Why I don’t stick to a running regime

Couch to 5K Screenshot
photo credit: DBarefoot

A quick flick through any running magazine will throw up countless running regimes:

– couch to 5k!

– run a marathon in 6 months!

– take on Usain Bolt at the 100m at the next Olympics!

etc etc.

A lot of runners swear by them.  When trying to arrange a night out on a Saturday, it is not unheard of for a runner to say with reverence: ‘Sunday is my long run day’, as if this was added as a footnote to the 10 commandments.

Such runners stick to their regimes religiously: Monday is intervals, Tuesday is hill running, Wednesday is “rest day” (but not a rest day involving burgers and re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy, but 100 laps of the pool or a quick 100km mountain biking session).  Thursday is tempo run, Friday is ‘core work’ (I’m still not quite sure what this is)… and so on.

I’m not meaning to mock the running regime.  They are structured like this for a reason, and runners who follow one will no doubt produce consistently faster times.

My problem is that, as soon as I feel like I have to do something, it becomes a chore.

I don’t know about you, but my life is full of chores.  I have to go to work, I have to clean the bathroom,  have to cook tea, I have to clip my bunny’s claws, and so on.  For those with children the whirlwind of chores must chew you up and spit you out.

For me, running is an escape from all that: I don’t want it to become an addition.

Sure, Tuesday could be tempo run day.  But what if Tuesday comes round and I don’t feel like doing a tempo run? What if I feel like doing some intervals? Or heaven forbid, kicking back with a box of Thorntons and channel hopping for five hours?

This sort of attitude goes against everything they tell you.  Many a motivational poster quote boils down to: run whether you feel like it or not. 

But the thing is – and I know this will come as a surprise to many – I am not an Olympic athlete.  Truly.  I know! Unbelieveable.  Anyway, I’m not.  So my times might not improve, I might never get rid of that roll of lard round my thighs, I might never scoop that alluring <50m 10k time.  But does it really matter?

I get up in the morning and think, do I feel like running today? And because it’s not a chore, because it’s not something I have to do, half the time the answer is: yes, I do.

Sometimes I’m out running and, after 2km, I’ve had enough: I go home.  Other times, I feel like I could run forever, Forest Gump-style, so I pull out an 18km from nowhere.  But if I had woken up that morning and thought: I have to run 18km today, because my running regime told me to.  Well, it becomes a chore.

You’ve probably guessed I don’t like being told what to do.

Anyway, this is how it works for me.  As a result, I run reasonably consistently and have done for 8 or 9 years.  I am relatively fit, but not stupidly so.  I love running.  But sometimes I love not running.  There’s a lot to feel guilty about in life.  Don’t let running be one of them.

What do you think? Do you worship at the alter of running programmes? Or do you prefer to take a free and easy approach? Let me know!

The misery of hill running


Day 15: making progress

It’s been just over two weeks, and things are going well.

You know that theory where people say your stomach shrinks? And you supposedly start to feel less hungry, as you adapt to cheerily having two broadbeans and an apple per day? The thing that never, EVER happens?

Well guess what, it’s happening!

I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but my appetite is shrinking.

Now, it’s hard to explain how much of a feat this is without you understanding how spectacular my appetite usually is.  Let’s just say that, apparently, my ex flatmate’s dad still talks about the amount of pasta I ate in one sitting over six years ago.  You have Mount Kilimanjaro, you have Mount Everest, and then you have that plate of pasta.

So when teatime came around this evening and I cooked for my partner, I heard someone say the words: ‘I don’t really fancy anything, I’m not hungry.’ After some confusion, I realised those words had been spoken by me.  ME.  And I’m still not hungry at 9pm.  It’s a miracle.

The running is also going well… ish.  I’m starting to adapt to the low-carb regime (rules here) and my body is reluctantly surrendering all the fat it’s been greedily holding onto.  I ran 6km on Friday, and 5km this morning.  Still a reduction on what I’d like, but it’s something.

I’ve also lost 11lbs.

photo credit: Rev Dan Catt

So for now, it’s going well.  However, I am constantly teetering on the brink of a malteser-related disaster.  I’ll keep you posted!

Read more about low carb dieting.

Dieting progress – back on track! With one major drawback…

After the onslaught of misery and negativity I dished out the other day (er, yeah, sorry about that), I feel back on track.  I feel good.

Now it’s day 11, and I have lost 10 lbs.  I have more mental clarity, I feel lighter, I feel more in control.  I feel, dare I say it, happier.  Everything is going well.

I’ve been eating reasonably healthily and keeping to my rules (most of the time… the incident with the block of cheese never happened.  IT NEVER HAPPENED.)

I made myself a truly delicious Greek salad for tea that was filling and nutritious (see below).

photo (1)

Salad including rocket, spinach, watercress, avacado, fetta cheese, olives and a dressing of olive oil/lemon juice/taragon. Yum.

So what’s the problem?

The problem, dear readers, is what they might call the fly in the ointment.  This diet I’m on has so much to recommend it – it offers rapid weight loss, clear skin, mental clarity, constant energy; and if done in the right way, it is extremely healthy.

The problem is: I can’t run.

I mean, I can run.  But all the joy has gone out of it.  I’ve been running a few times since I started this diet, and each time has been miserable.  I have had to stop after about 4k; one time in the gym I ended up with my head between my knees, about to faint (an excruciatingly embarassing experience, if you’re interested: all the gym posers looked at me warily as if I might suddenly whip out a machete).

So what do I do?

I love running.  When I don’t run, I feel like something’s missing.  When running is going well, I feel like air moving over the Earth.  That’s not how I feel now.  I feel like a bull seal moving over a hill.

