Swimming

I am really bad at swimming.

What’s more, I really meant that sentence. It wasn’t just the set-up to a humble brag where I reveal that I’m actually quite decent at swimming.

No, I really suck.

I’ve only recently stopped getting out of breath after one length due to poor technique.

But I really want to persevere with this activity as it’s the perfect cross training to offset a lot of running: it uses different muscle groups and gives the joints a break from pavement pounding.

My gym buddy has been helping me to develop my breast stroke. The first thing he told me was to close my fingers so that the the water isn’t getting through them. That should have been obvious, but somehow it wasn’t.

I have also been watching YouTube tutorials. The trouble is that I sort out my breathing, and my legs go to crap; I sort out my legs, and my arms stop doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

I have noticed some improvement to my breast stroke though. I did five lengths the other day and wasn’t out of breath. I think this is an activity that all runners should try to do if they have any kind of access to a pool.

(For obvious reasons, like not getting arrested for being the “creepy man at the poolside taking photos”, I haven’t got a picture of my pool, so I opted for one taken on a coastal run instead.)

Ultra Training

I have been trying to follow the official training plan for Race to the King, but as always with training plans, I haven’t followed it as assiduously as I could have done. This is for a mixture of different reasons: fear of injury in the early weeks, as I was really struggling with tight calves, dodgy knees and ankles; trying to factor in training for the Three Peaks Challenge as well; the roads being far too slippery over the Arctic blast that we’ve been experiencing in the UK for the last five days or so; and laziness. (That last one is always there to some degree, and can strike at any time!)

This week called for two three milers and one six miler – quite a light week as the plan goes, but even so, I have failed to include that second three miler.

Things started well, with me determined not to let the snow get in my way, and I put in a run on Tuesday evening, braving the cold and taking care not to fall on the icy fields.

I was feeling pleased with myself – despite the weather, I was on fire!

Then I was allowed to work from home for two days as it snowed even more. Trains became delayed for hours on end and there were hardly any cars on the road. British people get very excited with the kind of weather that is commonplace in other parts of the world, and it was the main item heading up the news everyday. We even invented a dramatic name for it: The Beast from the East

Even though Berkshire was by no means the worst hit, we still saw our own little piece of the action. And I got into the general holiday spirit a lot of people seem to have been embracing this week. The word I’ve heard most from people recently is “hibernation”.

Basically, I got lazy. Yes, it had become unsafe to run outside, but if I really wanted to put the session in, I could have walked slowly to the gym and ran on the treadmill in the warmth.

So all in all, a mediocre start for Block One of the training plan, with three sessions missed and some mileages shortened. Two runs have also been replaced with walks. Does anyone know if it’s more beneficial to do a ten or fourteen mile walk than it is to do a seven mile run?

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I let my fiance’s niece draw a heart and write “love” in the space at the bottom – that wasn’t me!

 

 

Minimalist Shoes – short update

Another day in the gym with my minimalist shoes forced me to take it easy on the treadmill. For a minute or two, I almost forgot I was wearing them and started running as normal.

That’s not good – I’ve been advised time and time again not to do that, but to build it up slowly.

I felt rushed, due to the schedules of other people but as I plan to come here more often, I suppose I should let this one go.

I just don’t like that dissatisfied feeling you get when you leave feeling as if you could have done more.

Apart from some easy treadmill power walking/jogging, I went through some floor work and then told my fiance I would race her to 1k on the stationary bike, as when I saw her she couldn’t have been pushing the pedals round more slowly!

Next day update: I’m glad I stopped when I did. My legs were strangely aching today. I’ve been warned that this happens when getting used to minimalist shoes as well.

I went for an evening run in my “normal” shoes today.

Minimalist Shoes – first outing

Two posts back, I spoke about my new minimalist running shoes. That was in early December.

Then work got busy, Christmas and New Year’s happened, and I sunk back into the ease of existing routines, which means using my old, comfortable, shoes.

My first run of this year caked my normal shoes in mud, however, and I needed to pack something respectable for the gym in a hurry, so I saw it as an opportunity to grab the “barefoot” trainers.

I warmed up on the cross trainer (elliptical machine) where I thought my footwear wouldn’t make a difference because I wasn’t actually striking the ground. (Ten minutes, burning just over a hundred calories, according to the display.)

And then I moved to the treadmill.

Article after article has warned me about the perils of trying to do too much, too soon, so I kept it to strictly ten minutes. But I certainly noticed a difference in that short time. You really do feel every heel strike more keenly, and long dormant muscle groups really do start to wake up as you adjust. I did a few minutes at a fast walking pace, then some more at a gentle jog, then back to power walking.

After ten minutes, I stuck to my commitment to take it easy and switched to the bike.

I think it might be too early to say what effect this will have on my training but so far so good, even if it does feel strange to jog in them.

Some gym reviews 

Over the years, I have been a member of several gyms. Here are reviews of three of them, which belong to chains with a large presence in the UK.

The Gym Group

This is one of the major budget chains currently operating in the UK. Currently monthly membership costs £15.99 a month but I have seen promotional offers starting at £10.99 a month.  (This was when the gym first opened.) One of the ways the gym’s running costs are kept low is by cutting back on staff. The 24 hour entry system is fully automated.

