement. It is a baseline from which to track my progress.
  • According to the book, I’m in the 5th percentile of “athletes” of my age. I’m not an athlete, but it gives me an idea of what other people doing a similar workload to me carry. It also tells me that maybe I should look after myself better.
  • Currently, I’ve marked the book as 3 stars on Goodreads. I shall revisit this in about 6 months and review it based on my results.
  • I once again intend to update this thing more, as a blog that reflects me and where I am right now. Expect more running, more tech stuff, as well as some reflection on the things I have consumed. Revisiting that stuff is both rewarding and useful. I should do it more.
\* I’ve stuck some affiliate links in there. Delete them if you care.
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Personal

Passive Mileage

In personal finance, they often talk about ‘passive income’ and making your money ‘work harder for you‘. The idea being that you set-up a side project which starts trickling in a bit of surplus cash each month without having to do any extra work. It’s not something I do – most of the traditional ways seem a bit leechy and middle-manny for my liking. But even so, it is something that has always stuck in the back of my head. Before I started streak running, 20 miles in a week was a great week for me. When I started doing 2 miles a day, I realised that I was getting in 14 easy miles without even trying. It reminded me of this passive finance idea. Passive mileage, if you will. Last year, about 15 months into my streak, I moved to a house which was 5 and a half miles from work. My workplace provides showers, and so I started running in to work 2 days a week. My passive mileage had doubled. Since then, I have gradually grown it, to the point where it’s not unusual for me to do 4-5 11 mile days on the bounce. I never intended for this to happen. I guess I just enjoy the commute – it’s as fast as public transport, cheaper, and it lets me indulge in hours upon hours of podcasts. Without going out of my way, my mileage now always breaks 30+ in a week This doesn’t come without cost: I find eating well to be a challenge. There have been some weeks where, despite running 40+ miles, I’ve still managed to put on considerable weight. It’s tiring – I’m not sure that come Friday, I’m that pleasant to be around (insert a joke here about Friday being no exception). And it limits what you can run at the weekend. Thanks to passive mileage, I no longer have a Long Slow Distance Run. It would be a foolish recipe for injury if I didn’t rest up at the weekend. But these are all things I’m working on. I’m measuring calories, and the weight is coming down. And I’m not currently training for anything. Needless to say, when I do train for a race again (I have my eye on a couple), this routine will all shift up. Is passive mileage for everyone? Goodness, no. But it works for me, I mean – it doesn’t make me run fast, it doesn’t make me run particularly far, but it does allow me to run a lot. All without having to adjust my normal routine. And that’s why I like it.
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Personal Technical

Quantified Fatigue

I have had a post in draft since the beginning of the year, all about analysing my running streak as it stands. It picks out the miles I’ve done on it, average mile per run, distributions of milages, that sort of thing. Loads of self indulgent wank, that I felt at the time was “interesting”. Reading back on it now, it’s anything but. In the middle of composing it (according to WordPress, I last touched it 11th February), I stopped measuring pretty much everything. I just got sick. Sick of weighing myself. Timing myself. Caring how far I had ran. Measuring shit definitely works – I have no doubt of that. Anytime I’ve measured something, I have consistently optimised towards that metric – be it weight, speed, bacon eaten. In the case of weight, the opposite also holds true – I put on about 2kg in the month following my “sick of this shit” tantrum. I was still exercising plenty – running at least 30 miles per week in that time, in addition to a couple of BJJ sessions. I just happen to have a better appetite. All of this has made me think – is the value in the “quantified self” movement that people are explicitly going out of their way to measure and observe things that they would like to optimise? If we were able to get these metrics at any point without installing apps, or buying devices, or just plain writing them in spreadsheets, would this value disappear? Beyond being able to say “oh, I’m fat because I do little exercise and eat too many calories” (unlike all of those other fat people), why is a graph such a motivator? I understand that the whole thing is more faceted than “MAKE THE GRAPH GO BIGGER” – there is accountability (to both the tech and other people), QS allows you to find patterns and correlations in the data that you might not have otherwise noticed, as well as a billion other reasons for its existence. It can’t be a coincidence that the latest Apple and Samsung products have a “health & fitness” spin on them. I should note here that I’ve not touched this post since March. The above feelings remain true, but I am a flip-flopper. Picking it back up again in mid-June: Since I started writing this post, I am once again measuring stuff. I want to lose weight (again) because the metaphorical yoyo has retouched the hand. I’m measuring my calorie intake on MyFitnessPal, and that hooks up passively with Endomondo to measure what I’m burning. But my reservations about QS and “Quantified Fatigue” stand – measuring everything explicitly is too difficult, and I’m concerned about how useful implicit & ubiquitous measurement would be after the fact. There’s no real conclusion here – implicit & ubiquitous doesn’t exist, it remains to see how iOS8 & the S5 will perform in this area, and I’m likely to lose a bunch of weight, get bored and put it all back on again. I just figured it was about time I did some writing here, terrible or otherwise.
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Personal

