Category Archives: Body

If the mind is the steering wheel to your success, the body is most definitely the engine – my journey from couch potato freelancer to ultramarathoner will be a long but very rewarding one.

So tired…

Got up this morning for a run, at 4:15am. Today was my girlfriend’s last day of work before starting her maternity leave, and she starts at 6am – so I needed to be out and back before she left for work.

I went to bed at 8pm to make sure I got a full 8 hours sleep, at midnight I woke up wondering if I’d missed my alarm, then again at 1, and 2.

I had planned to go back to sleep for an hour or two afterwards, but ended up soldiering on with work today.

Nice early night for me tonight, ready for another run tomorrow. Apparently the wind has been whipping the sea across the promenade today – should make for an interesting run.

A little bit of momentum…

It feels awesome to be 2 days into the clean eating and running routine, yep, I got out there again this morning for another run. Providing I can get up early enough to run before my girlfriend goes to work, I’ll be out there tomorrow too.

I really do love running, although at the moment I’m nowhere near the level of fitness I was when I climbed Ben Nevis – but I can already feel some improvements. Today’s run was much easier than yesterday’s. If anybody is considering taking up running, I seriously recommend a Couch to 5k plan.

It’s so good to be forming new habits again – this afternoon, I polished off a mushroom and sun-dried tomato omelette with a side of spinach, and as I finished the final mouthful I told a friend how much I enjoy cooking such simple but tasty food.┬áThis evening’s meal was roast lamb with roasted vegetables, mushrooms and green beans – another triumph of clean eating and a pleasure to eat too.

It’s amazing how picking up old habits can inspire you so much – now that I’m keeping a log of what I’m eating, I’ve found that I don’t even want to reach out for a chocolate bar or a tube of Pringles.

Now I have momentum on my side, things are looking very positive – I’m looking forward to running, I’m looking forward to meals that I know are doing me good, and I’m not craving any of the foods (or should I say snacks) that tempted me just a few days back. I’m not naive enough to think I’ve formed the habit yet – but I’m stubborn, and I’m on a mission now.

The moral of the story is – if you have a goal of any kind, or want to make a change, just start then keep moving forwards.

A new beginning…

As always, yesterday I reflected on the successes and failures of the year gone by – and made a fresh commitment to my fitness.

Last night, I weighed and measured – so I can keep a monthly record of body improvements, I also wrote out a mission statement for the year:

“Today I throw away old habits including laziness, procrastination and unhealthy eating – I will measure monthly and work relentlessly to improve my fitness.”

I’ve also written down 3 specific fitness goals for the year:

  • To lose 4 stone by December 31st 2014
  • To compete in Tough Mudder this year
  • To run 26 miles non-stop by December 31st 2014 (organised marathon, or just for fun)

As a way of keeping motivated, I’ll be taking side, front & back photographs, and pasting it inside a food/activity log along with the month’s measurements. Keeping a diary helps me form habits and keeps me accountable to myself.

At the time of writing – I am 18 stone (113.7kg) which is the heaviest I’ve ever been, completely unfit and have a waist measurement of 48 inches.

My complete measurements are:

  • Weight: 18st / 113.7kg
  • Hip: 46in
  • Waist: 48in
  • Chest: 47in
  • Thigh: 23in
  • Calf: 17in
  • Bicep: 15in

So, I took the first steps today – I restarted Couch to 5k training using the “Ease in to 5k” app. At 5am, I woke and dressed – anxious to begin, took a few mouthfuls of water, and headed out of the door at around 5:30am.

The 3 stone I’d put on during my ‘sloth period’ didn’t materialise into the knee punishment I was expecting, this is good news – I suppose all the squats, jump squats and lunges I’d been doing prior to my fitness sabbatical helped there.

The only major weakness at this time is my cardiovascular fitness which will come with time and consistency… at times, during the walk periods of the Couch to 5k training, it felt as though Mariusz Pudzianowski (5 times World’s Strongest Man) was trying to break out of my rib cage with his fists.

But, I made it to the end of C25K day 1 (for the 3rd time) – and I’m on the road again where I belong.

Couch to Ultramarathon – Part 1: The Road To 5k

Now that I’ve hit my first running goal – running 5km without a walking break, I’m about to start the next step – training to run in a 10km charity event, I begin Monday, and will be sharing my thoughts along the way.

My last 5km run clocked in at 30 minutes, I have an overall target time of 20 minutes, as my fitness and distances increase – my 5km times will come down considerably.

My distance goals are:

  • 5km
  • 10km
  • 15km
  • half marathon
  • full marathon
  • 50 mile ultramarathon
  • 100 mile ultramarathon
  • 100 mile+

As I achieve each milestone I’ve set for myself towards my ultramarathon goals, I’m going to write a little bit about the journey so far – a diary of sorts to keep me focused and document progress I’ve made.

