Saturday, February 01, 2014

Some Reflections on the End of Janathon 2014

So janathon 2014 ends with a whimper. I could have done something energetic but I went to London and decided walking the streets, in the drizzle and then the rain, was good enough. 4 miles in about 70 minutes should be enough count. For sure it was an easy day, but that doesn’t matter as the structure of the month has been to limit harder exercise to every other day, on average.

Overall this year’s Janathon has nearly been a success (if such a thing is logically possible).  It could not be counted a full success as I missed a day, but other than that I achieved my limited objectives. I was not going for any big numbers,trying to push myself to the limit, or trying to prove, inspite of all the evidence, that I was fit. Instead I tried to ease myself back and, more importantly, get back to enjoying my running.

Last year was such a struggle and I mostly came home feeling grey and drawn. I stopped and started, getting discouraged then thinking I ought to try again but then not feeling any better. The only explanation is that I either had some sort of tiredness virus or post viral exhaustion that hung on. The will was there but the body would not cooperate. A good example was Junathon, where I thought I would try to get going but it only lasted a few days - a disaster. Towards the end of the year though things improved and I began to go to the gym.  So New Year, new resolution: get back on track. Janathon was an excuse to gradually extend the time on my feet. 

It worked.

In the last couple of weeks I have been coming home refreshed and a run has set me up for the day, rather than being the cause of despair. Huzzah! so now we can also get back to the subject of this blog (the mystery of running and why it is mentally and physically satisfying - if you hadn’t guessed). Last year I could not approach it without feeling like a hypocrite or it was just hypothetical - hence I stopped. But now I feel interested again.

It might, of course prove to be a false dawn but that is something only time will tell. In the meantime all you can do is take it one run at a time. The future will then take care of itself

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Summary of Days 26-30

Another composite entry to show that I have not been completely idle these past few days - mostly idle, perhaps, but not completely inert.

26th - not much of an effort. We visited family for  lunch, after which there was a stroll around a neighbouring park to make it feel like a proper traditional sunday. I would be hard pushed to describe it as exercise but it has to count because there was nothing else. The entire day consisted of: driving, socialising, eating, strolling, driving. 

27th - similarly idle but without the excuse. It was one of those days where I could not get myself going. Sometimes on such days going for a run sorts you out but this time, deep down, I knew it wouldn’t happen, so I went out for a stroll. In itself that was a little bit of a triumph as any other month (apart from June) I wouldn’t have bothered. The day was characterised by general lassitude.

28th - Back in the swing and a 30 minute run. The important point was that after a couple of days rest it felt good to be back and I returned from the run refreshed. It showed that yesterday was not about inertia but instead I had been listening to my body and I just needed some down time.

29th - 3 mile walk,more vigorous than the previous strolls,  it actually felt as if my pulse was being raised. It was made virtuous by the fact that it was pouring down. It was not a day to be out  and if I had run my clothing would soon have been sticking to me and water would have been sloshing around in my trainers - not pleasant. Instead I dressed like a hill walker and trudged.

30th - This time it was a 40 minute run, with some hills, and again I returned feeling refreshed. Huzzah! At the moment that is all I am looking for - to get back home and feel enlivened, rather than drained.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Without Technology (Day 25)

Run - 9.5km, time unknown

A day of technological failure.

I have recently started to run listening to music. Not always;  I still like the idea of both letting my mind wander freely and still be aware of the moment. Without the isolating effect of the music I also feel more connected with the world around me and that is a benefit. However sometimes, especially when I am finding it  hard to motivate myself, I get myself going by reversing the polarities and listen to some music to the accompaniment of a little running.

This morning I woke up tired and even getting ready felt wearisome. The prospect of a run was not enticing but I had promised myself that I would run for an hour - and there could be no reneging on the deal. Music would help, I thought, now where did I put that iPod?. Damn! No idea!. I looked in all the usual places and then (as you do when you are looking for something) went back and looked again (because you are convinced that is where it should be, even if you have just discovered it is not). Bugger!  I could either faff around all morning or go ... I went.

That was OK and in all honesty it didn’t bother me much as music is only an occasional option. So close the door, switch on the watch, and gradually ease into the run. It was a little hard in the beginning but nothing too serious and gradually I started to feel better and once the first hill was out of the way, everything clicked into place and I started to feel good. Except I was no longer running by my heart rate. There figures on the watch had gradually faded away as the battery gently died, and with it all records of my run. That is why I don’t know how long I took. I don’t precisely know when I started, or when I finished and so cannot compensate for the lack of a timer but  as I wanted to run for an hour, that must be how long I took.

