Tag Archives: jogging

C25K Diary Part 4

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d leave the house early on a Saturday to run in a park when it’s barely above freezing, I wouldn’t have believed you. And yet that’s what happened this last weekend.

A year ago I’d just started my Couch to 5km adventure and it feels like a lot has happened in that time. Since my last entry in March, I’ve managed to both increase my speed, become more consistent and actually run a full five kilometres. With hindsight, I can see that I did much right but a few things wrong. As before, I think it’s worth writing about both as a help for people starting in the same place as me and as a reminder for myself. Knowing that I had difficulty keeps me going on days where I feel I’m doing badly!

I left my last post having completed the C25K programme but not having actually run the full 5K. (The programme helps you run 5K or for thirty minutes. That’s small print for you.)

My initial plan was to gradually increase my speed until I could run the full 5km in thirty minutes. That’s what I did for a while until I realised that it was going to take me a long time! So for one week I changed tack and concentrated on distance rather than speed. By that point it was actually quite easy but I’m glad I did it, if only to tick a virtual check box.

In trying to improve my consistency, the main thing I think I’ve learned is that I’ve been a terrible judge of how tired I actually am. There’s a difference between “not feeling it” and not being capable of running the full duration. With the benefit of hindsight, I could almost certainly have pressed on with some of the later stages of the C25K programme and finished sooner. Which is not to say that I think I erred; being cautious meant that I avoided getting injured. Doing exercise was (is) a bigger goal than completing a 5km run.

Around the same time, I’d started hearing about something called Parkrun. The arrival of spring and the desire for a change from running on a treadmill in the gym made me open to a change, even if it meant turning up to a local park early on a Saturday.

While I liked the idea, I didn’t want to find that I couldn’t finish or that people would sneer at me for finishing last. Turns out I misjudged the atmosphere and how competitive it would be. But I didn’t know, and I spent a couple of weeks trying to run outside before I even attempted it.

After all that time in the gym, I found running outside to be quite challenging. I had to pace myself rather than have the treadmill “force” me to continue at a known speed. Harder still, I had to plot my route in advance!

Having spent the rest of the year mostly running outside, oddly I now find running on a treadmill to be a challenge.

Back to Parkrun. After a couple of weeks practicing outside I went to my local in Tooting. I think I was expecting a handful of sporty people wearing Lycra sprinting around. What I actually found was over five hundred people of all abilities. There were the athletes but there were also people with baby buggies, teenagers and pensioners. Not only was I not out of place, but I didn’t even come in last place. And not even that but it was a supportive crowd meaning that my fears of finishing last were utterly misplaced. It’s not a race, it’s only as competitive as you want it to be. Oh, and it’s incredibly well organised, mostly run by volunteers.

This wasn’t supposed to be an advert for Parkrun. (Still, you should consider doing it.)

Since early summer I’ve stuck to doing two or three runs a week outside. When I started the running, my not-running days I typically went swimming. Recently I’ve started alternating that with some resistance training. But the running is still the “backbone” of my exercise regime.

What next? Well, winter is on the way so I’m interested to see how motivated I am to keep running outside! I still have no grand goal, no major objective to run a marathon or reach any particular race time. This is partly because exercise is the real goal but mostly because I want to be realistic. I’ve taken nearly ten minutes off my time for running 5km over the summer but, without some serious effort that I’m not likely to ever put in, constant improvement from here is going to be a lot harder.

But I’m going to keep trying!

Apple Watch Series 4


This was going to be my first thoughts on the new Apple Watch, posted about a day after I unboxed it. But then life got in the way and I’ve now been using it for a week. What I’d planned to be a little more than a “hot take” is now probably a little closer to an actual review!

From the picture above you can see what I was using before. It’s not an Apple Watch, it’s not a competing smart watch. It doesn’t even have a battery. (To be clear, my new watch isn’t a replacement. I still plan to wear the Marloe.)

I’ll be honest: until recently I wasn’t very interested in the Apple Watch. It was too big, didn’t look nice enough, was another thing to recharge every night and none of the things it did were compelling enough to overcome those annoyances.