When I first decided I was going to run an ultra, I knew I was starting from zero and that small but consistent regular improvements were going to get me there. Far from being knowledgeable about running, I decided my best chance of becoming a runner was to start small and set myself realistic goals. This way, I could minimise the risks of injury, build up a good level of fitness, and get the momentum needed to push for my longer term goals.

5km seemed to be quite a good place to start – just over 3 miles, and at least 5 times further than I’d ever run in my life. I searched Google for some tips on getting from 0 to 5km. Everywhere I looked, I heard about “Couch to 5k” and “Run/Walk intervals”.

I did some research, the Couch to 5k theory sounded good – in a nutshell, you build up your stamina by running for a very short period of time and then walking to recover – and repeat. Each session lasts around 30 minutes and you train three times a week. At the start of each week, the length of your running sections increases, and your recovery times eventually begin to decrease, until you’re running more that you’re walking.

By the end of 8 weeks you should be running for a full 30 minutes – which for most people (running 10 minutes per mile), is enough to reach 5km.

To save me timing my intervals with a stopwatch (taking my focus away from running), I looked for an iPhone app which would help. I discovered Ease Into 5k by Bluefin Software, which provided audio instructions to ‘run’ and ‘walk’ at the beginning of each interval.

I was ready…

The first session starts with a 5 minute warm up walk, then 9 repetitions of a 60 sec run and a 90 sec walk. Then finally, a 5 minute cooldown walk.

I’d already mastered walking 10km, this will be easy…

Unfit was not the word… every run section was torture – I felt like my legs were going to fall off, my lungs seemed like they were going to burst and my heart was trying to escape from my chest.

How could my body feel broken from under a minute of running?

My mind was much stronger – I kept angrily repeating the words “Keep going, come on fat boy… come on, come on!” I was fat, this was the reason – I was lazy, I didn’t exercise – running was the cure.

Nothing was going to stop me, I will not be defeated, EVER… I kept on, longing to hear the sound of the app’s ‘chime’ followed by the instruction to ‘walk’, then it arrived. 90 seconds of bliss – time to walk, recover, catch my breath and prepare for the next 8 torturous repetitions.

Come on fat boy, come on fat boy… COME. ON. FAT. BOY!

By the time the my phone told me to ‘cool down’ I was a mess, my t-shirt soaked with sweat, red faced, legs burning and my heart pounding – but I’d done it, I didn’t stop when I thought I had to.

I’d taken the first step – despite the discomfort, I felt amazing. I had chosen to run, and I ran.

The next two sessions of the week went well – armed with the knowledge that I didn’t die the first time, I’d already proven to myself that I could run and walk when the plan told me to – it became a game to me.

Week two upped the ante slightly, a 5 minute warm up walk, then 5 repetitions of a 60 sec run and a 90 sec walk, followed by a 90 sec run and a 90 sec walk. Then, a 5 minute cooldown walk.

The extra 30 seconds of running felt fine, I already felt fitter after the first week and I was ready to go again long before my walking intervals had finished.

The weeks progressed and I kept on with the plan – it was working for me, and I was going to follow it to the letter. I began to love the routine, being out on the tarmac by the sea with nothing but my own company, a few tunes and Ease Into 5k for company.

My eating habits had changed – why eat junk just to run it off again? I began to lose weight without even thinking about it. I started at 110kg and just before my 32nd birthday I weighed 99kg. I’d lost around 10% of my bodyweight in just over a month, I felt amazing.

By week 5 I was running 5 minute intervals, walking 2 minutes, then in week 6 my world fell apart.

It was just after my birthday in 2012 when my girlfriend broke up with me – we’d been living apart for a while, trying to work things out when I heard from her that we were over. At the time, it felt like I’d hit rock bottom. I won’t go into detail about the breakup, the past belongs right where it is.

My motivation to run disappeared, I also began to think less about what I was eating. The weight I’d lost didn’t quite creep back on, it’s marched on like the Salvation Army brass band. I buried myself in my work, and tried to keep my mind busy.

I didn’t quite realise how long had passed before a friend of mine asked me about my running, I told him I hadn’t been for a while and I had been too busy working since the breakup. He told me to get out there, go to the top end of the promenade (5km) and back (another 5km), run/walk/crawl if I had to…

“Running is the best anti-depressant known to man”, he said.

I didn’t feel depressed, but I’ll never forget his words – they hit me right where they needed to. Running did feel good, I love the acheivement, I missed it, I wanted it in my life.

For a split second, I thought about how much work I had to do – then my motivation took over – an hour won’t hurt…

“You’re right, I’m heading out now.” I didn’t want to wait, if I had waited, I might not have done it. I put on my trainers, my headphones and I was running again.