So today I ran without any technology and the news is you don’t need it. Everything went well and I returned feeling much more content than I had done when I left, which is, after all, what it is all about. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Social Atmosphere of Sport (Day 24)

Walk - 2 miles, 35 minutes

Today doesn’t count at all. It shall forever be filed under ‘ambulatory loafing’ in a dark neglected corner of the library of exercise and never revisited.

Instead I want to talk about the social atmosphere of sport. This  article by Ed Smith would seem, from the headline, to be about the difficulty for gay sportsmen coming out, but it is actually more about the constraints of an overly macho dressing room culture. An interesting passage is:
A few years ago, I appeared in a Radio 3 debate called “Sport v the Arts”. It was a slightly silly premise, of course. But I did learn one uncomfortable truth that day. The panellists speaking against sport felt personally affronted and excluded by its aggressive and narrowly male tone. I argued that this noisy constituency was far from reflective of the whole of sport. But perhaps I would feel very differently if I hadn’t belonged to the sporting community from a very early age.
The case against sport, in fact, comes easily enough to me, too. I quickly weary of macho posturing, dislike voyeuristic hero worship and despise tribal hatreds. The case for sport is actually far subtler and harder to pin down. I am not convinced that sport builds character, though clearly some lives are rescued by the discipline and structure that it provides. Much more often, however, it merely builds the character of people who were already inclined towards self- improvement. Put differently, sport is often the accidental vehicle for personal growth: “character-building” opportunities could have come through music, or theatre, or any other form of communal activity.
It made me think about all that is good about road running. It truly is open to everybody and there is no need for anyone to feel excluded by an "aggressive, narrowly male tone". Everybody can join in, to the degree that makes them comfortable. You can join a club, or not; you can race, or not; you can form an informal social group, or not. In other words you can be as social or as individual as you want. But if you do reach out and talk to other runners you mostly find them supportive. However there is a proviso: most road runners are not competitive in the traditional  way. They are not being defined by their victories over others but by the victories against themselves. The aim is to do better and gradually improve or reach a particular goal. It is, as Ed Smith said,  just one of a number of routes to self improvement.
There is a big difference between a participative sport and high level, gladiatorial ,contests where sport is a mass spectacle. They are so different it is almost confusing for them to share the same name. Participative sport is about sharing the experience of doing something, elite sport is about a small number of people, doing something exceptionally well, being supported, encouraged, and identified with. It has a different kind of value.
Yet, with often flickering but never extinguished belief, I continue to think that sport does more good than harm. As a form of joyous collective memory and experience, it is a central thread of human identity. Beneath the adversarial veneer, sport is one of the ties that bind us together.
This is a justification of sport as a shared theatre and says nothing about what goes on behind the curtain and the forces that form the performance. It leaves the macho dressing room untouched as we concentrate on the drama

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Resolve Gets Rewarded (Day 23)

Run - 8.4km, 34 minutes

I woke up this morning and it was pouring with rain. “Oh not again!” was my initial thought. “I don’t really want to go out in this. I need to find some excuse” Then I looked out the window and lo and behold  there was someone putting me to shame - running with complete disregard of the conditions.  I then had no alternative but to give myself a good talking to: “You cannot be so feeble. There is no excuse for being soft.”

I told myself that if I went out I would have an enormous sense of moral superiority and bask all day in the glory of showing resolve. So I forced myself get ready and go out of the door.  And then ..  well and then it stopped raining and the sun came out. 

There was no moral superiority and it was just an average run. But nevertheless it felt good.

Are Gyms Sociable? (Day 22)

Gym - 40 minutes, equipment various

In a corner of the gym is an area of free weights where men with big muscles tend to congregate. A lot of the time it is very sociable as a lot of them know each other and take turns at exercises, to both encourage and compete. I am always impressed with this, as I am when I come across any group of people who share an interest - always there is an exchange of information as people want to find out more, develop their practice, and pass on what they have learnt. It’s an informal, bottom-up model of development, where people egg each other on to do more but although there is no one with a badge saying ‘coach’.  Some people are listened to more than others but that’s just the way it as some people might know more or like talking more (not the same thing). However there is no hierarchy aside from a recognition of who is the strongest or best trainer

In the rest of the gym there are personal trainers, working with their clients: encouraging them, showing them how to use particular pieces of equipment. This is a different relationship where part of the motivation is outsourced and the trainer has to both decide on appropriate exercises and make sure the person does them.  Then there are friends (two or three) who come to the gym together and support each other. They might chat more, and  work less than the other two groups but they to keep themselves going, keep themselves coming back.