Here’s the thing. The Series 4 is still too big — about twice as thick as the Marloe — and doesn’t look as good as a traditional watch. But I’ve been on a health kick for the last year, so partly I bought it as a new gadget, a reward for keeping going for twelve months, and partly, because of that, the health features became compelling enough.

As you’d expect for Apple, the hardware looks great and is well presented. The finish is beautiful, the controls click and rotate in a satisfying way. I found it odd that it came without the strap attached but I was able to get it up and running pretty quickly.

I’ve read about the Watch before but I’ve never got beyond playing around with one in a store. It surprised me how complicated it is. By which don’t mean it’s hard to use, rather that there are a lot of choices to make. Choices that you probably won’t know the answer to.

The new Infographic watch faces sound great, but what am I supposed to do with eight complications? Not having used the Watch before, I don’t know the best way of accessing apps versus having the information available instantly on the watch face. Should I use the app swarm? The most recently used list? Complications? Notifications? Then you find that some complications only appear in some locations. How am I supposed to know this stuff? It’s confusing. I’m sure I’ll figure this stuff out but I feel information overload just as I’m trying to play with my new toy. (Having started writing a Watch app I think I understand it better, but should I have to?)

I guess I was expecting an iPhone OS 1.0-type experience — just the bare minimum — but I suppose that’s an unfair comparison and an unfair expectation. We’re now at watchOS 5, so it’s had time to evolve. And in hardware terms the Watch is way faster than than the first few iPhones. (It is incredible that you can get a dual core 64-bit CPU on your wrist!)

Having waited until now to get a Watch, I’ve also seen features that I was concerned about. The main one: the not-always-on screen. Would I forever be wiggling my wrist to see the time?

No, is the short answer. It’s not 100% successful turning the screen on at the right times but it’s pretty close. The problems I’ve had have been more along the lines of the screen not staying switched on for quite long enough. Maybe I was too slow to read a notification, or I was showing my wife something neat, but I do occasionally find myself wiggle my wrist around just as I feared. Fortunately the times it happen lead me to think that, as I use the watch more, these occasions will happen less and less. I could be wrong, but I think this will work out fine.

Another example of complexity: if I want to go running, what app do I start? Strava is the obvious one. That’s what I use on my phone. But what about the Workouts app? Do I need that instead? As well? One of the features that attracted my to the S4 was the ability to see my pace for the last kilometre… but how do I get that while recording my GPS trail? Clearly this isn’t an insurmountable problem, but it’s one without an obvious solution. Some experimentation will be needed.

However, putting the niggles and unexpected complexity aside, how has it been? My experience in this first week has been great. Being able to quickly glance at notifications without pulling out my phone has been very handy. Walking around a strange city with it tapping my wrist with the directions is way more convenient, as are the notifications telling me which gate my flight boards. And being able to record a run without clutching my phone or have it strapped to my arm is surprisingly liberating.

I’ve heard people say that Watch apps are not great. Maybe that’s true on average but I’ve been impressed with Strava and, especially, Overcast.

All these things are slight reductions in friction or increases in convenience and are not necessarily compelling alone but when you add it all up it’s impressive. On paper, I thought the features were nice but not quite worth the asking price. I would still say it’s a luxury rather than a must have but the utility is certainly there.

C25K Diary (Part 3)

To recap: I started doing the Couch to 5K programme to improve my general fitness. I picked it because it provided a goal and because it didn’t require any specialised gear. I had a few struggles along the way (see parts 1 and 2) but eventually completed week 6 of 8. It should be simple to complete the last two weeks, right?

Sadly, no.

I finished part two with the following advice to myself:

the lesson was to push myself but not to push too hard, to back off a little and not to be afraid to repeat either individual days or whole weeks.

Of course, I didn’t follow my own advice for week 7.

There was a reason for my cavalier attitude: it was coming up to Christmas and I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to keep jogging over the break. I ambitiously thought that I might be able to complete a 5km run before the end of the year. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

But, whatever the reason, I surprised myself by managing it. I successfully completed week 7, day 3 on December 18. I did slow down bit by bit over the week, but I achieved my goal of jogging for the whole time (which was 25 minutes without stopping at this point).

