liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
[personal profile] liv
I was going to post this when I had three milestones clustered together: a year of running, a hundred runs, and 200 miles total. But I was going through a really bad patch and I just felt too discouraged. Now things are going a bit better, but I'm still finding it hard going and feel I've lost ground.

So I started the Couch to 5K beginners' running programme at the end of September last year. It went really well; each successive week the workouts got enough harder that I was challenging myself but not impossible so that I felt like giving up. And I got through the programme (it took me I think 12 weeks rather than 9, but that's no big deal), and by the end of it I could comfortably run for half an hour without stopping. Slowly, but considering that even one minute of running felt daunting at the beginning, that felt a big accomplishment.

I definitely like running better than generic cardio. Partly because it's such a basic thing, I can get a fairly objective feel for how I'm improving without worrying about things like the exact machine settings. Partly because at least having the potential to run outdoors sometimes makes it less boring, I can actually go somewhere rather than being on a machine. This also means that I can just put on some trainers and leggings and run, I don't have to faff around going to the gym, getting changed, remembering my washing things etc. Of course, the down side of this is that sometimes the weather drives me indoors; I don't know if I should maybe go back to just switching around cardio things like ellipticals, bikes and rowing machines when I do have to be in the gym, because at least that would be a bit more varied. On a good day, I come close to enjoying a run, though good days are still the exception rather than the rule. In any case I'll take less hateful, because it's a lot more possible to motivate myself to do exercise when it's only mildly unpleasant rather than both unpleasant and boring.

I think one of the reasons that C25K worked well for me was that I got into the habit of running three times a week. I had to be quite strict with myself to make that happen, but aiming for three and falling short was was definitely getting me more exercise than aiming for twice a week and falling short. I also gave myself permission that on days I ran, I didn't have to do any other exercise. Half an hour of running was visibly better for my fitness than the routine set by the gym trainers of 10-15 minutes cardio, a random bunch of strength exercises, and a second 20 minutes cardio. Partly I think because the half hour of running I was actually doing whereas I would often talk myself out of doing a miscellaneous workout, because the latter was varied enough I couldn't do it on complete autopilot but not varied enough to actually hold my interest. And was taking ages, by the time I'd waited for a turn on the various weights machines, meaning that I could only fit it in when I had a whole evening free.

After I finished the official programme, I invented a training regime based on it and some advice from [personal profile] green_knight: I rotated three workouts. Running for 30 minutes and trying to get as far as I could; covering 5 km in intervals of 5-10 minutes running at a faster pace with 5 minutes walking to recover; and running slowly for as long as I could keep going. At the "end" of my C25K training, I couldn't actually run anything like 5 km, my half hour runs were about 3.5 km. So I built up the distance over my longer runs by 10% each week until I could actually cover 5 km, still taking about 45 minutes over it, but covering the full distance. Doing the intervals didn't improve my pace for the 30 minute runs as much as I'd hoped (I think in hindsight I should have done shorter intervals faster, maybe), but in the first half of this year I improved from 3.5 km in 30 minutes to 3.7 km, close to my initial goal pace of 8 mins/km which I'd read was reasonable for beginning runners. I was also actually running three times most weeks; my logs record a 5-week and a 6-week sequence where I didn't miss a single run.

Then I went away on holiday and while a few weeks' break shouldn't have made that much difference, being out of routine messed up my fitness and my motivation. When I came back I was frustrated because I couldn't seem to manage 3.5 km in 30 minutes any more. And I was a bit stupid and told myself that I'd just do 30 minute runs until I got my fitness back, dropping my carefully designed training regimen and ignoring what I know about the general literature on behaviour change and my own personality. So of course I didn't really improve because I was doing the foolish thing of repeating the same behaviour and expecting different results. Then my phone broke in a way that meant I couldn't really use it for measuring my runs any more, so I wasn't even getting the motivation of a "high score" to try to beat, but I could tell I was getting slower and slower because I'd cover less of the track each time. And at the end of the summer I had several weeks where I was ridiculously busy and couldn't manage to keep up the running, and two weeks when I was away having an amazing wonderful holiday, and when I came back I had picked up a horrible cold. I tried to just push through it (I nearly always have some kind of a sniffle, and if I made that an excuse not to exercise I'd never exercise) but was making myself actually ill with asthma, so I gave up for a few weeks.