Then of course there is the group that includes me, people in a world of their own. We are probably in the majority. 

Although I am in my own world I like to look around at everyone else and try to work out what they are trying to achieve (apart from a generalised desire to get fitter) but it is difficult to tell what they are thinking. Most of them have glassy eyes and are looking inwards. I then try to work out if gyms are happy places or not.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A New Year's Resolution (Day 21)

Run - 9km, 58 minutes

This was my scheduled run at a lower heart rate and it went quite well, seeing as there was a hill in the middle.

Not a particularly long run as I am building up distance slowly, or rather I am building up time slowly (the only metrics I am paying attention to at the moment are time and heart rate). But I am happy with that as keeping going is my main objective. I have always thought that consistency is all but somehow always struggled to maintain it. This time I want to do better.

Writing this I realise I have a New Year’s resolution: whatever else you do just keep going. We will now see how that works out. I usually don't go in for New Year's resolutions. All I do at the beginning of the year is  look forward and list things I would like to see happen and start to make some plans. I never try to start life improvement changes on 1st of January as in winter your whole body craves shelter and comfort and rebels at the idea of being put through any form of boot camp Spring is a much better time for that sort of nonsense.

But this year I have started trying to be consistent in January

Monday, January 20, 2014

On Not Knowing Your Body (Day 20)

Walk - 3 miles, 55 minutes

A planned easy day that was nevertheless pleasant, as after early morning fog, the sun came out and frost on grass and on trees shimmered. 

That’s all I really have to say about today. The rest of the post is something I wrote last Sunday. My omnibus post of two days ago briefly mentioned that I ran but didn’t feel good but I had forgotten that I had already written an account of the day. That I wrote it and then could not be bothered to post it is indicative of how meh I felt.  I post it now as an example of how I don’t know my body very well. I thought it was just a bad day, I really did not know I was sickening. 

You don’t know why but you just don’t feel right. You can think of no good reason, you have no excuses to cling to. There is nothing to stop you feeling a bit down because everything else was right - you were well rested, and the weather was perfect, clear, still and crisp. The spirits should have been lifted and you should have been able to cruise. But it didn’t happen. As soon as you passed the warm up stage you just felt uncomfortable, harder than it should be, and not particularly enjoyable.
Some days are like this.
I remember the example of Joe Henderson who said that his training schedule was not fixed in stone, with such and such having to be done at a specific time. Instead  there was an overall structure but what happened on any particular day was in dictated by how he felt. He would run 1 mile and then know if he felt strong, if he didn’t he would cut it short.  In other words he did not see the point in fighting himself too much, nothing much would be gained. He tried to cut with the grain.
This is one of the mysteries of what we do. At what point do we know the difference between a bad day, when trying to do more is counterproductive, and that blah feeling which can be shaken off by a bit more endeavour. Joe Henderson might know after a mile but he has a lifetime of experience and knows his body well. More importantly he knows his inner desire is to want to run; he is not looking for excuses. For other it might be more difficult know exactly how we feel, nevertheless we all make decisions about how hard we push ourselves and how much we adhere to a preordained schedule.
Today I had planned to run 5 miles but cut it to three. Although it felt rubbish and was a struggle, nevertheless I felt quite good that hadn’t given up too early.
Some days are like this - but they just happen and all you can do is shrug and carry on.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Running and Getting Older (Day 19)

Run - 8.7km,  52 minutes

So after a week of sluggishness it was back to running and feeling much happier. My last run, when I was sickening, was a struggle but this felt steady.  Good. It means I can keep on keeping on and have not fallen off a fitness cliff.

perhaps II felt better today because I had had a bit of a rest. As I get older recovery is something that takes more time and needs attention and is the reason I never thought of running everyday for Janathon. After a few consecutive days instead of feeling enlivened I would be ground down - and that is not a good thing. I run for satisfaction, to make me more at one with my surroundings, and lift the spirits  but if you are tired it becomes a chore and stops working.