But I’m writing this in March! What happened?

First: life.

I went away for Christmas so I wasn’t able to continue my normal routine. I did bring my jogging gear with me and slightly surprised myself by actually going out. I didn’t even try to start week 8 at this point, instead I just set a rough target of being out for about thirty minutes. I didn’t even really plot a route in advance which was probably a mistake. You don’t get hills and traffic lights and pedestrians on a treadmill!

Running on real roads and paths gave a nice sense of camaraderie that you don’t get in the gym, with people smiling and saluting as I lumbered and sweated along.

Back in the UK in January I tried to pick up where I left off but immediately hit difficulties. Given that I’d not maintained my routine for a few weeks this was not entirely unexpected, but the amount of time it took to get back on track did.

After a number of failed runs and false starts I ended up going all the way back to week 6. I settled on day 2 for a while (jog ten minutes, walk three, jog ten) for a few runs, feeling unable even to progress to the last day (22 minutes run).

And this is where things stayed for over a month. Not only was I not really progressing, I was also not very consistent. One time I would manage twenty minutes straight, the next ten minutes was a challenge.

I’d gradually inched up my speed over the previous month, so I tried slowing down again but it didn’t have much effect. It seemed to be the amount of time running rather than strictly the speed.

I was still getting way more exercise than I was previously, so while I wasn’t failing exactly, I did want to have the satisfaction of completing the programme. This lack of progress was getting frustrating.

Then I hit on a theory: I wasn’t resting enough between runs. At this point I had been continuing to run three times a week, typically on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. While I hadn’t really been recording my progress, anecdotally my better runs were on Mondays.

To test my theory I switched my runs to Mondays and Thursday. It turns out my hunch was right. It took a couple of weeks from this point but on 3 March I completed the programme, running for the full thirty minutes. A week later I managed it again but at the higher speed.

5K!

So technically I’ve still not run 5km yet. It turns out the programme is for 5km or thirty minutes (I guess the full name is less snappy). My exercise session, including the warm-up and cool-down, is over 5km now so I don’t feel that I’m cheating too much!

So, what now? I have two goals. First, I want to improve my consistency. I still have some better and some worse days. I think mostly I just need to keep at it. Secondly, I want to up my speed. For the next few months I want to get to doing the full thirty minutes at 10km/h so I can say that I actually did a full 5km.

Non-goals: running further or longer. I only have so many hours in the day!

Anyway, I kind of amazed myself by finishing. If you’ll excuse me, I’m tired and need a nap.

C25k Diary (Part 2)

To recap, I tried to complete the Couch to 5k programme because I wanted to get fitter, but I was (am) pretty unfit when I started and came across a few challenges by week three. We return as I started on week 4.

Long story short, I blazed through week four. By being conservative with week three, I was ready for a slightly harder run.

I was on a roll and just knew I’d be fine for week 5.

I found the first day quite tough but I managed.

I psyched myself up for the second day, convincing myself not only that I could do it but maybe even at a slightly higher speed.

I knew that the first stage was a five minute jog. I wasn’t paying close attention to the time but, after a while, it kind of felt like a long five minutes. I glanced at the time. 6:20. Hmm.

It turns out that my assumption that each week was the same cycle, just repeated three times, was incorrect. The first day felt like a bit of a jump; the second a stretch; the third, well, having never done more than eight minutes non-stop, running a full twenty minutes sounded practically impossible.

I did the first couple of days but chickened out doing the third day. I re-did day one and then, on a Friday when I knew that I didn’t have to be very mobile and had a two day rest, I dared the twenty minute run. And I managed it. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

To celebrate my success at week five, I decided to invest in some new running shoes. This may have been a mistake.

I did day one and two of week six. My calves and shins ached, though they recovered within an hour.

I didn’t try day three, I just wasn’t feeling ready. Instead I chose to re-do day one. But I didn’t even manage that. This was my first day when I hadn’t managed a complete run.

It made me sad until I realised this was the first time I’d been unable to finish — every other time I’d finished, even if I’d be practically walking by the end. There probably had to be a first time and week six feels like a respectable point.