For the first mile, I was flying – two or three minutes running, slowing to a jog and then walking when I absolutely had to. Just after the first mile I was sick, in my rush to get out of the door I’d forgotten that I’d eaten a large lunch less than 10 minutes before leaving. My stomach really didn’t want me to continue, I thought about turning back, but I’d already started and I wasn’t going to let myself down.

I walked the next mile and a half. Walking made my stomach feel better, I started running again – my legs didn’t like it very much but they kept me going – I jogged as far as I could, when I thought I couldn’t jog any further, I sprinted for 10 seconds to prove myself wrong, and finally walked to recover.

By the time I reached the end of the promenade I was exhausted, I’d put in a lot of effort and hadn’t run for 10 weeks, I turned around and started back home. I walked most of the way, every now and then picking a lamp post or a bench in the distance and running to it.

I got home, jumped straight into a hot bath and lay there soaking my aching legs while reading a book.

This was it, I was back, I really had missed running and I wasn’t going to let anything get between me and my ultramarathon goals again – Work, relationships, nothing. The only thing that could ever slow me down would be injury, I can reduce the risks by learning as I go.

My legs ached for a couple of days, so I rested them before I went back out to start my couch to 5k journey again. The plan had worked for me before, and I was going to follow it all the way to the end this time.

I had become quite busy with design work, instead of trying to squeeze in a run where i could or running at the end of the day when I knew I’d have least motivation, I made running my first priority – I’d be up at 5:30am without fail on run days.

For the next few weeks, I was out by 5:45am every other day, pacing the promenade – fresh, motivated and getting fitter. My first few weeks were easy, I barely needed the walk intervals – I knew the plan worked so I didn’t want to skip ahead – I was going to follow it from the beginning to the end.

I got invited out for a drink with some friends – I was introduced to Anne-Marie, a friend of a friend and we got talking about running, goals and life in general. I must have been quite passionate about it because later that night I had a message on Facebook from her, telling me she’d decided to take up running, thanking me for the inspiration.

We got talking and ended up running together a few nights later. I kept up my morning 5k training and also ran some evenings with my new running buddy. Through our shared interests, we’ve grown very close and we are now in a wonderful relationship together – she keeps me grounded and inspires me even more than I can inspire myself.

We ran regularly, and each time we did – I was able to beat some of my personal best distances – proud that I’d run further than the time before. One night, Anne-Marie told me she’d gone out the night before and run a full 5k. We were due to run and she told me she thought I could make the same distance.

Could I? What’s the worst that could happen?

I hadn’t reached the end of my 5k training yet, but with someone by my side who had already done it – would I push myself that little bit further?

I don’t say no to many challenges – this was no different.

We set off on our familiar route along the promenade, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. We seemed to be running a little faster than usual, I told myself this was a good thing, if we started to get tired we’d have a little room to slow down if we needed to recover. My breathing technique isn’t the greatest and the thought of trying to run a full 5k when I’d never done it before was playing on my mind, sapping some of my motivation.

It was tough – I used every trick I knew to keep me moving. First, I set my sights on the half way point, if I could get there without stopping, surely I could turn around and do the same back again. My legs started to feel heavy at around a mile, less than half way – my breathing and my heart felt fine, I could still hold a conversation so we weren’t going too fast.

I already knew from experience that my legs could carry me a lot further than I felt they could at the time, so I kept going.

As we ran, we stayed side by side, if one of us fell back slightly we slowed down but never stopped to walk. At around a mile and a half, I could see the half way point marker – a life belt at the Heysham end of Morecambe promenade. I tried to speed up a little to give myself some extra motivation. We both tapped the life belt with our hands and turned around, making our way back – slower than our original pace, but steady.

I can’t stop now, I’m already more than half way there – all I have to do is the same as I’ve just done, and I’ll reach my first running goal, earlier than planned. Being ahead of schedule on my 5km plan was the key, I like to beat my own expectations, if I did this, I’d be weeks ahead of my goal.

Music, that’s what I need…

When I run with Anne-Marie, I don’t bother taking my headphones – I prefer the company. When I’m running alone, I love to have music in my ears. I started to sing in my head – I don’t know why I picked Mr Brightside, but it kept me going.

Mile two passed by and we’re nearly two thirds done – this was already the furthest I’d run without a walking break, my legs felt fine, my breathing felt good and my heart didn’t feel like it was trying to break my ribs from the inside.

Two and a half miles, I begin to struggle – it always happens to me, the end is in sight and somehow I feel extra effort is needed to get me past the finish line. I didn’t feel like giving up at all, just that the last section was harder than everything that came before. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like I know the end is near so I’m winding down. Something I’m going to have to overcome through training.

