Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Losing Weight and Chasing that 5KM PB

So to start with, a disclaimer: this is simply a blog post about my decision to try to lose some weight, which I believe will help me with my running and at the same time help me to feel happier in myself. It is not at all scientific, nor should it be seen as constituting advice. As with all my previous blogs, please rest assured that I haven't got a clue what I'm talking about.
One at a time, please

Step One: Realisation

I remember when the wii-fit board first came out, and I tried to buy one as a family Christmas present.
Everywhere local had sold out, and when I eventually tracked one down miles away, I was so pleased with myself that I unpacked it as soon as I got it home, as an early festive treat. Unfortunately, when I first stood on it to begin set up, my reward for all my hard work was to be told that I was overweight.

This was further confirmed when some pictures appeared on facebook after a lad's day out in London, when I was shocked to see how big I was looking. At just under 6 foot, and almost at 15 stone, I was not exactly morbidly obese, but I clearly had some work to do if I was to get myself in shape, and feel happy with how I looked again.


Step Two: Joining the gym, and treadmill running

I used a well known brand of slimming milkshakes to help me shed a fair amount of weight in the beginning. These may or may not be a good idea - and again I want to point out this blog is not intended to constitute advice - but it worked for me in that it allowed me to lose enough to feel confident enough to join a gym.
I attended for about a year, sticking rigidly to the plan drawn up for me at my induction, and I got noticeably thinner, stronger and more muscular. In terms of running, I used the treadmill to do interval sessions (alternating between 1min slow, 1min fast) which is an excellent way to burn calories. Sadly, family breakup meant I had to leave Haverhill in May 2011, and with that I left the gym as well.

On the plus side, I now had daily access to a treadmill, so began to concentrate on using that as a way of continuing the weight loss and improving my fitness. I had my eye on a debut half marathon, and began to build up my distances. For some reason, it never really occurred to me to try running outside - I clearly have quite a high boredom threshold, and am quite happy running up to ten miles on a treadmill providing I have my ipod to listen to. Unfortunately a niggly back problem meant I had to stop running for a bit, the half marathon plan was temporarily shelved, and my weight began to climb again.

Step Three: The Great Outdoors

A few months later, in March 2012, I moved to Hundon - much nearer to my kids, and a lovely part of the county to live in. With no treadmill, and with the cost of rejoining the gym proving financially prohibitive at the time, I had no option but to try running outside. My back was now fine, but I had lost a lot of the fitness I had worked so hard to find, and I clearly remember only getting 1.5 miles in to my first run before I had to stop, completely exhausted. Turning back for home I stopped again a couple of times, and that first run of 3 miles took me over 30 minutes. However, with the scenery, fresh air, and nice weather, I was hooked. And more than anything, I really enjoyed the sense that, unlike with my previous treadmill miles, I had actually run somewhere, and that given time I would be able to build up my distances and properly explore the new area where I lived in a way I never would with my car. I bought a large ordinance survey map for my lounge wall, and began plotting new routes to try before I left the house each run. Before long, I had a number of decent routes and knew the surrounding area really well.
The aptly named "Mare Hill" formed part of my regular route. I also used to run up Cock Hill in Kedington regularly, but when I tried to find a picture on Google Images the results were quite horrific...

One particular 5 mile route became a favourite, and I would set out each day to try to better my previous time. I went from approximately 10min miles when I first started up to around 7m40 pace, and learnt how to deal with hills in the process. Fairly soon after I began this new chapter in my fitness regime, I saw a local half marathon advertised, and this became my focus - ideal because in addition to my usual routes, I could also jump in the car and after only a short journey, I could train on the actual route. At the end of May 2012, I ran my first ever race in a respectable time, and encouraged by this I joined Haverhill Running Club, and began racing regularly. Within a year, my half marathon time had improved by 14 minutes, and my 5km time from an initial 21mins at my first ever parkrun, down to 19m44 a couple of times at club time trials. More on this later, since this remains a 5k pb. All was going well, and I was down to 10.5 stone, and feeling great.