It is important to be realistic about age and manage your expectations. You have to accept that you are not as elastic as you once were (actually I was never that elastic) and the same amount of effort now yields less speed. You to accept and adapt and be a bit smarter in targeting each session. For instance today I wanted to run at least 40 minutes at a steady pace, later in the week I will run  longer but at a lower heart rate, and my third session will be higher paced intervals. I have a plan, whereas before I would have run more but not be at all disciplined.

Until a couple of years ago I just used to try to ignore the fact that I was getting older but it is now nearer the forefront of my mind. I was interested in reading a question posed in the New York Times: is there any scientific evidence to substantiate the claim that older runners (over 45) should limit the amount of high impact exercise, like jogging. The answer did a good job of citing evidence that suggested the reverse (that running and walking tend to help not only general health, whilst not causing arthritis or other damage to the joints). Good. 

But I was interested in the fears that underlie the question and the way fears can stop us doing things even when benefits outweigh the risks by a large margin . Every single activity has some risk: you can trip taking a gentle stroll and seriously hurt yourself, you can do some easy stretches and pull a muscle or strain a tendon, and always there are stories of people being damaged doing something innocuous.  However the question we have to ask is: what are the chances? How many people out of how many come to harm? You cannot be timid just because you can imagine a dangerous scenario, you have to know if it is likely or not. There is always an element of uncertainty but one thing twe are sure of is that one of the most dangerous thing you ca do is ... nothing. Sitting on a sofa will take years off your life.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Trombone Shorty Lifts a Dull Week (Days 12-18)

This week has seen a near collapse of Janathon activity - whilst not totally dead the priests have been hovering around the bed whilst others had to struggle hard to find a pulse. Running - where did that go? Cycling - not much since the rains started way back when, Gym - once this week,  Walking - yes that was the thing that just about kept me in the game, Blogging -  there is no excuse.

So what has happened (apart from not a lot)? Simple really - winter cold and sinusitis. Such things are always likely in January and it's one of the reasons I have never tried to run a spring marathon as traditionally I have always susceptible to such things at this time of year. I actually think I am programmed to hibernate but as that is not possible I generally trudge on and wait for the days to get longer and for my spirits to lift. So this week has been all about the trudge.

Basic details: Sunday - 3 mile run but it felt far too hard, Monday - 4 mile walk, Tuesday -  3 miles, Wednesday - nothing, a day of complete inertia, Thursday - 6 miles and beginning to feel better after the rest, Friday - gym and definitely showing more energy and intent, Saturday - back to 3 miles walk but intending to run tomorrow.

There is little more to say except that I have been reading the book by David Epstein 'The Sports Gene'. It is excellent and definitely deserves some consideration on this blog as there are so many insights about why some people excel at particular sports and the relative balance of physical ability, strength of mind, and environmental factors. For my part it raises an enormous question that needs addressing: just why do I run when I am genetically not suited to it? Hah! there's the catch.

Anyway as this has been a rather dull week I think it is incumbent upon me to try to end with something cheery. So here it is: over 2 hours of musical goodness from Trombone Shorty in concert at Tipitina's, New Orleans. If that doesn't lift the spirits I don't know what will.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Taking It Easy (Day 11)

Walk - 3 miles, 55 minutes

There was something extremely pleasant about this morning - the equivalent of a rest day but with some token exercise that puts a tick in the Janathon box. A gentle walk amid the long shadows of a low January sun - just the ticket.

Just because you are trying to exercise everyday does not mean you have to do everything full bore. In fact it is important not to as we are not machines capable of reproducing the same performance day after day, always working to a specified level. We work in cycles, we get tired, we need to recover. That is why one of the basic principles of training is to alternate hard and easy days. Rest is necessary.

So today has no pressure. I walk; I breath in; I look about: I see other people enjoying the respite from the weather that has kept them indoors; I see the sun lighting up the landscape in dramatic ways. It feels good and I sing to myself Robert Wyatt’s “A Beautiful Peace”  (which is actually uplifting and downbeat at the same time). Mainly I repeat to myself “It’s a beautiful day” and do not finish off with “But not here”.

Afterwards iI have a coffee and a read of the paper, where I read, amongst other things, more about the weather: pictures of high seas,  people who follow storms, extreme cold in America, and a mild winter in Scandinavia that has confused the bears.

The climate might be on the brink of being truly messed up but I put that aside as for now “It’s a beautiful day”.

