Tag: exercise

Everything To Its Season

I like running, but I love cycling.

This has been true for as long as I have been running. I started cycling as an adult when I moved to Nottingham, before I had a car (before I had even passed my driving test, in fact) and it was the first form of exercise that I did with any consistency. When I did get a car I rode less, but apart from a break during my last couple of years in Surrey (when I concluded that the roads were simply too hostile for me to ride on any more) I’ve ridden at some point during the year ever since.

My running has been happening for about ten years less than that. Cycling is great exercise, but it takes longer to get the same effect – I ride hard, but riding hard for an hour feels about the same as running hard for half that time. Hence my taking up running: it is a more time-efficient form of exercise.

But I still love cycling.

These days, I find that cycling to the day job is an excellent way of getting the exercise I need without disrupting the day job flow, but it comes with costs: I lose the bus ride in for other projects, and sometimes it takes me longer to get into the groove at the day job because I’m still in a traffic-dodging head space.

And so I come to the realisation that my cycling is seasonal not because of the weather (although that is part of it – I won’t risk riding in icy conditions when the roads aren’t salted) but because when I hit October I need the bus ride to do prep for NaNoWriMo.

I will probably ride to the day job tomorrow, Friday, but that may be it for me until the spring.

It’s better weather for running anyway.

Leave a Comment

The Other Other Drafting

Another meaning of the worddraft” which I was pleased to be reminded of yesterday is from cycling* where you follow another rider closely and gain the advantage of not having to break the air.

It happened by accident. I was riding to the day job and stopped at a light behind another cyclist. A third rider, who apparently knew the first, stopped behind me. When the light turned green we all set off.

Now, this light is part way down a hill that I usually reach about 40 mph on, so I was keen to get up to speed. These other riders were apparently similarly keen to the point where my efforts to overtake came to naught. When the hill flattened out into a section of road where there’s a bike lane, I ended up stuck between these two riders, trundling along at a solid 30 mph for a couple of minutes. It wasn’t a lot faster than I would usually go on that section, but it was a great deal less effort.

I do feel bad about sponging off these other riders’ efforts, because drafting helps the followers rather than the leader, but the way it happened meant that it would have been unsafe to drop out. If we’d continued in this caravan I would have taken a turn at lead, which is the proper etiquette.

But it was fun. I usually cycle on my own, and haven’t ridden as part of a group like that since… gosh, since I toured the French Alps with friends back in the 90s. So having that feeling of joyous drafting was a lovely interlude, and I thank those riders for it.

Of course, the day was rather spoiled when I got to my bike to ride home and found the front tyre was flat, but that’s a separate complaint.

I hope you enjoy some pleasant exercise today.

[*] and also motorsport, but I don’t drive competitively.

Leave a Comment

Shamrock Run, 2015

The Race

Portland has had bizarre weather this winter. While the eastern US has suffered intense snow storms, Portland has been having spring since January, it seems: only a week of actual cold back in December, and almost no rain.

Except for Shamrock weekend, of course. It was pouring it down Saturday and early Sunday.

The temperatures were still very mild, however, so for the second year in a row I ran Shamrock in just shorts and T-shirt. This time I wore gloves too, and that made all the difference between my being cold at the start and shivering like a shaken blancmange*.

It is always impressive to join the crowd at the start of a Shamrock run. They had over thirty five thousand registered participants, and two and a half thousand of them were doing the half marathon – the first year that there was a half marathon route available. I signed up for it in a fit of enthusiasm when a bunch of us at work went in as a team, and the race sold out pretty fast.

Shamrock is an exceptionally well-organised race. Everything from packet pickup to the finish line is smooth, but then this race has been run for more than thirty years so you would hope they’d have it sorted out by now! I found my spot in the start chute by the 9-10 minute pace board, and tried to calm the nerves.

My race plan was pretty simple: run the first half gently and then put more into the second half. This reflected the course structure, which was flat at the beginning and then started its climb after the half way point. The last three miles were down hill.

I actually did a decent job of running a controlled pace in the first half, too. My usual problem on Shamrock (more than other races, curiously) is to kick out too fast: overtaken by the energy of the event, I’ll hurry along the streets, passing other runners left and right. This year that was not my problem: I maintained a steady pace, and I didn’t sprint past any other runners.