Bad Health/Injury

In April 2013, I again moved away from the area, and this meant I attended running club far less frequently. I have never regularly attended the Thursday, sociable runs, but I love the Tuesday speedwork sessions, and I can see a direct link between these and my short distance times. But more relevant still, I began to experience some bladder/stomach problems, which have never been satisfactorily diagnosed, and which continue to dog me over a year later. For about a year, up to and including the VMLM, I was affected by problems every time I ran - sometimes nothing more than mild discomfort, but often much worse. My race times all fell away, and my PBs from 2012 seemed like impossible targets. Although the problems increased during and immediately after running, they were present all the time, and initially not directly linked by doctors to running - and besides, I have always used running as a way of keeping myself mentally healthy - and so I decided not to stop running, but merely slow down. I remember one or two races in particular that were truly horrible - including having to stop midway through the Newmarket 10k, which I believe I may have quit if it hadn't been part of the Suffolk Grand Prix series - but in the main I found I could deal with the situation providing I slowed down a bit, gritted my teeth and just got on with it.

I did my first Ultra, a 30 mile "race" that actually went better than the two marathons I have attempted before and since. The day afterwards I was finally told the problem was almost certainly running related rather than medical, and a short break of a couple of weeks seemed to confirm this as everything settled. I therefore began having physio, which did seem to help initially, combined with some yogalates to work on core strength. However, the problem never went away completely, and I began looking for new ways to enjoy running - volunteering regularly at my local parkrun, and at a couple of races, joining the club committee, and doing a lot more pacing, which allowed me to still enjoy hitting PBs, just not my own. Getting a club place in the London Marathon meant I continued to log the miles, and in fact my preparation for this went pretty well, as I got better at dealing with the situation.

Although, as blogged about previously, the marathon itself didn't go well, this did seem to be merely a blip in what had otherwise been quite an encouraging first half of the year. I have been attending Tuesday sessions regularly, and with parkruns most weekends and a fair few races too, my times have been steadily coming back down - with new PBs at 5mile and 10k distance already this year. I have found for some reason that I am not experiencing the discomfort so much during these shorter races and training sessions, despite the level of activity being that much more intense. I now believe that the problem is linked more with high mileage than anything else - a couple of months of no more than 50 miles and I actually believed it had gone away, but no sooner did I begin to increase the mileage (to 100 last month)  -  as I began to think about an autumn marathon - than the pain has come back again.

Decision Time

Despite having already paid to enter the inaugural Chelmsford Marathon in October, I have now decided I am going to give this place up, and remain focused on shorter races, thus allowing me to cut back my monthly training miles again . I am not prepared to go back to dealing with daily discomfort again, and hope that maybe with only 2 or 3 runs a week, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity, I can still improve my times whilst continuing to enjoy my running. To fill in the gaps and get my daily exercise fix, I intend to rejoin the gym, and the improvement in overall strength  and conditioning, particularly regarding core strength, should still enable me to get quicker. Having made this decision, I feel a lot more relaxed about the rest of the year's running - to be honest, the thought on embarking on another marathon training schedule didn't particularly appeal anyway, irrespective of the anticipated increase in discomfort.

I had an encouraging run at an Ekiden (marathon relay) event over the weekend, running the first, 7.2km leg for the club in just under 30mins - which roughly equates to 10k PB pace. However I suffered for it the next day, and think I may well adapt a stategy of run one day, rest the next, with maybe two days rest after a hard race. But nonetheless, it seems I have rediscovered my old pace for this type of distance - 6m45 per mile on three separate occasions now - and it's just the 5k PB that's proving elusive. Which brings me to the original reason for this blog - my focus on this month's club time trial.

Why Can't I hit my old 5km times?

There may be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it is a distance I race very often, and these races have probably helped me tremendously in terms of acting as excellent training/tempo sessions for subsequent 5mile and 10k races. Effectively, whilst hitting 6m30 pace over a 5k results in a time I would find disappointing as I chase my 19m44 PB, it is great preparation for me to be able to run 15secs a mile slower in a slightly longer race and hit a new PB, as was the case at both Bury 5 and Haver10K. What I guess I'm not doing enough of is running quicker than my current 5k PB pace - and so to do this it may be a good idea to run some more 1k rep sessions, which are easy enough to replicate on my own with a Garmin watch, in addition to the sessions I do with the club. Again, this fits well with the idea of running shorter but faster training sessions, and I can incorporate some interval treadmill sessions into my gym sessions as well, which will all help.

Lighter shoes, or "racing flats" : less weight to pick up with every stride

But another factor must be that I am now back weighing 12.5 stone - 2 stone heavier than when I set those old 5k PBs. I think I am probably a stronger and more intelligent runner than I was back then, but if I'm carrying around additional 2 stone it's perhaps no wonder that in the very shortest distances that I race, I'm unable to find that 10-15seconds per mile than I so desperately need. It does rather make a mockery of my having bought lightweight running shoes, to save a few grams!

