Incremental Gains – Couch to 5k week 7

Photo by Daniel Reche on

James, if you are reading this, please tell me that it gets easier.  I have no ducks to distract me on my run (or geese) and I have discovered what a very long time twenty five minutes is.  I realise that when I started this, twenty five seconds would have found me, hands on knees, hawking into the gutter – but if I’m honest, I still feel like that after twenty five seconds, it’s just that I now grit my teeth and plod on for a further twenty four and a half minutes, hating every second and feeling like John Hurt must have done just before the Alien exploded out of his chest.  Today I swallowed a fly after about three minutes and spent the next twenty two coughing.  People were giving me so much space.

Jo Whiley’s voice in my ear keeps telling me that I must be finding it easier now, that I am probably running faster.  No.  No, twenty five minutes of running does not feel easier than the sixty second bursts I was doing seven weeks ago.  In fact it seems about twenty five times as hard.  No Jo, I am not running faster.  I could not slow down if I tried.  I would need a reverse gear and my knees would not cope with it.  If I’m honest, I am beginning to regret choosing to be accompanied by Ms. Whiley.  She is just too bloody cheerful.  I really should have chosen Sarah Millican, but I feared that she might make me laugh – and I cannot afford to squander perfectly good oxygen on that malarkey, thank you very much.

I have developed a blind and sullen bloody-mindedness that propels me through each run, even though the attitude of ‘I’ll do it, even if it kills me,’ does not provide quite the same level of motivation now as it once did.  Although I remain to be persuaded that it won’t actually kill me.   At my age, death is certainly closer to being within my grasp than fitness. 

In addition to the silken tones of Ms Whiley, I am accompanied on each run by the nagging little voice of my own devilish antonym-ish Jiminy Cricket repeating the words, ‘Why on earth are you doing this?  Nobody gets credit for being a fit-looking corpse.’  I have always hated grasshoppers.  They pretend to jump, but I think that really they fly.  I find it hard to trust anything that rubs its legs together to get a girlfriend.  Locusts are in no way lovable.  Even with a top hat and cane.  I do not need a supernumerary orthopteral conscience.  I have more than enough trouble with the one I’ve got, thank you very much.  Anyway, despite its chiding voice of caeliferan common sense, I will not give in.  Who wants to be a real boy when the puppet gets all the laughs?

I have my Bluetooth headphones back in operation and, working on the policy of incremental gains as employed so successfully by British Cycling for many years, I figure that the loss of the weight attached to dispensing with almost a metre of copper wire must be worth at least a couple of dozen yards on my clock at the end of the run.  As I explained earlier, when I am struggling, I cannot actually help myself by running slower, but there are a few things that I have learned on my thrice weekly lopes around the village that help me breathe (albeit painfully).  I have learned that, if it is at all possible, it is better to run on the road than the undulating path/driveway/path route offered by the pavement.  It doesn’t sound much, but the unevenness of the path is somehow incredibly draining.  Besides, there’s always the chance that I might get knocked-over on the road and not have to finish the run.  Driveways, however, must always be utilised when crossing the road – lifting the foot high enough to tackle a kerb is a totally unjustifiable expenditure of energy. I have discovered that whenever I think that it might be a good idea to speed up just a little bit, I am unerringly wrong.  It is always a bad idea for me to speed up.  I have discovered that pretending that I am not at death’s door fools nobody, but simply uses up energy: I will finish much quicker if I just give myself up to exhaustion and shame.  If I can just shift this monkey from my back I should be flying…

I realise that you are in no way interested, but I have discovered that the tracks that give me a little ‘pep’ when they play during my run are:

  • Cocaine – Eric Clapton
  • Ribcage – Kasabian
  • Everlong – Foo Fighters
  • I Feel Free – Cream
  • Trampled Underfoot – Led Zeppelin
  • Survival – Muse
  • Fool’s Gold – Stone Roses
  • Sowing the Seeds of Love – Tears for Fears
  • Check Out Time 11 AM – Sparks (I’m fully aware of what you might be thinking. Just check it out – it’s on YouTube!)

If I’m honest, the list probably says more about the speed I run than the music I like to run to.

If you would like to suggest anything else I should try, please feel free. 

The previous Couch to 5k instalment, ‘The Extreme Elasticity of the Pain Threshold’ is here.
The next Couch to 5k instalment, ‘The Look’ is here.
Couch to 5k begins here.