P.S. I have messed around with the photo a bit. Reality is not so green and orange

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Sky Was Bright, The Hills Took Their Toll (Day 10)

Run - 8km, 48 minutes

At the moment I spend far too much time thinking about the weather, not only because of all the flooding in various parts of the country i.e. the unusual events, but because continual lack of light makes me gloomy and lethargic. So far this winter is all about grey wet days and I really wish it would change. There are however some moments of relief, the odd day or morning, when the sun shines and the is blue. This morning was such a moment. It did not last as it was raining again in the afternoon but at least there was a chance to go out for a run, and feel a bit brighter, early on.

The plan was to take advantage of the sun and run for slightly longer than 30 minutes, probably 50.
I almost made it but in the end was 2 minutes short. A serious person would have put in a little loop just to make the target. That thought did cross my mind but the instantaneous response was “Sod it. this run has been hard enough as it is!”  It had run a route with hills and I was feeling puffed and weak, so going out of my way just to make up a couple of minutes had no appeal. 

There is a strange psychology at work with routes and stopping. If I decide on a three mile route, I will approach the end thinking "almost there, not long to go, Yay stop!"  I really don't want to go any further. However if I had decided on 6 miles, I would have passed the 3 miles and think nothing of it. So it was with me today, even if I didn't have the excuse of hills I would have stopped. Once I arrive back that is it; the run is over.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Not Too Fussy (Day 9)

Run - 4.1km, 25 minutes

Nothing much to report today apart from another day done. I ran for a short time at a dull pace, that was all. Instead lets talk about shoes because I have just bought a new pair of trainers from a most unlikely place: TK Maxx.

I feel confused about this as I like the idea of buying from specialist running shops  but on the other hand what can you do when you see in front of you, in your size, at a hugely discounted price, a shoe you like. The full retail price of the Asics Hyper 33 is £110, as these are last years model the price in running shops would probably be about £70-80, yet here they were for £50. Done! Except that I did hesitate for a little  because I could see the reason they were cheaper - the colour. The version you see in running shops look quite nice in blue but these were dayglo orange beneath a black mesh. Dark hi-viz is a strange, contradictory look.

This left me with an interesting question: what price do I put on appearance? Obviously the most important thing about a running shoes is that it is comfortable when you you run and everything else is a distant second but if I had a choice of shoes that all did the job how much more would I pay for the ones I liked the look of? I really don’t know the answer. All I do know is that when faced with a bargain I was not too fussy

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Within Boundaries (Day 8)

Gym: 45 minutes, exercises - various

Not a running day, instead I was down in the gym for some strengthening (or accurately limiting loss of strength). 

Although some people’s Janathon challenge is to run everyday, for me that would not be wise. It would be doing much too much, all of a rush, after a less active period. It would invite injury.

I am fully convinced that most running injuries are caused by training errors, the foremost of which is doing too much when the body is not ready. It’s understandable when we have schedules and it is initially possible to overrule any subversive messages the body might send. We also have our pride -weak spots, well how could we have any? We  laugh in the face of weakness. But, and this is a big but, it is no good - we are bounded by our weakest link and cannot put too much pressure on it. We cannot, for example, be in the best shape of our life and have a tinsy winsy little problem with our knee that stops us running. 

Listening to your body is a wide ranging exercise that involves being realistic. This can be hard because in our heart of hearts we all dream of being better than we actually are (well I know I do anyway).  But we have to be clear eyed.

With that in mind, my plan for this month is not to try for any great mileage but build up overall strength. Today was upper body and core.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Reduced by Boredom (Janathon Day 7)

Run (treadmill),  4.3km, 25 minutes

Another rain lashed morning and another indoor run.

Sometimes treadmills are good. If I want to do a little speed work they help in keeping you to your selected pace. You can also leaven the prospect of boredom by frequently varying the tempo and you can play games by either running pyramids or intervals. At the end if it all works out, and you think you have done yourself justice, it can be quite satisfying. On the other hand there are times when it can be hard, very hard. I don’t know why but on some days it just seems tedious. You look round and know that all you are doing is running on the spot. You really are that mouse in a wheel.

Today was a tedious days, when the more you looked at the timer the slower it went. It was very hard to keep going. I had planned 30 minutes but after only 5  I was debating  the minimum I could get away with. OK I had to do more than 6 but how much more? In the end I decided I had to do at least 20 minutes. When I got to 20 I raised it to 25 but when I got there that was it, I had had enough. And so it ended.