So now I have a dilemma.  Do I carry on with this until I reach my target weight (11 pounds to go), or do I find a more moderate diet which allows me to run, but without all the other benefits which go with the low carb regime? Decisions, decisions.

Today’s run

photo credit: Kekka

A day off from work provided a nice opportunity to bash out some miles on the treadmill.  A pre-run fuel-up of, um, chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream (I know, not top of the list of Runner’s World recommended nutritional items) turned out to be a surprisingly good boost.

I clocked up just over 10k in total, but again this was in bursts of varying speed rather than all at once.  Unlike most runners, I prefer intervals to long runs… probably due to having the concentration span of plankton.

Anyway here’s how my run went:

2k – outside (in the sun! Hurrah!) meandering my way to the gym, with a few hills thrown in despite the trauma of last time.

Arrived at the gym.  Dying.

6k – on treadmill, starting off slow and gradually building up the speed

3 x 500m at speeds varying from 12k/h to 15k/h, depending on how much my lungs felt they were going to actually explode

1k – slow jog home

Feeling good now, but I will feel even better once I’ve had my post-run recovery snack of the other half of chocolate fudge cake.  Maybe Runner’s World are missing a trick there! 🙂

Hill running. Ouch.

Steep hill
photo credit: FindYourSearch

There are some days at the gym when you know it’s not happening.  You know it and your legs know it.  You might think you want to be there, in theory; but deep down you know your heart is at home, sat on the sofa, with a hotdog and a tub of ben and jerry’s (not that my other half would let me anywhere near the sofa with either of those two items).

Today was one of those days.  I found my usual treadmill in the corner of the gym with a growing sense of doom about the whole sorry situation.  I started running.  Within a minute I was thinking of the chocolate fudge brownie milkshake I had at home in the fridge.  It was calling.  I stopped.  If there was any chance of salvaging the workout, I would have to make it short, but make it count.

So that was when I made the decision to do hills.  I did four sets of 250m at 7% incline and 11km/h; then I collapsed to the floor, weeping.  (Not literally.  In my mind.)  Oh my god and all his angels, I thought.  What sadistic new hell is this?

photo credit: yoshimov

The above is me doing hill runs.

The whole debacle came about on the wise recommendation of a twitter follower, who pointed out that hills were a necessity for improving stamina.  There’s a reason for that.  Hills are sadistic.  They are categorically not fun.  They will literally bugger up your thighs and have you crying out for your mother by the time they’re done with you.

I know, I know, the point is to keep doing them and improve.  But I feel a bit torn here.  I want to improve; but at the same time I want to enjoy running.  It’s not like I’m an olympic athlete (HA!)  I’m just a regular, lardy runner trying to get a bit of regular exercise.  Is it really worth going through the pain of hills, in the hope they they will improve my times without destroying my love for running?  What do you think?

Aurora uses the treadmill
Photo credit: Christina T

The above is me after I finished.

What do you think about when you run?

photo credit: Hvnly

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m doing a long run, I’m not sure what to do with my mind.  It just kind of sits there, a useless, untrained organ.

Sometimes I try and get lost in my thoughts by thinking about the usual things runners say they think about… what to wear today, what to cook for tea, where to go on holiday, what to write for my next blog post.  But I find that, especially when I get tired, my thoughts seem impossible to grasp.  Like a DVD that alternates between freezing and skipping ahead.

This is something I want to work on.  All that time spent running could be used so much more wisely if I could train myself to think properly.  Some of the things I’ve been trying to focus on are as follows:

– Listing categories.  I think of films, animals, countries etc beginning with every letter of the alphabet.  This always starts so well.  ‘Argentina’, ‘Brazil’ and ‘Chile’ spring to mind in an instant, as do ‘Atonement’, ‘Bridesmaids’, and ‘Cars’.  But just try and find a film beginning with ‘X’.  Yeah, it took me a while to get ‘X-Men’ too.

Incidentally, I know listing categories is a waste of time, which is exactly what I’m trying not to do.  But it’s a good way to practise mental distraction and focusing.

– Focusing on form.  This is a form of running meditation I have read about.  Ignore everything else and focus on your body: how your legs move, how your feet strike the ground, how you breathe in and out.  If thoughts creep in, gently push them away and return your focus to your body.

I’ve had mixed success with this.  Meditating is notoriously difficult anyway; but especially so when your body and mind have been through the ringer.  Still, I’m going to stick with it.  The benefits of meditating are well-documented, not just for mental health but for strong running.  Proponents claim to be able to ignore pain because they transport their minds elsewhere.  Hmm.  We’ll see.

– Mindfulness.  Yesterday I was on the treadmill, staring at the wall, and I started trying to notice things.  The pattern on the wall; the gap in the display on the treadmill monitor; the sound of people grunting as they lifted weights; the feel of the (frankly pathetic) fan on my face.    It can be very refreshing to centre your mind on the moment and simply observe what’s going on.

– Positive thinking.  This is a good one to do during a run, while those endorphins are flowing.  Sometimes I think about things to look forward to, or good things that have happened; things I’m gateful for (‘counting my blessings’); or things that I’m proud of.  Sometimes I just think of things that makes me happy.  This includes sunny days, candles, coffee, my other half… it’s hard not to feel great after doing this.

All this is really difficult for me.  At the moment my mind is like a badly trained dog, constantly running off the lead and refusing to obey my commands.  But I truly believe if I could just nail this, it could totally transform my running from dead time into a time of lucrative, productive thoughts.

What do you think about running? Do you have any ideas for me?