The Power of Two – Couch to 5k Week 5

Photo by Daniel Reche on

I see people running in pairs and I cannot help but believe that one of them must feel that they are being held back by the other – whilst the other is trying to devise a means of suffering the kind of injury that means they will never have to do that again!  Some of them chat.  Unbelievable!  What can you possibly chat about whilst running?  Surely pain and anguish begins to pall as a topic after a while.  There are only so many times you can gasp ‘I seriously think I might die,’ and expect to elicit a concerned response.  I thoroughly annoy myself whilst running – I cannot imagine what I might do to somebody else.  Not that idle chat is an option for me.  To be honest, I’m not even sure that I am up to idle listening.  Besides, I still have Jo Whiley plugged into my ear at the moment.  Her voice is encouraging, seductive and soothing and really quite irritating after a while.  If she tells me how well I am doing one more time, I will seek her out and place a dried pea in her trainers.  An idle threat, I assure you, but as a man who has recently run some distance with a Lego Fireman’s Hat wedged under his big toe nail, I can vouch for its effect: it would certainly slow her down.  Let’s see how chirpy you would be then, Jo!  She keeps assuring me that she has ‘been there.’  Really?  When were you last an overweight 60 year-old Ms. Whiley?  When did you last look down at your sagging old body and realise that if you lived in Alaska, the Inuit would eat you?  When did you last take stock of what might make you attractive to the opposite sex and be quite happy to stop at zero?  (Should she be reading this, which quite patently she is not, I must point out that her voice has, in fact, kept me going many times when I wanted to stop.  Who could possibly wantonly let Jo Whiley down?)

It’s a very weird thing about losing weight as you get older: you don’t appear to get thinner, you just get saggier.  Somehow I appear to have more skin, but less to put in it.  Is that normal?  I’m not expecting a six-pack from anywhere here – just that my skin might put in some kind of effort to keep up with the rest of me.

Last week’s runs were a real effort after a full day on my feet at work and a thirty minute walk to and from, but I got through them.  I look at next week’s itinerary and I can’t help but think that I have already met my threshold.  It is beginning to reach the point where I know that one of us is going to have some kind of cataclysmic breakdown.  Either I will have broken the Couch to 5k’s back and there will be nothing new it can throw at me – I will have absorbed all the pain it has to offer and come up grimacing chirpily – or part of me will give-way in such a dramatic fashion that it could quite possibly push Meryl Streep into second place.  I am becoming quietly determined and it worries me.  I have barely told anyone (except for you lot) that I am doing this – they would just think that it is some kind of elaborate joke – and quite honestly, at the moment, I cannot view it as a laughing matter.  Determination is not something that sits well with me: I have always got through by simply trying to ensure that whatever washes over me, doesn’t drown me – but now I’m trying to stay afloat.  My dog-paddle is ungainly but effective (or would be if I had four legs) and happily, I haven’t sunk just yet.

One last word for Ms Whiley though: whatever she implores me to tell myself, I am most certainly and absolutely NOT a runner.  I will never be a runner.  And I will never, ever share my run with another soul – well, not unless they’re slower than me, of course…

The previous Couch to 5k instalment, ‘To Dream of Couscous’ is here.
The next Couch to 5k instalment, ‘The Extreme Elasticity of the Pain Threshold’ is here.
Couch to 5k begins here.

Couch to 5k – an off-peak update.

Photo by Daniel Reche on

For those few of you who were kind enough to feign interest in my original Couch to 5k post, an update.

Week two and the jog/walk ratio has been cranked up a little: the jogs are longer (although definitely slower) whilst the walks have become a breathless stumble.  Definitely felt that I was moving backwards today: towards the end I was overtaken by a tortoise yelling ‘Up yours Aesop!’

My knees, which have loudly complained about mis-use since my late twenties, are shredded and steadfastly refuse to support my body without reinforcements of their own, but I plod on (although, for saying so, I fear that I probably leave myself open to being sued by The Plodder’s Union).  Throughout every run the mellifluous tones of the iridescent Ms Whiley assure me that it should all be getting easier, whilst I actually feel that death might be a release.  I believe that my lungs may have been harvested in my sleep and replaced with those of an asthmatic shrew.

I have never had a talent for running, but in my prime I had more than sufficient stamina to see me through three football matches per weekend.  These days I fear that I would struggle through a Subbuteo tournament without a substitute flicking finger.

Anyoldwayup, what I’m hoping for is an improvement next week because on the 15th I return to work and, whilst my job is not madly active, I am on my feet all day and I have a couple of miles walk to and from where I park my car, so an evening work-day run could become a whole new ballgame – or ignominious defeat, as it is known in this household…

The first part of the Couch to 5k odyssey is here.
The next instalment of the Couch to 5k diary, ‘Return of the Mummy’ is here.