The problem was the rain. My feet got wet and heavy. It felt more like a steeplechase than a road race, there were so many puddles to jump and obstacles to avoid. The rain had largely abated by the halfway point, but feet were already soaked through by that point, heavy and cold.

This year was also novel in that I had left my gear at the day job office, and the halfway point was right by there. Running past the building I couldn’t help but thinking: “I could stop now. I have dry clothes inside…”

And I knew what was coming.

I am well acquainted with the back half of this half marathon route, partly from my four times running the 15K race, but mostly from running up and down Terwilliger on training runs. I am perhaps more accustomed to trundling up the hills on the pedestrian paths than the road, but I know the slopes. As I started up the Broadway hill I thought my legs felt reminiscent of when I run my seven miler after a few days of standing at my desk**.

Well, I got up the hill in reasonable order. My plan was to speed up compared to the first half, aiming for a negative split: I’ve done the Terwilliger seven in 9:25 minute miles before, and I thought I might manage that since my legs felt about right. However, I was wrong: all I can say is that I didn’t slow down much. I crested the hill at about an eleven minute pace, slow enough to know I wasn’t going to beat my last half marathon time by much but also fast enough to see my family at the top before they got bored of standing in the rain.

Coming down the other side is supposed to be this glorious descent, but running downhill for three miles when you’ve already got worn legs is fraught. As it happens, I was walking through the eleven mile marker. I just couldn’t keep running any more at that point, and when I started up again I found that one leg was sore – the IT band on my right leg was twanging something chronic.

In the end, I closed out the race with an official time of 2:29:04 – half an hour slower than I really wanted, but this is apparently my pace now.

This is my second half marathon in six months, and although the time was no different I did finish in better shape. I was a wreck after Beat the Blerch: my legs were painful, and I was very low on blood sugar (what is called “bonking” in the cycling community) – I couldn’t think, or indeed taste any food. Things were better this time by some margin, and so I can only conclude that I was conditioned more thoroughly this time.

And I have my medal cum bottle opener, and I have my commemorative towel.

Lessons Learned

I admitted to myself quite some time ago that I was unlikely to do a marathon again, because the training is just too time consuming.

That admission appears to have commuted down to the half marathon distance, although for a subtly different reason: I can make the time to train for the race, but the training I have time for is not sufficient to achieve my goals. Beat the Blerch was still in the shadow of the stomach flu of last June but even with fairly consistent training and distance building in the lead-up for this race it still felt like there was nothing there when I called on my legs to push.

Also, I’ve decided I don’t care for this half marathon course. I still like the Shamrock 15K and I will continue to plan on running it in future years, but I won’t be doing this half again. That long jag north into the industrial zone is just no fun at all.

Well, onto the next thing. I think it’s time to get back on the bike for the spring.

[*] a French word meaning “white eat”, but it’s usually pink.

[**] I have a standing desk at the office. It’s really great. I heartily recommend it.

Leave a Comment

The Shamrock Plan

I noted in my 2015 fitness plan that I was signed up for the half marathon distance in this year’s Shamrock.

As this is published, it is 30-Jan-2015. The Shamrock Run is on 15-Mar-2015. I have about six weeks to prepare.

I need a plan.

Truth to tell, I’ve already been following a plan of sorts: upping the distance, upping the hill frequency. However, I need to be more precise in calibrating my training runs over the next few weeks.

My current state is that I have run several hilly fives, and I did a hilly seven on Monday this week*. I should be pretty well situated, honestly.

My usual training for a half marathon puts my last long run before the event at two weeks prior. That run should be a twelve for preference, and me being me I will do a hill run. Leading up to that, I will have ramped up the distance – I’ve done adds of a mile a week in the past, but I’ve found doing a long run followed by a less demanding week gives me more time to recover (and as I age recovery becomes more important). Given the time scale here, I expect I will be adding two miles every other week.

So, let’s fill in some dates and work back from the event date to fill in when I want to be doing the remaining distances.

The dates below are Saturday dates. I may run on Sundays, depending.

  • 31-Jan-2015 – eight miler
  • 07-Feb-2015 – nine miler
  • 14-Feb-2015 – ten miler
  • 21-Feb-2015 – rest, or at least something less crushing
  • 28-Feb-2015 – twelve miler
  • 07-Mar-2015 – begin taper
  • 14-Mar-2015 – Shamrock weekend

Well, this was the right time to write this plan down! That fits in much better than I had feared.

