Monday, July 07, 2008

Half marathon in September

Last year has been horrible in terms of physical activity. Back in Cambridge I at least had the 2*20 minutes cycling to work and back to keep me going, even though I had already stopped training actively with the boat club. Here, I live practically next door to work, and so I get virtually no exercise as a part of the day-to-day routines.

There are many excuses and real reasons why I've been a couch potato, mainly the horrible winter (just sleet and slosh, making both running and skiing unpleasant if not impossible) and the workload, but in the end it is always simply about motivation (or lack thereof).

And this is where I start to feel stupid. I know for a fact that I feel better and have more energy when I exercise regularly. It is also very important for my health, as it helps control my blood sugar (and keep my diabetes in check). I also like it. So, the motivation should be there, but this time I didn't want to leave it to that, but wanted to have a clear goal towards which I could work.

And so I signed up for a half marathon in September. I feel that marathon would have been too much, but that this 21 kilometre race would be survivable. Back in the day when I was properly fit, I actually tried to sign up for one already, but the Bristol half marry was fully booked and so I had to give it a miss. This would be the longest continuous run I've done, but it's not that much of a stretch. I've done runs that are well over 10 kilometres and feel confident that I could run for the 2 hours this would take. The only question is my current poor shape.

But, according to the numerous running websites and automatic training program generators, the goal is realistic. To get started, I used this generator to give me a training program that would take me from where I think I am at the moment (it's difficult to estimate how fast I could run now or for how long) to sub-2 hour half marathon in 10 weeks.

A quick tour to web forums and running sites will tell you that the key to running marathons or other long distance races (half marathons are often classified as "short distances") is to practice "long runs". The definition of "long" depends on your condition and training phase. The key point of this is that speed or distance travelled is secondary, you just have to keep going for a given time. This could be hours, for a beginner like me it starts with 70 minutes.

So I did my first long run this Saturday. I had done a few shorter runs earlier in the week, but was a bit nervous about this one. Armed with an iPod, heart rate monitor and energy gel I headed off. I was trying to keep my heart rate relatively low, as you should, basically so that you prevent lactic acid from building up in your muscles (the science of endurance sports and the scientific approach to training is a big part of this scene, and probably the reason why it attracts so many geeks, such as myself).

I could feel my legs getting tired, just because I'm not used to such sustained activity, but in the end it went well and of course the endorfine rush afterwards was a great reward. I plotted the path on Google Earth (yes, this is a part of the geekiness of it) and it showed that I had covered almost exactly 11 km. A good start. Next week's long run will be 10 minutes longer, the next one 10 minutes longer than that, etc. Watch this space...

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