2013: So How Did Those Goals Go?

My last post was entitled ‘Goals for 2013‘. Reading back on it should be quite depressing because I’ve missed just about every objective I set myself: I didn’t really take up BJJ again until about 3 weeks ago when I discovered a Caio Terra affiliate around the corner from where I work. The obstacle race never happened, I flaked out due to a mixture of my stupid subconscious and other commitments. I didn’t get started properly again on the ‘big’ fitness tool idea I had. It’s OK though, I’ve had an idea for a new tool that I can roll that into. I’m sure that I will definitely get round to making that. MMA-Urls is still dead. I still suck at guitar and uke. I’ve not practiced any of that. I did invest in LSDJ and a Gameboy though. I reckon spreading myself even thinner is definitely the solution. I’ve barely progressed in German. And I’ve not written a single blog post since that last one where I said I was going to write more blog posts. So yeah – success all around. Actually yeah, really – success all around. I genuinely intended to do all of that stuff. I just didn’t. I’m not going to beat myself up about it. There are a billion and one reasons why none of that happened, the main one was that it ultimately wasn’t important. It’s not like I’ve sat on my arse all year – work has been busy (we have quite a sweet little product about to go live to the world, you might hear me blather on about it on Twitter in the new year), I’ve bought a house, and then took the massive step of moving in with my girlfriend and her kids. And that’s without all of the other tedious rubbish I got up to that would be better left undocumented. I guess ultimately, this was the stuff that was important, and so that was what got done. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in myself this year, and I thank running for this, it’s that I’ve become more reflective. In times past (like at the beginning of this year), I’ve very much got caught up in the 43 things, bucket list, if-I’ve-not-done-this-this-this-this-and-a-bungee-jump, experience-first mentality. If I’ve seen something happening, I’ve thought, “shit, where’s my camera?” without really knowing why I’m taking photos (is it for my own recollection? to show how interesting my life is? all of the above?). I mean, these snapshots are nice, but at the same time – what am I missing out on? And who really cares? If I die tomorrow, will anyone (including myself) really care that I never learned to play piano? This might go some way to explaining why I’m quite a bit more low key on social networks these days. Facebook basically gets Dailymile updates and the odd accidental Goodreads cross post. Twitter gets my witless tedium. There’s the odd photo here and there, where I remember to upload them. To bring this terrible, terrible piece of writing back on track, those goals I set still matter to me. They’re not what people tell me are SMART objectives, and I’m not sure they should be. These are just things I enjoy doing, and that’s why I will either do them, or I won’t. They don’t make me an interesting person, they’re not going to make me millions, and no one’s going to mention any of them in my eulogy. Running goals went alright though – I ran further than last year (1157 -> 1657, exactly 500 miles further in fact). And the streak continues. I actually have 3 new draft blog posts in progress on that (told you I’d been reflecting), as well as a small php library (you probably shouldn’t use it yet though, the API is shit and not final). I’ll get round to publishing them soon. Probably.
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Personal

Goals for 2013

This was an addendum to the streak post last week, but it has kinda developed a mind of its own, so it is now its very own post. Yay.
So what of the next year? Are we going for 700+ day streak? Am I going to define some new goals? Well I am, yes – the streak is too useful to just let go like that. The next big milestone will be 512 days, which comes around at the end of May – so that will be nice to aim for. And I have several new goals:

Physical

I’m hoping to support my running with some level of core / muscular exercise – I need to start up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu again, it’s kinda shocking that I founded what has turned into one of the best BJJ communities on the internet (no thanks to me, mind), and I’m still not training it consistently. I can’t set a solid goal like blue belt, due to the fact that I ultimately suck at anything competitive, but something simpler like weekly attendance isn’t out of reach. I also have my first obstacle race booked in March (another reason to train some actual core). And I have a silly pie-in-the-sky plan to run 31 miles on my 31st in June. So that should give me something to build mileage towards.

Projects

I’ve had a fitness tool in mind for a while now – I’ve told a few people the idea and it seems to get a pretty decent reception (it’s not a top-secret thing, I just don’t want to tie it down in writing, because I’ve not exactly specced it out yet – I’d be hugely grateful to discuss it or have it naysayed in real life if anyone fancies to talk over a pint or coffee or a pint of coffee). So with a simple data-collection part coded over the past month or so, I look to dogfood and continue with building a prototype over the next 3 months – it might go the way of dogfood and end up as dogshit, but I’m alright with that, having something to work on in my spare time is a great motivator to keep me skill-building, regardless of the outcome. mma-urls is a link aggregator I built a while ago. It’s broken beyond disbelief at the moment, and traffic’s non-existant – I need to fix it pretty soon. I also have some nice features in mind for it, and some semantic-web goodness I want to inject into it (coding with RDF and the semantic-web at work has given me plenty of ideas, it’s just a matter of making time).

Skills

There are three skills I’m looking to develop over the next year, both major and minor:
  1. Music – 2012 saw me actually playing music again. It’s been a longtime coming. I joined the ukulele club at work, and I purchased Rocksmith. Both have been excellent motivators – I plan to keep up both throughout the year.
  2. Language – my German skills have remained dormant since 2004, the year after I returned from living there. I’ve been refreshing myself recently using the awesome duolingo and memrise webapps, and hope to improve that into the year – at least to the point where I can start reading German literature and hold a conversation decently.
  3. Writing – I have been completely overwhelmed by the response to my streaking post last week. Where previously I felt a need to only write geeky techy posts here, the response to the running one has made me realise that there’s nothing wrong with turning this thing into more of a hodgepodge of subjects. WordPress makes it easy for people to filter out shite that they’re not interested in using tags, categories and their associated RSS feeds. And it also results in me starting to consolidate content in one place all owned by me – I’ve previously fell afoul to publishing on various other web services to get around the single subject matter of this blog, as a result, I’m at the mercy of google and tumblr rather than just a single transferable webhost.

Tracking

To stay on top of all of this, I’m pretty much abusing Joe’s Goals to mark a tick against which ones I do daily (they should start paying me commission), and then getting a ‘score’ at the end of the day to let me know how I’m doing. But aside from this rudimentary aggregation, I log workouts and running on dailymile, I track German progress at the aforementioned memrise and duolingo, and rocksmith does a good job of assessing progress on guitar – so I guess there’s micro-tracking elsewhere too. I’ve actually trimmed out a few goals from here, because either they were ridiculously insignificant, completely unachievable (the 31 miles at 31 thing probably should accompany this cut, but a man can dream), or just made for too much to concentrate on. I’m probably spreading myself remarkably thinly here, but I may as well try to make hay as the sun shines and all.
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Personal

Overly introspective post about my running streak.

For the past few years, I’ve found running to be a decent way of shifting some weight (slight aside, since the age of twenty, I’ve been the classic yo-yo when it comes to weight – between 11.5 and 17 stone, depending on what the dice spell out in any given week). The only problem is that it can sometimes be hard to motivate yourself to go for a run. Excuses are very easy to come by: the weather, needing a sandwich, hangovers, the sniffles, Emmerdale’s on, Christmas, not really feeling like it today, bone-idleness, needing a poo… Basically it’s much easier to not run than it is to run. Which is one of those really obvious things that someone who could write probably wouldn’t be writing.
He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.  – Benjamin Franklin
Pretentious quote – check.