In point of fact, that eight miler this very weekend will probably not happen since I have other commitments which are going to preclude it, which is why I have put a nine miler on the schedule the following weekend.

Now all I have to do is remain uninjured. This will happen.

[*] and I had something left at the end of it, which is huge in itself.

Leave a Comment

Run and Games

I was waiting to complete this planning post until I saw if I managed to get my arse out the door for a run yesterday, because I have been having trouble actually exercising this last week or two. But, that said…

Just like last year, this is a significant year for my running since I have a spot on my day job’s Hood To Coast team.

My race schedule leading up to Hood To Coast is a bit this this year. I have a big race lined up early in the season – the Shamrock Run this year has a half marathon distance – but I don’t have any other races lined up yet. I’m going to focus instead on variety in my training.

Having a significant early season race is something I can only do having managed to retain most of my fitness base during November’s literary frenzy. I am not yet ready to run thirteen miles (I arguably wasn’t ready for that in September, either) but I am ready when not suffering some debilitating illness to run five or seven hilly miles. I could not have said that in January two years ago – at least not with a straight face.

Unfortunately, I have been suffering from mild but debilitating illnesses: I’ve contracted a series of colds and similar ailments*: I had a crushing cold over Christmas which took weeks to dissipate, and now I’m stumbling my way through some kind of sore throat thing which is making me miserable and undermining my will and ability to exercise.

But: I did exercise yesterday, and I’ve stuck to my 10k steps per day goal, so all is not lost.

The plan for this year is:

  • Shamrock Half Marathon, 15-Mar-2015 – eight weeks from now I need to run thirteen miles. The Shamrock half marathon is tough, because – like the 15K route – it has a long and steep hill in the second half of the race. Fortunately, it’s Terwilliger, and I like Terwilliger: I run it all the time, so I know its curves and the timing of its slopes very well indeed.
    Still – time to ramp up for this.
  • weight – I am still carrying something north of twenty pounds more lard than I would like to be. Curiously enough, it is now nine years since I started Weightwatchers as a necessary reaction to my being the heaviest I have ever been. I am still well down from that peak weight, but losing even another ten pounds will help my running and my joints.
  • speed – I used to have two main fitness goals: to maintain a level of fitness where I would be able to cycle fifty miles without planning it; and to run eight minute miles as a matter of course. Neither of those goals is in sight at the moment, but running nine minute miles as my baseline is in reach.
  • Hood to Coast, 28-Aug-2015 – still more than seven months away. I will start training for this once I’ve recovered from the Shamrock.

This the last of my series of planning posts. My writing goal is simple enough that a structured plan does not seem necessary.

[*] when I was a kid, I would basically have a cold for the entire winter. I don’t get that any more, but colds really knock me flat.

Leave a Comment

Walking and Writing

Between my writing and my fitness goals, I often find I have a bit left to do at the end of the day. This entails a choice: do I kill the word count quota or the step quota?

Enter the treadmill desk.

Now, actual treadmill desks tend to cost more money than I want to spend, but our treadmill has some arms that extend back alongside the treadmill surface (it’s probably some kind of safety thing). I decided to make a shelf which rested on these arms and would raise the shelf up to a reasonable height.

the shelf in place

the shelf in place

This is our treadmill with the shelf installed. You’ll note there are some dangly strings on the sides – those are some laces I use to stabilise the shelf when it is in used.

the shelf displays its construction

the shelf displays its construction

The shelf itself is a very simple construction: it’s a board with some 2×4 attached on the ends (just using big screws with countersunk heads). The fiddly bit is that I added some wide plastic tubing* on the undersides of the feet to stabilise the shelf in place. There’s some foam in there to stop it scratching the surface.

So now I can make word count and complete my step goals.

[*] in this case an unwanted water bottle.

Leave a Comment

Planning to Run

a big race

a big race

2014 is a big year for my running.