Couch to 5k

Photo by Daniel Reche on

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words.  Well, I am in no position to comment upon the veracity of that statement, but I’ve got a thousand words going begging, so that is are what you’re getting from me.  I feel that we are friends now, you and I; I can tell you things.  I am in my sixties, overweight and the most physically exerting thing I usually do is to open the breadbin.  These things you already know.  What you don’t know is that having downloaded the couch to 5k app on my phone many months ago, I have finally opened it this week and embarked upon the journey that will turn me into an Adonis.  It is a voyage for which I am in no way prepared.  I do not own trainers of any kind, certainly not specialist running ones, so I’m currently wearing a natty pair of striped espadrilles.  They are matched with over-long swimming shorts, a baggy ‘T’ shirt and a pair of wrap-around sun glasses so that nobody knows who I am.  I look like a man who really should not be jogging.  Who needs a picture to realise that it is a sight that once seen, you will never be able to un-see?

If you are not familiar with the app, it leads you slowly, slowly, slowly from zero exercise to regular 5km runs via an ordered run/walk routine, which in my case, amounts to a regular curse/gasp/stagger.  My ‘companion’ on these jaunts is the lovely Jo Whiley, who I thought (correctly) would be quietly encouraging, but who, I now realise, I feel quite embarrassed to be out and about with in the state I am in. 

As a child and young man, I was always ‘sporty’ and I played football until well into my fifties, but I have never been a runner.  I can sprint over short distances in a heavy-footed, forward-stumble kind of a way (think hippo) but my endurance is shorter than a bus driver’s temper.  At school I learned the benefits of being a plodder when our sports teacher, an ex-para, whom I always suspected of being a member of the Hitler Youth, would send us out on a 1500 metre run at the start of ‘Double PE’.  Following the run we all trooped inside for tortuous circuit exercises – except for the last five to finish, who had to run an extra lap and, crucially, if they did the last lap slowly enough – possibly with a short stop for a fag behind the hedge – missed the circuits altogether and turned up just in time for ‘crab football’.  Guess where I was?  In my prime I could, on occasion, speed myself up to an ungainly lope, but these days I am a one-gear lumberer.  My ‘jog’ is generally slower than my walk.  At times I do have the feeling that I am actually going backwards, but I plod along.

I have tried to find routes where I will not encounter anybody I know, but I live in a village.  I know a lot of people.  I have discovered not only that wrap-around sunglasses do not sufficiently disguise me, but also that when I am jogging, I myself recognise no-one.  People speak as I pant my way past, but I have no idea who they are, and I cannot hear them because Jo Whiley requires me to have my headphones in.  In consequence, I reply to anyone who looks as though they might be greeting me, which can startle those who are merely watering the geraniums and have no idea who I am.  I have no idea how far the run (warm up, eight jogs, eight walks and warm down) might take me (hint: nowhere near as far as you might imagine) so I simply head off and when the little bell rings to tell me that I am half way through, I retrace my tottering steps.  I pass the same people twice.   They see me coming (I am not the kind of sight that they can ignore) and scuttle inside if they are able.  Geranium waterers suddenly sense the onset of rain; dog walkers find imaginary dog crap that they just have to clear up; solitary walkers pretend that they have lost their dog.  I try to keep my head down – this is pure expedience on my part.  The paths around here are pretty much as pot-holed as the road.  I am concerned that I might trip.  I am much more concerned that I might trip within sight of somebody that knows me.  Most of my near-neighbours believe that I am useless enough already.  It would be too much if they were to discover that I can’t even jog in slow-motion without floundering.  Especially if they have to help me up.

And here’s another thing!  I carry my phone a) because Jo Whiley is on it, b) because my music is on it and c) in case I can’t get home – and it’s a real pain.  If I put it in my pocket it bangs against my thigh at every step and pulls my shorts down, when I hold it in my hand it leads to a partial garrotting at every step.  Should I carry on with this malarkey, I fear that I am going to have to buy equipment: shoes that do not look as though I should be strolling along the promenade at St Tropez; shorts that do not start at my knees and end at my ankles half an hour later, and some means of attaching my phone to a portion of my body that doesn’t move about too much even at full speed (e.g. in the last couple of yards when the biscuits are within sight).  Well, they did tell me that I might shed a few pounds.

Anyway, it is all out in the open now.  I will try to keep it going and I will keep you informed, but don’t expect a photo.  A thousand words is definitely worth not seeing the picture…