I do not think Day 7 of Janathon will go down as a favourite, except that I did it and I suppose that in itself is a good thing

Walking and Character (Janathon Day 6)

Walk - 5.5 miles, time 1hr 30m

Today I went to Berkhamsted and instead of going by car I walked (and took the bus back). It really was the most pleasant way to travel: the sun was out and, for the time of year, the air was mild. it was a short reprieve before the wind and rain settled in again and that added to the sense of being fortunate to be able to do this.

When walking the mind strays from subject to subject with a freedom it is difficult to replicate at the desk. There is an interesting article on this published in the Guardian a few days ago. It uses the hook that regular walking was part of Charles Darwin’s routine, but in all honesty it could have been any one of a number of famous people who have used walking to settle their bodies and stimulate their mind. I wonder if it would be more difficult to find an artist who doesn’t walk than one who does?

Anyway the bit of the article I found amusing was the attempt to ascribe particular virtues to different forms of exercise:
For example, swimming can evoke the sublime, and gesture at the precariousness of human life. As the ancient Greek poets remind us, sprinting can prompt pride: not simply in fast legs or fit lungs, but in the commitment to striving before mortality claims us. Regular jogging can promote consistency of character, and keep us from losing the plot.

I am only partly convinced though. I can believe in the pride of sprinters - one only has to look at the preening and posing of the combatants of a 100m race - but as for jogging, I think it is a mistake to confuse the striving for consistency of effort with consistency of character. Although I have been jogging for many years my ability to lose the plot has not diminished (though some might argue that I have yet to find a plot never mind lose it). Sometimes we just try too hard to find congruence.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Cup of Tea & a Banana (Janathon Day 5)

Run - 7.8km, 50 minutes

The main job of January is to establish a routine and limit the temptation to backslide. The timing of runs is crucial as I know if I leave it to long before starting my exercise the chances are I will continue to put it off until the whole day has gone. Although studies have shown the best time for physical activity is the afternoon, for me, this is no good. My body might be slightly be at the park of its insubstantial powers but my mind will. It will find all sorts of ways to creatively procrastinate until that peak time fades away, the evening comes and tomorrow seems the sensible option. So I need to start by getting going before I can even begin to think about and begin the day feeling virtuous, as if I have achieved something. It is here that a routine is important because morning is the time we are most likely to automatically follow habit. How many of us do exactly the same thing day after day, even to the extent of eating the same breakfast. Changing such habits require a bit of conscious effort for a period before it has settled down and I am still in the settling stage but so far these first 5 days have been good.  My new routine is to roll out of bed, put on my kit and then have a cup of tea and a banana before setting out. Tea and banana now seems the perfect way to start a day. 

This morning was lovely. As I was drinking the tea I could watch the rays of dawn picking out the small clouds to make a pink mackerel sky. It wasn’t long before the pink faded and the sky was mostly blue but it was fun to watch the changes in the morning sky. When I got outside I could see there had been a heavy frost and everything was covered. My run took me through Gadebridge Park and there everything looked spectacular: trees, grass, ready river bank, skateboard park, all sparkly white. The air was clear, the wind was still., people and cars were scarce. There was a sense of peace. if you can’t enjoy a run on a day like this then it is time to find a new sport.

There was however one problem - only very tiny, hardly worth mentioning but nevertheless something a problem - yesterdays rain had left the pavements smeary wet and the frost meant there were areas of slipperiness. Quite a few times when I went to toe off I could feel the slight give of my foothold. Nothing drastic but just a reminder to pay attention and look out for ice and there was one sharp bit of hill where I thought it wiser to walk. But other than that it was lovely - a good way to start the day.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

In Defence of Janathon (Day 4)

Run (treadmill) - 5km, 29 minutes

Yesterday I was amused by a small conversation on Twiter. It started with @simon_lamb saying: 
What the fuck is janathon & jantastic does every single piece of our ass need to be sloganised what's wrong with good old fashioned running
This is fair enough, it’s the sort of grumpy thing everyone says about something at sometime or other, but then it got better. @pollyfarrington replied
are they the same thing? I started reading the rules and almost died of boredom
Now the rules of Janathon couldn’t be more simple: do some form of exercise every day for a month, log it, then blog it. That’s it - everything you need to know in 15 words. That’s all there is.  I assume Polly’s mortal scare was slightly exaggerated. But then came the best bit, a contribution from @goldilocksruns that is wonderfully absurd.
I must say Janathon seems like a creation of fascism and misery
Where do we go with this? My first reaction was that it was a little early to invoke Goodwins Law - but that is by the bye. My main reaction was enjoyment of something so completely wrong it could become the new slogan. (Actually it is so wide of the mark it almost deserves  the Wolfgang Pauli put down of being so bad it’s not even wrong).