“Don’t Break The Chain”

I’ve been interested in Seinfeld’s don’t break the chain ‘productivity secret’ for a while now, it makes sense to me and is simple enough to follow. And I’m now, a year in, convinced it can and does work. At the beginning of the year I decided to see how many days I could go running without breaking the chain. The only rule of the running streak was that every day I had to go at least 1 mile. The only tool I needed was the brilliant joesgoals – it’s not the slickest or best looking app, but it does one thing and it does it well. And reasonably consistently (I do see the odd Coldfusion error screen now and again). The running streak itself started reasonably inconspicuously, a couple of days, a week, two weeks  – no bother. But then I got to a month – and this was now a ‘thing’, it was at a stage now where people were asking if I was still ‘streaking’, and there was a pressure to keep going. And it got bigger, and bigger – 90 days, 6 months. I started only recording binary milestones – 64 days, 128 days, 256 days – because monthly was now too often to brag about, and I can’t help but be a geeky attention-seeker. The pressure to not cock up was overwhelming – some of the hangovers I ran through were ridiculous, but by now, that I was going to run – come rain, shine or coma – was a given. It is said that it takes 21 or 66 days to form a habit, dependant on who you ask – but I guess it was a fair bit longer than that before it was a really natural thing for me to do each day. Now however, I find it as weird a feeling to have not run as I do to have not brushed my teeth. Not that my feet grow fur or anything.

The Perils Of Running Streaks

Is streak running for everyone? Probably not – running alone is reasonably high impact and  not taking a break does increase the risk of injury. The US Streak Running Association have a very good post that explains the risks and everything that goes with the hobby far better than I ever could. In every exercise regime, rest is required in order to allow muscles to recover – so in a typical week, I have one or two one-milers, which I consider rest runs – they take less than 10 minutes and exist to keep the discipline enforced and my running streak going. You also have to be realistic and listen to your body – I’ve had to cut runs down due to suspicious aches in my shins. And I’ve also always had to be prepared to break the streak, it’s better to let an injury heal before you start a new streak than try to run through an injury and be out for a year. Luckily, that hasn’t come up yet – because while this sort of thing is very easy to type, when an injury does occur, I’m not sure my ego will find resetting that magic number so simple a task.

Yay! Go Running Streaks!

Some of the spoils of my running streak - my shoes That warning aside, running has been one of the few constants in my life this year (yeah, this is where the introspective, self indulgent bullshit stuff begins – bet you’re glad you read on now, eh?). Despite changing jobs and cities – among many other things – running has kept going alongside all of that stuff, regardless. It has been something to turn my attention to, something to set goals against, something that has given me a continual sense of achievement, and something to force myself out of the house in order to clear my head. It has been great, both physically and otherwise. Speaking of achievements, at the beginning of the year I set a target of 500 miles, figuring most of my runs would be in the 1-2 mile mark. But due to training for the Great North Run, my mileage was upped considerably and I ended up hitting 1124 miles on my 365th day. Not too shabby. So yes, with all this in mind, I would say that starting a streak of any type gives you an incredible impetus to get a task done, and I would recommend it to anyone with a goal to achieve of any sort. Running is a great way of staying active and keeping your head in check, I’d recommend that too. I was going to post about my goals for 2013 here, but that seems to have developed a life of its own and should hit this website in the next week. Cheers for reading this far – and if you haven’t had enough of my self-indulgent running bollocks, I post updates on dailymile and I sometimes natter on about it on twitter.

Edit / Addendum

Allan Whatmough asked on Twitter: http://twitter.com/allanw/status/286835193174716416 Which raises a great oversight in this post – how do I not forget the odd run? Well I prioritise the run as the first thing I do everyday. I don’t eat, I have a glass of water if I’m dehydrated (always sure to hydrate if I was drinking the night before), and then I just run. I find it hard to run with food in my stomach anyway – I’m just conscious of it being there, so I guess this system works pretty naturally for me. Even long runs don’t justify food yet (15 miles is about the longest I’ve ever gone). I guess this is a similar solution to disciplining myself as saver’s use to make sure they ‘pay themselves first’ – which I’m sure works nicely.