So that's how I ended up with 100 runs in the year when I'd been hoping to average somewhat over 2 runs per week. I'm still not properly better from this perpetual cold, but enough better to start running again. And it's been mostly too cold to run outdoors, especially with the viral infection precipitating my asthma and my lost ground in terms of fitness, so I'm grimly struggling with making myself run on the treadmill. I've had a month of running fairly regularly again, though I'm not quite making three times a week yet. And I'm just about clawing my way back to the level I was at the end of 2012 when I could consistently run 3.5 km in 30 minutes.

My plan for breaking out of this slump is to start playing with the Zombies, run! app which is supposed to gamify running training. I need to figure out the practicalities of carrying my oversized phone (it doesn't fit either in my pocket or my fancy runners' bumbag) on me while I run, and running with headphones in so I can hear the music and instructions from the app. Which isn't ideal but I really need to vary what I'm doing and get some tangible rewards, otherwise I'm never going to improve and I'm in too much danger of giving up my good habits.

Because I was concentrating on the running I'd mostly dropped my weights routine. But I've taken up weights again. I'm trying the Stronglifts programme, which involves doing 5 sets of 5 reps with low-ish weights, and 5 exercises which use more or less the whole body rather than individual muscle groups. The thing about this is that it's all stuff I can do at home with my barbell, so I can do it on the alternate days when I'm not going to the gym for my treadmill time. Though I think if I do get up to serious weights it might get to the point of being a bit dangerous to do on my own without either a spotter or a rack, so I'm a bit cautious. But that's not an issue when I'm throwing little weights like 10 kg around. And it's motivating because I am improving perceptibly, I'm increasing the weights about every other week. I think I might try to book a training session at the gym and see if I can get a professional to check my form is ok, because I'm not sure that watching videos on the internet is a safe way for me to learn how to do weights. Though I don't know how hard it's going to be to persuade the trainers that I want to get strong rather than thin.

OK, so talking about getting thin. When I started exercising regularly 3 years ago, I weighed 81 kg, my BMI was 32 (obese, according to the official definitions), and most of my clothes were size 16 or 18. After two years of regular exercise, my body was exactly the same shape and size as it had been when I was totally inactive (other than my upper arms being somewhat more muscular). I was vastly fitter, but I was still just as obese. I felt somewhat vindicated by this because my assessment of the evidence is that most people have a set point weight which they maintain over quite a wide range of dietary intakes and activity levels.

However, a year of running has made a visible, measurable difference to my body in a way that the previous two years of exercise didn't. Maybe it's the three times a week rather than two, maybe it's that running is actually more effective at improving my overall fitness than the misc cardio I was doing previously. Weight wise, it's pretty laughable; my lowest weight has been 79 kg and my highest, which is also the most recent measurement, is 83 kg. I would have been prepared to admit that months of regular fairly intense exercise had caused my weight to drop a bit, but 2 kg in half a year is not exactly impressive! I've regained more than I lost, though. My inclination is that this represents random fluctuation (I've not weighed myself anything like systematically) rather than reflecting the fact that I've been somewhat less active in the second half of this year than I was in the first half.

But the truth is my body is a somewhat different shape. Most of my clothes fit fairly loosely anyway, but the few garments I own that were previously snug are now loose. I comfortably fit into a size 16 for most clothes, and maybe even a 14 if it's cut generously, whereas before I was always on the borderline between 16 and 18. I'm still by any reasonable definition fat, just about all of me is still squishy. Yet, people who haven't seen me for a while comment that I've lost weight. And people who haven't seen me for a while and with whom I'm physically intimate have noticed that my body is changing shape. Which is really weird for me, I have to say that I never started doing exercise for aesthetic reasons, I am very interested in cardiovascular fitness and not at all interested in what shape my body ends up. The best I can describe is that I'm still fat, but there's substantial muscle underneath. It seems like rather than getting thinner exactly I'm getting curvier; I've always had a somewhat narrow waist compared to the size of my hips and bottom, and that's more true now. I still have a tummy, but it is somewhat leaner, and I still store plenty of fat on my bottom and thighs, but now there's muscle as well and if anything my bottom is bigger than it was. The main consequence, other than weird compliments that make me uncomfortable, is that I've gone from finding it difficult to buy clothes that fit both at my waist and my hips, to finding it just about impossible. It's not like I have much choice in the matter, but I find I quite like being both plump and muscular at the same time.

Posting about exercise milestones is probably even more bad form than posting my sermons, isn't it? I like to post an update a couple of times a year so that I can get a long-term picture of how I'm doing; the day-to-day stuff I put in dedicated places like Fitocracy and [community profile] c25k. (Thanks again to [personal profile] rmc28 for creating that community, it's been a huge help with motivation.) Hopefully people who find this stuff annoying can skip over posts like this, and I will try to get back to posting something more interesting next.
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