Let us go back to the very beginning in 2007, when blogger joggerblogger decided he needed to get a fitter and challenged himself and others to run everyday in June (here is the first post, the small beginnings). It was just an informal grouping of virtual friends who decided to join in and support each other. At heart that is all it ever has been is what it  remains, even if it has grown in size and now includes January. Everybody chooses what they want to do (how much or how little, it doesn’t matter) then they document it so others can read and post encouraging comments. If there is a failure one day there is bound to be someone to tell you that it is OK and you are  still doing well.

The fun is that it is an informal grouping of people, each with their own abilities and goals, who can find a common cause. It doesn’t matter that some are finely tuned athletes others (ahem,like me) are less so. All we try to do is find satisfaction in our exercise and then share the experience. 

It is the very reverse of a system of centralised dictats that characterises fascism. It is for amusement rather than misery. Read Jogblog, read Travelling Hopefully, or Fit Artist (who isn't doing Janathon this year but who has been one of the stalwarts from the beginning) and judge  whether they seem like flinty eyed, stoney faced, jack booted oppressors.

P.S. Today’s run was meant to be outdoors but strong, blustery winds driving heavy rain persuaded me otherwise. As runs on a treadmill go it was fine.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Early Morning Gym (Janathon Day 3)

Gym - 55 minutes, machines various

I have always had mixed feelings about gyms. On the one hand I find them useful for working on strength and general fitness (especially if the weather is rubbish), on the other hand they can be rather joyless. I have bridled a bit at the idea of putting in shifts at a fitness factory. However it is a good thing for me to keep up my membership because if I don’t I don’t do enough resistance work and my strength conditioning slides. 

A couple of years ago I gave up the gym and bought some dumbbells, with the intention of saving money and working out at home - but it didn’t happen. For some strange psychological reason I could never work with the same intensity or have the discipline to maintain a regime. There was no reason why not and I could never understand it, but l always let it slide. There was an initial burst of enthusiasm, good intention and activity, but then a lull, another burst of more good intention, then a longer lull, etc, etc, until the lull took over entirely. Perhaps it is as simple as needing to go somewhere else for a specific purpose, or at least having a dedicated room.  (After all a number of writers either rent an office or have a  shed so they feel separate from their home). Whatever the reason the result was I that I had to recognise the reality,  admit my lack of resolve, rejoined the gym.

So here I am on day 3 of Janathon, at 7:30 in the morning, lifting and pulling weights, bending, twisting, and stretching. Looking round I am surprised at how many other people are here at this time. I thought I was being particularly virtuous being so early but it is not so. There are many others keen to look the new year in the face and promise to themselves that this time it will be different.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

All I Need is a Little Progress

One of the pleasures of winter sun is seeing the tracery of branches against a clear blue sky.

Today was one of those days that remind you why you run - why it can lift your spirits. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the air was sharp but not too cold, the wind was light. In other words the conditions were just about perfect and it would have been hard not to enjoy yourself. 

Again the aim was to run easily and today I tried harder to keep my heart rate down. Still not totally successful but a couple of beats better than yesterday. I can’t make a quantitative comparison with yesterday because it was a different route, slightly more hilly. All I have to go on are observations when it was flat and I seemed to find it a little bit easier. That is good enough for me this year because I am taking a bit of an old school approach - running just by time and heart rate. The distance I post on the blog is done using Gmaps and gives an indication of how things are going but speed and distance are not measurements I need to know on the run. In basic training they can take care of themselves.

The slight sense of progress is one of the things that can keep you going (and something I lost last year). It doesn’t have to be much and it could be anything: you can go a bit faster, a bit easier, or just come back feeling more relaxed. It doesn’t matter, except that you need to know you are getting something back from your effort. You could be someone like Chris Boardman who is fascinated by measuring everything and who was never interested in anything where he couldn’t see a natural progression and found his satisfaction in the challenge of objective improvement and winning (as a thirteen year old he rode his first time trial in 29:43, a week later he rode it in  28 and it was that that hooked him`). You could at the opposite end, like me, and chase feelings and an increased sense of well being. Whatever it is we are all looking for we need to know we are not wasting our time.