Resolutions 2014: February Progress Report

Wow, is it really the end of February already? Crikey. Time does fly when you’re having fun. Or not. Well, on this site, the end of the month now means one thing and one thing only – Resolutions. Yes, as you might be aware by now, I set four key resolutions this year that all chimed in with either running or other athletic disciplines. My success across the year depends upon these four goals: getting more sleep, learning to swim again, competing in more races, and running faster.

Like January, it’s been a mixed bag, as you’ll read below, with progress in some areas, and barely any in others. I sincerely hope this changes – I’m finding limited opportunities in those areas and I don’t want it to drag out to the point of apathy. Focus, grasshopper, focus!

1. SLEEP

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Oh dear. I’m slightly ashamed to say this isn’t going very well. Although I feel lucky that I still don’t feel as tired on a day-to-day basis, the fact is that the above chart (taken from Sleepbot) does not lie. This month has seen me slip back into previous patterns of sleep, i.e. numerous nights of short sleep followed by the odd spike, which usually denotes when I’ve slept in. I’ve had numerous early starts this month at work (8:00am starts, meaning up at least at 5:45am) and of course, with running, which more often than not is first thing in the morning for me. Despite the kids sleeping earlier now and despite trying to complete required housework at home, rather than trying to do everything, I’m in a bit of a rut and I need to change that. My cumulative ‘sleep debt’ is now quite hefty as a result.

I maintain that it doesn’t appear to be insomnia, or any other form of sleep issue, other than just the bad habit of late nights. I’m more aware than ever to get an earlier night and always try to go to bed with at least six hours sleep to go for – but I’m falling behind on that and for this resolution to succeed, I must try harder. There’s no pretending here.

That said, the last week has felt more positive. Although some of my more recent nights have been disruptive with the kids being a bit ill, I’m generally heading in the right direction at the moment and it’s just a case of actually trying to keep this up, which should be well within my capabilities if I can just stick to it. So let’s see if I can actually turn the tide for real next month. With another race to prepare for (see below), it’s important I do.

2. Learn to swim again

Again, money is hampering any potential ability to swim – it costs me £4.10 a time at present and until I have gym membership, which for me is too costly at present, its very much a leisurely family occasion whenever we go swimming and it only seems to be once or twice a month right now. And as it would appear running remains on the menu (see my progress further down), thereby reducing the likelihood of me taking up triathlon training any time soon. The additional goal of getting back into cycling, aka resolution 2.5, isn’t happening while I’ve no space at home to store a bike. I would like to get this resolved though and storage is not irresolvable.

Intriguingly, however, I did spot on a recent run a curious development. My local park now has an outdoor gym! It’s provided by The Great Outdoor Gym Company, whose outdoor adult playgrounds have been springing up across the country, and it has a ski machine, a handbike, a chest, a shoulder, a fitness bike (although curiously with no handles), all to work on cardio and toning. I intend to try it out on my off days from running, which presently are Mondays and Fridays, if I can get up early enough or have enough time before work. I don’t like the idea of being bothered by dogs, which regularly interrupt my running on the closest area of off-road to my house. Additionally, it would be nice if it stopped raining for a bit – the park is a bit like a bog at the moment and isn’t really ideal for walking across in sections, never mind running or pumping iron.

3. More races

I decided to enter the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K. My participation in this race depended on my finances, but since being paid I’ve had a little good fortune – I managed to save a cracking amount arranging train travel, and with all my debits out I feel safe enough this time to cough up the £18 entry fee. It was a take it or leave it affair, but I wanted to do it so I can crack this 40-minute target – it’s a flat road race and that would suit my strengths perfectly, particular with other runners to drive me beyond that target.

