On being (almost) a 1000 miler

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(it's been a tough year on my trainers)

At the start of the year I set myself a goal to run a 1000 miles this year. That works out at about 20 miles a week, so not too bad when you're going smoothly, but when things get in the way, it mounts up. After a slow start, I was well on target to achieving it at 950 miles at the start of December, when I developed hip bursitis and was told to lay off running for a few weeks. I found this really depressing – running is part of my identity, and not just any old exercise. I'm hoping I can take it up again in the new year after some physiotherapy and maybe a cortisone injection.

But this post is not about self-pity, but about some of the things I've come to understand over the year. You could probably substitute 'learning' for running in most of this
and the same would apply (oh, okay, maybe not, but I need someway to
justify this post).

  • There are no bad miles – the good thing about an overall distance goal, rather than say a pace one, is that even if you have a bad run, it's still miles in the bag.
  • Getting going is the tough part – because of my wife being in hospital at the start of the year and all that had preceded that, I hadn't done much running since October 2008. This meant I was starting from a low base – getting a 20 mile week is tough when your doing 3 or 5 mile runs. But crucially I did something, so even if in those first few months I was falling short of the monthly average, it was a whole lot better than doing nothing.
  • Big chunks pay off – once I'd got my long run up to 10 miles or more, then hitting and surpassing the weekly average was easy, I could do it in 3 sessions. When you up the big chunk the little chunks get proportionally bigger too, so my shortest run increased from 3 to 5 miles.
  • Routine is key – disruptions such as going away on business, holidays, etc make it hard to fit in the weekly schedule, so need careful planning.  By planning the schedule I notched up 70 miles when we were on holiday in France.
  • Do it when you can – you don't know what will occur, such as my bursitis, but also picked up a back injury in the summer (not from running but from moving a guinea pig hutch would you believe) which took one week out and a cold in March removed another week. These time-outs impact on the weekly average quite considerably, and I regretted the times I could have gone for a run but had decided not to, as these could have accommodated the injuries.
  • A long-term goal is motivating – there were countless times when if I had been just running for the sake of it, I wouldn't have bothered, but the pressure of the overall goal was enough to make me go out.
  • Different strategies are required – I don't like treadmill running much, but for a while I made myself get up every morning and do 1 mile on the treadmill in our garage, in addition to any other run I might do. It didn't last long, but it all counted. Similarly I experimented with hill sessions, 5K times and tempo runs to vary it.

So, although I fell short in the end it's been a worthwhile process on several fronts. Healthwise, it equates to about 120,000 calories (or 750 pints of beer if you prefer that measure), and will have kept my heart, if not my hip, in good working order. It's given me routine, and space for reflection. Most importantly it's given me lots of data to obsess about.

And if we're playing the 'running is like learning because' game then the analogy falls down with the final result – unlike your hips, your brain won't get a stress injury from overuse.

13 Comments

  1. Very nicely put – my running year was about 600km (1000km shorter than yours), but I can certainly say that reading your list, I’ve come up with many of the same conclusions.
    The one thing that I would add is that you need to be able to take advice and find some on your own – from ways to pace to they types of shoes you wear. Just like in learning, if you don’t take advice and don’t listen to the active part of your body, you’re going to get hurt.
    PS – there are a group of us EdTech runners in Nike+ – let me know if you want to join the group.

  2. Thought I would post a comment on this as we are both runners and ed techies. You are allowed to have more than one pair of trainers in a year I hope! I go through a pair in 3-4 months. Interesting how runners have different motivators. For some it is times over specific distances and as they get older, it is looking forward to the next age landmark which means you can wipe the slate clean and start recording pbs all over again. I am one of those who just likes running for the sake of it. I must say though that I am concious of the fact that I am a member of a select group who can no longer run one mile at a pace that they once ran a marathon!
    Merry Christmas
    Joel

  3. Hi Raj – the advice thing is interesting. I read some runnersworld forums, but with running I’m more of an autodidact. Sociability is another factor – some people love to run/learn with others, while some prefer to do it alone.
    @Joel – I hadn’t really thought about the wiping the slate clean as you enter a new age bracket. I like the sound of that, maybe I should do it annually?