I didn’t really know how to describe the ache. It took my wife to ask “Is it a shin splint?”

In retrospect, I think I had just been pushing myself too hard. The shoes may have needed a little wearing in but I’ve been using them ever since without trouble. I rested a bit, went back a couple of days in the programme, lowered my speed a little and I managed to complete the week.

Again, the lesson was to push myself but not to push too hard, to back off a little and not to be afraid to repeat either individual days or whole weeks.

Come back soon for weeks seven and eight!

C25k Diary

As it’s the New Year and many people are thinking about reviewing their exercise regime, I thought this might be a good time to write about my experience with Couch to 5K (C25K), a well-known programme for training anyone to be able to run five kilometres.

I should point out that this isn’t a real-time diary. I started it late last year and, as I write this, I have not yet completed a full 5km run. But — spoiler alert — I’m still making progress. There have been a few bumps on the way which, I think, is what makes this worth writing about.

My motivation for writing this is two-fold.

First, most of the advice I’ve seen on the internet about jogging is for people who are already reasonably fit or at least have some idea of what they’re doing. This doesn’t describe me.

Second, by writing this publicly I’ll be more motivated to actually finish!

But, stepping back a little, let’s talk about my background. I have not done much “formal” exercise for around a decade, by which I mean I’ve not been to a gym or done any sports. I’m active, though. By virtue of living in a city and not owning a car, I walk a lot. I did try to do C25K a couple of years ago but managed to hurt my knee so badly that I was literally limping for a couple of weeks. (The advice I’d found at the time suggested pushing past the pain. This was bad advice.)

My motivation for trying again is that I need to do more exercise! And jogging is simple, cheap and needs no specialised equipment. I decided to start indoors, in a gym, because I’m a coward and a realist. I knew that if I could find an excuse for not exercising (like it being cold, raining, dark or a Tuesday), I would use it.

So my strategy was: go to the gym every weekday, straight after dropping the kids off at school. This was because I would already be out of the house and halfway to the gym. No good excuse not to go. I’d do the C25K three days a week and swimming the two others. And I wouldn’t beat myself up if I needed to miss one or two sessions a week.

I used the C25K app. I have quibbles with it but it mostly works as advertised. You tap “Start” and it guides you through the programme, both on screen and with voice instructions. You can play music in the background, but I found that I often tried to jog to the beat rather than the pace I was trying to maintain and switched to listening to podcasts instead.

The first week is pretty simple: “a brisk five-minute warm-up walk. Then alternate between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.”

I managed it without too much difficulty. I was pleased that week two was fairly straight-forward too. The third week, however, was a challenge.

“A brisk five-minute warmup walk, then do two repetitions of the following: jog for 90 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, jog for 3 minutes, walk for three minutes.”

Given that I was finding it hard, what should be strategy be? Should I keep going but run more slowly? Should I keep repeating week 3 until I could manage it? Repeat it until I could manage it comfortably?

The app provided no advice. There was no obvious way of repeating previously completed sessions and no FAQ section. Last time I just kept going, but I ended up hurting myself and giving up. I knew what not to do.

I didn’t find much on the web. Mostly the pages were “C25K is an eight-week programme to get you running 5km.” This suggested that I shouldn’t be repeating weeks. Yet, if the daily programme is always about 30 minutes then slowing down clearly wasn’t going to work either — I’d never hit the 5km.

What was the escape valve? Give up and feel like a failure?

In the end, I found a site that advocated repeating weeks, so that’s what I did. I tried hard not to feel like a failure.

I ended up repeating week three three times before I felt happy progressing to the next week. In hindsight, I was probably a little conservative and I could have progressed earlier.

I found that the app does allow you to go back though I didn’t find it entirely obvious. If this is how you’re supposed to do it, calling them weeks is pretty misleading and, I think, doesn’t help people as unfit as myself. If they were called, say, units I wouldn’t feel so bad repeating one.

The takeaway is that even someone pretty unfit lasted a few weeks before struggling and was still able to find a way through. If I can do it, you can!

My first setback and the solution I found feels like a good place to pause. Come back soon to find how I did on weeks four onwards!