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Looking further ahead, namely into 2015, my performance in the Liversedge Half Marathon (analysed below) has now convinced me to make the step up. If I wasn’t ready to face it before, I feel readier than ever now, having completed such a tough race in a quick time. So here it is. I’m aiming for a marathon in 2015. There, I’ve said it. No going back now! But seriously, I do realise that there’s only so long that I’m going to get enjoyment out of smashing PB’s at 10K and HM level – because of my age, which is about to tip into the wrong side of 30 and therefore my peak is likely not to last beyond a few years. I need new challenges and while duathlon and triathlon are currently a world away, a marathon is not. I always imagined I would like to take on a marathon before going multi-discipline, and by the time I begin preparing for a marathon, the kids will be three and hopefully going away on longer training sessions won’t be too much of a strain on either my family or on my sleep. In the meantime, I would like to concentrate on racing this year, which includes getting more into trail running. And once the Great Birmingham Run is out of the way, and once the year begins drawing to a close, then I’ll have a look at how I’ll approach this and seek the guidance of my fellow runners.

4. Run faster

Of all the resolutions, this is going the best of all. My training is paying off, and I have successfully achieved two of my three speed targets have been smashed well and truly. As you may have noticed from my recent report on the Liversedge Half Marathon, I not only finished in under 1:30:00, but quite unbelievably and comprehensively too. My chip timing read at 1:26:45, a massive 4:44 off my PB set at the 2013 Great North Run (1:31:29). In addition to this, I actually clocked under 6:00 for the mile as well, first in a training session the week before  the Liversedge race, when I timed 5:56 for a stretch off Birkby Lane in Bailiff Bridge, Brighouse, turning onto Bradford Road. Admittedly part of this mile was on a steep downhill which gave me the ‘launchpad’ to surge across the flat section to my new PB mile. But I have to maintain that pace as well – and maintain it I did. I finished that particular session at a pace of 5:49 per mile, so I was going even quicker by that point.

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In the Liversedge race, I surpassed that mark twice. The first mile of the race went for 5:23. That’s staggeringly quick for myself, but that was dictated both by race pace, and a good portion of that mile being downhill. Along the same stretch of road that I clocked the 5:56 a week earlier, I clocked 5:47 for that mile. Additionally, I managed to do a 10K section of that race in 38:46 – so technically I’ve done all three of my speed goals (including a sub-40 minute 10K) in one race, although I won’t be satisfied until I’ve done a standalone 10K run in under 40:00 minutes.

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To analyse my overall pace in that last race is to witness how much the training for that race paid off.  My slowest mile in that race was at mile 7, Thornhills Bank Lane, which felt slow and arduous, almost conquering. Yet it timed at 7:21, which a few months ago was a solid, steady mile for me and still isn’t bad now. The ninth mile, along the ‘Mad Mile’, was slightly more sluggish than even that hill. The remainder of the mileage for the race came in at under seven minutes per mile, and although the latter part was very much through gritted teeth, the hard work and determination, the hours put into training, and indeed the interval sessions, which I’ve found to be so crucial, have given me confidence to throw myself hard into these races and runs.

So, having achieved these particular targets now, where does that leave me? Simply to go faster! My next races are the Bradford 10K and the Blackpool Beach 10K run. I should hopefully have rid myself of the urge to sub-40 a 10K run by the time the latter comes around, as a beach race doesn’t seem the likeliest place to clock a PB. But I will be going all out in that race to finish strongly and quickly. It’ll be a relatively small field and I want to see if I can get top 15, maybe top 10 in that race. I don’t think I’ll be aiming for a 5-minute mile any time soon. The seven-to-six minute mile came steadily enough, but that 5:23 at Liversedge was on a downhill and until I actually clock such mile speeds for fun, indeed IF I clock such speeds for fun, then and only then will it become serious. A much more positive and realistic goal to aim for is to do the half in sub-1:25:00. It is the logical next step and the Great Birmingham run seems a realistic enough course to aim to achieve it on. That means a lot of hard mileage and speedwork to come, but Bradford and Blackpool are the main areas of focus for now, with Birmingham certainly coming more to the fore as it approaches.

So to summarise: I must sleep better; money stinks; if cheap gym membership comes available, take it; lose any shame and get on the outdoor gym on rest days; keep an eye on the race calendar; and now, I’m aiming faster than before. And indeed, faster than I ever thought possible. Until next month!

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