The last 250m were the worst, by now I’m convinced I’ll make it to the end, I’ve run further than ever before, I just want it to be over – I know it’s in the mind, but I have to do something to distract myself.

I don’t have hang ups about my shape, weight or size, running is taking care of everything – I know what motivates me, sometimes smiling, sometimes laughing, this time, in the last quarter kilometer I needed to hate myself…

“Come on you fat ****, come on – grrrrrrr!”

This time, the words weren’t in my head – I was growling them through gritted teeth.

200m… 150m…

“Come on fat boy….”

100m… 50m… DONE!

I’d done it, as soon as I stopped, I coughed a little and felt like I was going to puke. I took a mouthful of water and walked home with Anne-Marie, both exhausted, but grinning.

“Told you!” She said.

“I know, I know – I knew I could do it, I just needed to do it to be sure” I replied.

Since then, we’ve been 5k runners – we’ve gone a little further as an experiment, but consistently running 5k slightly faster than the last time has been our collective goal.

My next target is 10km, I trust the Ease Into 5k app, so I bought Bluefin Software’s Bridge to 10k app yesterday – ready to start the plan on Monday.

If you’ve read this far, thank you – it means a lot. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far, I’ll keep up with the updates. If you’re training for anything or you’re on the way towards one of your life’s goals I’d love to hear from you.

Why do I want to run an ultramarathon?

I’d never been particularly active, even at school I’d prefer to sit in a classroom during break times and lunch time drawing and catching up with friends. PE was never my favourite subject – whenever I could, I’d get a friend to write a note from ‘Mum’ and I’d sit on the sidelines chatting and watching the world go by.

The strangest thing about it all was that I could run – fast. Every day, as soon as the bell rang, I was first out of the gates – sprinting at full pelt to the bus stop half a mile away, to catch the first possible bus home.

I was never the fastest on the 100m track – or the 400m track for that matter, I could barely make it around on sports day – having a good reason to run seemed to be the key to achieving speeds and distances I’d never done before.

Without a reason to run, I never ran for fun – ever.

I became quite fit when I left school, my weight was higher than I wanted it to be, and at the start of the summer holidays I decided I wanted to look good for college – it could be a new start and I could rebuild my image.

Sit ups and press-ups were the key to achieving the body I wanted. What I didn’t realise was that I was also losing body fat without realising it, kicking a football around with my friends every day.

By the time I started college, I’d lost all my puppy fat and had a ‘baby six pack’. I continued to play football at break times and lunch time with my friends and I became relatively fit.

When I left college, I started working in a warehouse, lifting and stacking wooden pallets and boxes. Around this time, I discovered a love for lifting weights and I packed on some muscle too.

I had an opportunity to move from the warehouse into a sales job which was mostly desk based – that’s where my fitness went south. Over time, I stopped focusing on being fit and healthy, I lost all my muscle mass and started eating fast food – causing me to gain body fat.

14 years later, I was heavier than I’d ever been, I could barely climb the stairs without having to catch my breath, and I wanted to do something about it. A friend of mine had competed in Ironman a few times and seeing his progress made me want to do something similar.

I thought It would be foolish to start running without losing some weight first – walking would be the best start, so I got a dog – she would be my reason to walk. Every morning, at 5:30am, I would be up and ready to take Gem on a 10km walk. With the Nike+ app on my iPhone tracking my calorie burn, and my music playing, walking became a pleasure. My weight began to drop and I noticed a huge difference in my body shape.

I was browsing Amazon one day when I saw Dean Karnazes’ book ‘Ultramarathon Man’ – I’d seen him on TV earlier that year and thought “Wow! There are guys that run more than a marathon? That’s awesome!”, I’d also seen an article about him in a magazine at the local garage while I was waiting for my car to be fixed. I bought the book and started reading it, a seed began to form.

I soaked up everything in ‘Ultramarathon Man’ and then went looking for more books on running – I found ‘Born To Run’ by Christopher McDougal and ‘Relentless Forward Progress’ by Byron Powell. Relentless Forward Progress appealed to me because of my love for Kaizen. Born To Run really struck a chord with me – I was going to do it – I’m going to run an ultramarathon.

To go from non-runner to ultramarathoner is my goal.

Why?

Because it’s MASSIVE. Because it’s something I fear. Because it is going to break me mentally and physically. Because it’s going to be something I can look back at in years to come and say “Hell yeah, I did something most people would think is impossible.”

I’ve discovered recently that I’m an all or nothing guy – when I do things, I plan to go all the way. It’s going to take a lot of determination, but that’s something I have in abundance.

Since my journey from non-runner began (more details to come in another post), I have gone from 0 to 5km runner. I’m not the fastest, but I’m consistently beating my times and am about to increase my distance. My next milestone is 10km before I begin serious marathon training this year.

Have you ever had any insane goals, I’d love to hear from you.