The changing rooms are basic, but there are showers with opaque doors that afford some degree of privacy, unlike some other budget gyms.

There is no pool but the gym itself has an extensive range of equipment. You can get everything you need done here and the equipment is normally quite new.

The ability to be able to attend 24 hours may seem good, but I’m not sure whether everyone would feel safe rocking up at unusual times as unfortunately there are a lot of weirdos around (gyms seem to attract them) and you could find yourself in quite an isolated position.

Overall, this gym is a good budget option without the financial commitment of needing to sign up to a year’s contract. You will need your own sweat towel and your own padlock for the lockers.

Anytime Fitness

The franchise I attended had individual changing rooms, which allow for total privacy when changing and showering, but it also means that queues can quickly develop.

I really liked this gym as it had CV machines with screens that play videos of rolling scenery. So you can simulate running or cycling through the various national parks of the USA. It made me want to holiday there every time I worked out.

All the equipment in this gym was of a high standard and the whole place was very nicely done out. There were no lockers but there were (unsecured) baskets in a shelving unit where you could store your things, along with small safety deposit boxes for valuables. In the year I used this gym, no-one ever stole anything from me though.

We got a cheap deal by paying for a year in advance. (It seems the best deals are to be had when gyms have just opened.)

Nuffield

I owe Nuffield for getting me into exercising regularly in my late twenties after years of sedentary living. This was mostly because the branch I used was next to my office and left me with no excuses.

The “health MOT” was an eye-opener, putting me in the middle of the overweight category on BMI and alerting me to high cholesterol.

I also met with a nutritionist and learnt a lot from her, and a physiotherapist helped me sort out the functional instability in my knees.

On top of that, they had a swimming pool, steam room and sauna.

Needless to say, none of the above came cheap. Even with a corporate discount, the membership came in at around £56 a month, with a commitment to a one year contract and a joining fee required.

The gym itself had a good range of equipment but some it was quite tired considering the price tag. Anytime Fitness beat this gym in terms of general niceness, even though it had half the price tag.

Overall winner:

Anytime Fitness wins as it had a good balance between a nicely done out gym and price. The Gym comes second and Nuffield comes last because it is just too expensive for what they are offering. I was basically paying for the convenience of it being next to my work.

Injury Avoidance

I feel spectacularly under-qualified to talk about this subject. I have never been injured. (Yes, I’m touching wood as I write this.) Nor have I ever really done much to prevent injury, apart from making sure that I increase my mileage gradually.

But today the gym was really quiet so I thought I would take the opportunity to do some of my floor work, after a successful HIIT session on the treadmill (sprint four minutes, walk four minutes, then repeat). Normally, I am too self-conscious when it comes to this stuff – I’m not quite sure why!

I started by doing squats on the balancing plate (pictured above). This was recommended to me by a physiotherapist years ago. It helps to strengthen the knees as they have to work harder to stabilise you than they would on a normal squat. My right knee has always been especially weak and I have to take care of them both.

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I also did a simple exercise in-between which basically just involves getting up on tip-toes several times. (You’d be amazed how much it starts to feel like a real exercise by the twelfth time.)

Moving on, I actually did some foam rolling. The gym has quite a soft foam roller so I was able to do the one-leg-over-the-other approach, which normally hurts too much.

I topped it off with some classic hamstring stretches and everyone’s favourite from PE back in the day- touching your toes.

It’s not a perfect routine, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Treadmill Running

Today’s gym session can be summarised in the picture above: I just stayed on the treadmill the whole time.

I warmed up first, walking at speed for one kilometre, and then I restarted the machine so that I could get an accurate time for a 10k distance.

I have said it before: I don’t like running on treadmills. Outside running is my preferred activity. For some reason, I also have this notion in my head that I’m more injury prone on a treadmill – I don’t know why. But it also just feels like I’m not getting the value out of my gym membership if I just do something I could have done more enjoyably outside. (All this is just so I can be a reliable gym buddy without giving up on my running.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve considered this, and I actually read an article from Runner’s World before that states the following:

Watch your step. While the cushioned surface helps prevent injuries, some people report aches and pains after putting extra time on the ’mill. Be sure to run at a pace you can comfortably sustain. As you tire, lower your speed or the incline.¹

That bit about aches and pains pretty much sums me up today. Admittedly they are only niggles, but I am very, very paranoid about injuries after hearing a horror story an ex-runner from work told me about screwing up their knees.

The one thing that I did enjoy though, was using the display to regulate my run. For instance, that part to the right that tells you your speed in km per hour is ideal for trying to time a 10k or 5k. As I don’t own a Garmin or a Fitbit, this helps me get a feel for the kind of pace I need to maintain to achieve my goals in events.

However, it took me way too long to work out what speed I needed to go at to run 10k in an hour. I was doing all these calculations in my head before I realised that I just needed to go at…

…10km/hour!!

(Oh well, I’ve never professed to be intelligent in any of my posts. If you assumed that, then you have assumed wrong!)

 

¹ https://www.runnersworld.com/start-running/running-and-walking-on-the-treadmill