At the last club time trial, I asked one of our quicker runners, Martin, if he would mind helping me set a new PB at this month's run. These 5k races fall on the last Thursday of each month, and since I now jointly organise these along with a club colleague, I rarely get the chance to race one. However, at the end of this month, Andy will be in charge of the stopwatch, and providing I get a full raft of volunteers, I will be able to go for a time. Martin is going to attempt to get me round in 19m30, which equates roughly to 6m20 pace  - with a sprint finish. This is a great opportunity for me to set a new PB, on a flat course, with an excellent experienced pacer on board. Having set this up, I was determined to do all that I could to achieve my goal - and that meant, alongside some smart training, that I needed to lose some of that weight.

No Junk July

A few days after I had began to watch what I ate, I heard about a facebook page called NO JUNK JULY, encouraging participants to ditch unhealthy food for a month. On the banned list were such things as chocolate bars, crisps, takeaways, fry-ups, fizzy drinks, cakes - in short, most of things I enjoy eating the most. I joined up since I felt the support and encouragement of others was bound to help. I began well enough, only slipping up a couple of times (cake, what else?!) but then I found I was beginning to fret about a weekend away meeting  a number of Charlotte's relatives, which I knew would test me to the limit, with the promise of a large family BBQ and plenty of beer. I had already begun to become slightly disillusioned with the whole cold turkey approach to things, and found I was permanently hungry, craving certain foods and generally getting a bit tetchy. I knew that I had made some positive changes, which I believed I could stick to, so I decided to stop beating myself up over the occasional lapse - any type of diet which you hate is unlikely to succeed - and enjoy the weekend, safe in the knowledge I would have the willpower to spend the majority of days eating more healthily.

What has surprised me most is how easily I adjusted back to the new healthier diet after what proved to be an enjoyable weekend. I went the whole of the following week sticking rigidly to my new routine of smoothies for lunch, and avoiding the work vending machine, which I used to raid at the start AND end of each shift. Snacking between meals now involves fruit, and I seem to have got past the feeling hungry stage and settled into the new diet quite well. The first hint that losing weight could help my times came with a decent performance as a parkrun tourist in Newport that weekend, where I came 12th out of a field of over 300. Early days, but I have already lost about 8 or 9 pounds, and am noticeably thinner around the middle.
Charlotte has been very supportive of this lifestyle change, and got a great new PB herself in Newport.

Portion Control

When I have an evening race, I need to ask for an early work shift to allow me to finish in time - this typically involves getting up and eating breakfast around 5am. With lunch around 11am, it means that by the time I finish at around 6pm I am more than ready for my main meal of the day. Obviously eating a cooked meal so close to a 7.30pm race start would be a bad idea - besides, quite often there would not be enough time since I tend to travel straight to the race venue after work.

Dinner was slightly disappointing
So  recently, I hit upon the (blindingly obvious) idea of eating my main meal at lunchtime on such days. Not only do I then begin my race feeling less hungry, but my body has had plenty of time to digest the meal and I have some fuel on board for the race - which I will usually top up with a banana about an hour before the start.

I have tried this twice, and it has worked well both times - the first time led to a new 5mile PB at Bury, and the second to my best ever race placing in a Kevin Henry fixture. What was interesting about the second time was that the microwave-ready meal I bought that day happened to be a weightwatchers one : purely because it looked the most appetising on offer. When I served it up, I was dismayed at how little there seemed to be on the plate - but I felt perfectly full once finished, and it made me realise how unnecessarily large my main meal tends to be. Like many people, I find it hard to leave food on my plate, so even when I know I have cooked too much, I still tend to finish it off. Cooking smaller portions is an incredibly obvious and easy way to reduce calorie intake, and combined with having cut out most of the unhealthy stuff too, I am confident I can continue to lose the weight I want, with the target to have lost a stone by the end of the month, and ultimately to get back down to my 10.5stone "fighting weight."

17 Days to go

And so, with time running out before the time trial, I need to ensure I keep pushing hard in my training sessions, and keep watching what I eat and drink. I don't know if I will get a pb or not, but if I can maintain this new healthier mindset, I am convinced I will eventually hit my ultimate twin targets : a sub 19min 5km and a sub 40min 10km.

Perhaps next year I will think again about going for another marathon, but for the time being I have a much clearer focus on what I want to achieve in my running.

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