New year, new goals. I’m continuing my fitness efforts from last year into 2020, with a slightly different approach to help me keep focussed and moving forwards.
But can I get the year off to a good start and set the tone for the 11 months to follow? Or will I burn out in a wave of January enthusiasm that rapidly gives way to an overwhelming feeling of ‘meh’?
Here’s the story of my January.
Saturday 4th January
Thanks to a combination of buying in too much food, family days out and various social engagements, Christmas over-indulgence dragged on longer than initially planned.
But my mojo definitely kicked back in this morning. In truth, I maintained a pretty good level of exercise over the festive period. So I didn’t need much convincing to hit the gym this morning.
I’m focussing on achieving the Parkrun target I missed at the end of last year: complete 5km in under 30 minutes. That means a single-minded focus on increasing speed rather than endurance.
Tuesday 7th January
My second day back at work and I’m firmly back into my routine again, with some small tweaks.
I’m trying not to obsess over how many steps I do each day and maintaining a consistent level. At the end of last year I was doing 15k-20k steps pretty much every day. I kept my calorie intake fairly constant to match this effort.
Now, though, I’m trying to make my big days bigger: closer to 25k steps with more high-intensity work. On the days in between I’m less worried about counting steps. Consequently my calorie intake is close to 3,000 on a training day, while on a recovery day it’s more like 2,200. The variation stops me from getting stale and it will hopefully keep my metabolism on its toes too.
Saturday 11th January
Over the Christmas holidays, I took to running first thing in the morning. I had mixed feelings about this. It was a positive way to start to the day. But it was invariably freezing and I consistently struggled to complete even 3km. Indeed, the more I ran, the slower I got.
Today, though, I went out mid-morning. It was warmer, I was more awake and consequently both my legs and my mindset were better. 3.27km in 22 minutes is still slower than my previous Parkrun pace but it was a step in the right direction. It’s coming back to me.
Wednesday 15th January
It had been 2½ months since I last completed a 5km run. During the intervening period, I’d lost some speed and stamina. Those backward steps were accompanied by a nagging erosion of confidence.
So today I bit the bullet. I arrived at the gym with fresh legs and fired up the treadmill. Start with 3km, I thought. That arrived and I was still feeling okay, so I reset my sights on 4km. When I reached that, once you’ve done four out of five you might as well finish the job, right?
So I did.
5km completed at a steady 9.4kph. That equates to 31:55 Parkrun pace – over a minute better than my PB. Confidence restored.
Friday 17th January
I read an article the other day about training. It spoke about the benefits of using regular hard training to build resilience to injury, rather than over-emphasising rest and recovery.
Of course, rest is important. But it’s easy to hide behind it too, I think. When I got injured last year, I took an increasingly conservative approach. In effect, I would round off training efforts at the first sign of stress and wrap myself in cotton wool.
There were too many gym sessions where I’d get on the treadmill aiming to run for 20 minutes, start to feel a little tight after 10 minutes and stop. It was just an excuse, really. Now I understand the feedback my body gives me a bit better. A certain level of discomfort is often not a sign of impending injury, and I now recognise that if I keep going I will simply emerge unscathed on the other side, as long as I warm up and down properly.
So now I’m adopting a slightly different approach to my cardio sessions. Yes, if something feels genuinely wrong, I’ll stop. But 95% of the time I’ll work through it – and then keep going for an extra minute or two. There’s a physical endurance benefit to that, for sure, but the biggest benefit is a mental one. I’m getting tougher, not just fitter.
Saturday 18th January
To say conditions at Parkrun were less than ideal would be an understatement. At 9am it was still minus-1 degree, there were icy puddles everywhere and large sections of the course were slippery. Not good.
But I was there already, so off I went anyway.
The first kilometre was the worst. The old runway that we start on resembled an ice rink. Understandably, most people – myself included – set off gingerly and we concertinaed to a halt on a couple of occasions as the 600-plus pack negotiated its way around the larger puddles.
I’m not going to lie. I felt like I was running through treacle, my calves settling into a familiar dull achiness before I’d been going even five minutes. But, despite all that, I kept going and crossed the line with my watch suggesting I was very close to my PB.
The wait for my official time was more tense than usual but … 33:02, my fastest ever by four seconds. It’s a small but significant improvement, and in better conditions would probably have been sub-32:30. 30:00 remains a long way off – but I’m back on course.
Saturday 25th January
Parkrun again – the first time I’ve ever done it on consecutive weeks. No ice today. No fear. And no self-doubt.
I can already see and feel the improvement I’ve made since Christmas. I’m no longer afraid of whether or not I can run the full distance, a nagging doubt it has taken me nine months to shake off.
So I just knew that I would run a PB; it was just a matter of how fast. Usually I check my split times at each kilometre but today I trusted the sensations in my legs to guide me and didn’t glance at my watch until I hit the final kilometre, which confirmed I was heading for a good time. So I pushed hard, managed a semi-sprint finish and actually overtook three people in the final 250 metres – something that never happens.
31:54! Over a minute better than last week and a 72-second improvement against my 2019 best. 30 minutes is looking distinctly realistic now. I’ve promised myself a new pair of running shoes when I finally achieve it. Now there’s an incentive!
Thursday 30th January
I’m just back from a couple of days in Germany with work, and I can feel my motivation is still strong. But it’s a bit different these days.
This time last year, my focus was on calorie control. Eat less. Minimise carbs. Ignore the hunger pangs. That made work trips difficult, where you’re often eating out with colleagues and indulging in hotel breakfasts.
Now, though, I’m more relaxed about what I eat. (Maybe a little too much so!) If I end up in calorie surplus for a day or two, I know I’ll make it up over the rest of the week. And rather than eating less, I’ll ensure I exercise. So that’s why I was out of bed an hour earlier than I needed to be this morning, so I could fit in a 5km walk along the river as the sun came up. I even resisted the urge to spend an hour twiddling my thumbs at the departure gate and walked laps of the airport instead.
Life is busy and there are always a million things to do, and some days there genuinely isn’t time to work on my fitness. But I’ll now make time to fit it in wherever I can. And it doesn’t feel like I’m punishing myself either – doing exercise earns me the right to enjoy my food.
Progress this month
Without ever feeling that I’ve had to make a huge effort to do things differently, January represented a solid start to the year.
I’m four pounds lighter than I was at the start of the year, so I’ve basically negated all my Christmas eating gains. Now to start losing some ‘genuine’ weight.
A quarter of the way into my four-month push to get my Parkrun time under 30:00, and I’ve already found 42% of the time I need. It will get harder from here as I start to experience diminishing returns, but it’s not unreasonable to think that I can find 35-40 seconds a month over the next three months as my fitness improves. So I’m feeling positive.
The one target I’m slightly behind on is my aim of doing 150 high-intensity sessions this year – that’s essentially three a week. I can do that most weeks but there are always going to be times when I’m too busy or travelling with work – as I was last week – or feeling ill. So it’s going to take a sustained effort and I need to find a way to sensibly up my effort to four times a week every now and then. It will be challenging but hopefully I can devise some strategies to help me do this.
But so far, so good. I could be pushing harder on the weight front but it feels like I’ve got a happy balance at the moment that is still getting me results without feeling too arduous, so what’s not to like? Now bring on February.