My ultimate goal is to run the Hood To Coast relay in August, but I have a few way points:

  • lose some weight: depending on what you measure against, I am anywhere from twenty to forty pounds overweight. I’m reasonably fit despite that, but losing a stone or two* would help in all sorts of ways. Not least, my clothes would fit better.
  • figure out a team training plan. I volunteered to organize team training for the Hood to Coast. I’ve done some of this already, putting down markers to the other team members as to how the training I will be writing up should go, but I still need to finish that.
  • races. I am planning to run both the Shamrock Run 15K in March and the Helvetia Half Marathon in June. Both of these are hilly routes, which seems like appropriate preparatory race conditions for a mountainous relay run in August.
  • injuries. Or rather avoidance thereof – increase load on my body gradually so as to not increase the risk of injuries, and also use low impact exercise to manage the injuries I already carry.

The training regimen, then, will be in three parts:

  1. distance – I need to be running about ten miles prior to the Shamrock and at least twelve prior to the Helvetia. I have a particularly brutal twelve mile loop which I used prior to my last Helvetia and which was, frankly, much tougher than that half marathon: do that again!
  2. speed – there will be some distance component in here, but I am planning to start interval training after Shamrock. There are two goals: to run faster, and to run easier. That second one may seem odd, but running faster is more mechanically efficient and so tends to be less tiring.
  3. endurance/recovery – the trick here is to get used to running on tired legs and dealing with heat. This is the portion that will be after Helvetia, and will feature such rigours as running into work in the morning, then back home in the evening.

These parts naturally fall into three phases which match the goal races: distance leading up to Shamrock, then speed (with additional distance) between Shamrock and Helvetia, and finally the endurance component between Helvetia and Hood to Coast. I’m also planning on doing some cycling in there to bolster my cardio fitness and allow for some non-impact exercise. The structure of this plan is also drawn in part from the training I did for my one marathon entry in 2004.

For the most part, the training will fit into time I am already setting aside for my exercise regimen so I do not expect my writing to be especially impacted**. If anything, I am hoping that this will improve my energy levels.

Do you have any fitness goals for the year? How do they interact with your creative goals?

[*] Britons measure personal weight in stones, one stone being fourteen pounds.

[**] except, perhaps, for days when I run or ride into work since that will prevent me writing on the bus.

Leave a Comment

Ride what you know

the author after a Bridge Pedal ride

the author after a Bridge Pedal ride

I’ve talked before about how running informs my writing practice, but I haven’t really talked about cycling.

I was a cyclist before I was a runner.

I rode around a lot when I was a kid, having some kind of bike from about the age of seven until my early teens – I was sad when the old Raleigh Commando was finally too small for me, but it really was far too small when I stopped riding it.

I didn’t start riding again until I started work after university, when I didn’t want to spend money on a car (I would have had to pass my driving test too) and found the busses to be inconvenient for reaching all the places I wanted to get to. I cycled a lot then, for those four years or so before I finally got a car – riding in all weathers and all distances, on the flat and (my favourite) up hills.

I’m doing both cycling and running at the moment, and the two feed each other – the cycling is low impact exercise that allows me to heal some of the joint damage while also reminding me what it’s really like to push the cardio limit, while running is much more self-regulating exercise which gives me more aerobic workout in a shorter period of time.

Despite having been a regular runner for more than ten years, I still think of myself very much as a cyclist who runs.

This is relevant to my writing practice because of the interplay between different types of writing. I’ve made observations about how writing and running roleplaying games takes time away from writing fiction, but my roleplaying activities inform my fiction writing. I get to try out narrative ideas with a much shorter feedback loop than I get for my fiction (large chunks of which have never had an audience beyond the first reader, my wonderful and patient wife).

At the same time, my fiction writing informs my roleplaying because I approach roleplaying as another storytelling vehicle rather than as a strategy game – one of the reasons I am impatient with excessively technical or detailed systems, not to mention lengthy combats.

Behind both of these is all of the programming I have done – I’ve been programming consistently since my mid-teens (coincidentally, about the same time the old bike stopped being usable for me) and the process of taking a problem, describing its desired end point, and then breaking down the steps needed to reach it from the start conditions is basically how I approach the construction of narrative of all types. And building stories has strengthened my skills at building complex software systems, also – not the specific technical aspects of course, but the understanding of interaction between components and conditions.

You may have a strength in one area of your writing, but doing more than one thing will probably enhance your skills in all of them.

With that in mind, I am thinking I might have to have a go at some short stories – a form I’ve never had an affinity for – or some other types of writing, just to see how to construct those.

How do different aspects of your writing interact? What new thing will you try next?

Leave a Comment