  4. Interesting… I’m a cyclist rather than a runner but I am currently cycling every day (usually at 6am), clocking up somewhere in the region of 300 miles per month at the moment. I’d never thought of setting myself a long term target but am now wondering about it – the motivational aspects that you refer to might well become more useful as my current burst of cycling activity progresses :-)
    The other thing that I find quite motivational currently is the RunKeeper iPhone app, which uses GPS to log all my activity and optionally publishes routes, mileage and timings to the Web. I now get very frustrated if I go for a ride and RunKeeper doesn’t work for some reason – I know that sounds stupid but it’s just the way I am I guess.
    RunKeeper is at http://runkeeper.com/ if you are interested.

  5. What types of exercises did your physical therapist have you do? I’ve been dealing with hip bursitis as well (due to elipitical and other arc trainers) and I really need it to go away so that I can continue working out. Ibuprofen has helped quite a bit, but I have feeling that I may be headed for PT and/or a cortisone shot.

  6. @Andy – just downloaded RunKeeper – thanks, it’s very cool, I really need this monitoring. I’m now switching to mixing running in with other exercise so can use it to keep a log of all activity.
    @Eric – I haven’t been doing any exercises to be honest – the physio gave it some electro-stimulation, some gamma waves and some ice. I’ve just started back after a month off and I think the rest was the main thing and really regular icing. I still have it a bit, but make sure I ice it after every run and am mixing in some low-impact exercise too. I’ll see how it goes.

  7. Hope the hip bursitis has improved Martin and you are out running again.
    I’m not training for a particular race this year but I like the idea of setting myself a target… 1000 miles seems like a nice round number to aim for! What’s your target this year?
    I need to think about how I measure it though. I have Nike+ but wasn’t happy with it as I’m convinced it under-estimates my distance / speed. @Joel has got me thinking about my trainers which I’ve used for 18-months including the half & full marathon…
    Happy running 2010,
    Matt

  8. @Matt – thanks, yes back out running although still have a bit of bursitis. I am now mixing in gym work and not _just_ running. I don’t have an overall target this year as I think I have to make sure I don’t run two days in a row, have rest weeks etc. But, hip permitting, I’d like to do my first marathon this year.
    Good luck with the target, I found it really useful to keep me going.

  9. Hope the hip continues to improve and you get to run a marathon. I think it is a brilliant race – although it is a very long way. I love running primarily because, as you say, it is ‘miles in the bag’ – if you put in the work you will hopefully succeed.
    Anyway, thanks for your post and I feel inspired to write a few things (all have been said before, but hey). The most important thing about running (for me) is the way in which it combines the physical with the mental – both in terms of the ‘intellect’ (if that is the right word to describe focus/strategy) and the imagination (visualisation, and dissociation/association from/with the body). This combination of physical and mental is very rewarding and makes me feel like a complete human being.
    On the ‘intellect’ side, concentration, focus and accuracy are vital. If you lose focus on a long race – a goal can slip away. You’ve got to keep on clocking up the miles at precisely the right tempo. On the ‘imagination’ side, being able to visualise ways to keep you going – for example, imagining the energy of you and your companions combining to carry you forward – is both helpful to get through a race and somehow in itself exciting. Which brings me to a final point – the social aspect of running. I love running with people and rarely run alone. There’s something primeval about chasing and being chased. It’s slightly edgy, but it’s a buzz. Running as a duo can also be fabulous. If you really trust your partner, some of the required focus can be temporarily offloaded onto them when you’re tired, and then you can take over when they need you. This of course isn’t real, but can be imagined.
    As I think you mention in another of your running posts, it’s also quite fun sifting through all the running data!
    Any particular marathon in mind?

  10. Just wanted to say thanks… your post inspired me to set a target of 4000 miles cycling this calendar year (2010) which I am now 100 miles away from completing – about 3 months early! Pretty much all of it has been logged directly using GPS on the iPhone and RunKeeper – though battery issues have meant that the longer rides have had to be added via the web interface after the event.
    Anyway, I’m now significantly fitter than I was when I wrote the comment above!

  11. Nice one Andy! I was going to ask how it was going. Cycling the length of Britain will certainly help that average mileage. Well done, unlike me you managed to reach your goal. Have a pint when you reach it.

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