I recently wrote about the little changes that I am making to improve my health, following an unfortunate incident with a kidney stone. As painful as the experience was, it was a great wake-up call – a motivator to live a healthier life.
One of my biggest focusses has been exercise. While this is not directly related to the cause of the kidney stone (hello junk food!), I know that a sedentary lifestyle was beginning to impact other aspects of my health. The kidney stone made me realise that avoidable, self-inflicted health problems are painful, a little embarrassing and not at all worth whatever it was that I had sacrificed my health for in the first place.
In my previous post I wrote about setting small goals with the help of my Fitbit Blaze. I hypothesised that setting a series of small, achievable goals was the best way to work towards a bigger picture of a healthier life. I believe I now have some evidence to back up that claim, but first…
A few years ago (after quite a period of inactivity), I decided I would run the City to Surf. It was an ambitious plan, to say the least. I was unfit and a little bit… older than I was when I was at my fittest. The City to Surf is a reasonably challenging 14 kilometre run with a very challenging, 2km rise, aptly named “Heartbreak Hill”.
In order to prepare myself for the run, I decided to knock out a 5 kilometre run around my local area. I set a course that involved a giant hill, just to really prepare me for Heartbreak Hill.
It didn’t prepare me, it broke me. I was out of breath before I had even made it to the hill, and I had to walk nearly the whole way up it. About half way up I had to stop and suck in a few huge breaths, while trying my hardest to not pass out. I was sore and sorry for days. I didn’t run the City to Surf that year, or any other year.
My problem was that I had set a big goal (of running the City to Surf), without any real plan of how to achieve it. I tried to practise, and I failed spectacularly. The embarrassment of that failure, combined with the physical pain over the following days, turned me off running again for a long time.
From Little Things…
One of the good things about aging is that you become a little wiser. If you are paying attention, you learn from your experiences and you avoid making the same mistake twice.
When I decided to start running again at the end of last year, I approached it differently. I had no “big goal” in mind, just an understanding that I needed to participate in regular exercise, or suffer the consequences. I decided to use my newly-acquired Fitbit Blaze to collect some baseline data. The results were not good, in fact they were pretty terrible. I was shuffling along at an old-man pace, and I didn’t have the gumption to run any distance worth writing about – I was running less than two kilometres at over six minutes per kilometre.
The great thing about my approach this time is that those statistics didn’t bother me, they just informed my decisions around what to do next.
Compound Fitness: Small Goals = Huge Gains
I’m sure you have heard of compound interest. It is, after all, a powerful force for increasing wealth. In the last few months I have found that the same can be applied to fitness. The time that I have invested into my fitness has begun to pay off with ever-increasing levels of performance. The more I run, the quicker I am able to rein in my small goals.
For example, in my last post I talked about my 5-in-5-at-5 goal (five kilometres in five minutes per kilometre at 5 am). I was running four kilometres in just over 5 minutes per kilometre (at 5 am). I set myself the goal of running those kilometres in under five minutes per kilometre. Once I achieved that for six consecutive runs (2 weeks of running), I would move up to 5 kilometres.
I achieved my 4km goal, and so increased my distance to 5 kilometres as planned. I had assumed that I would have to adjust my pace to cater for the extra kilometre – that I would have to conserve my energy in the first few kilometres, in order to survive the extra one at the end.
However, on my first 5 kilometre run I found that I could maintain my pace from before. Even more surprising, I felt like I could keep running at the end of it. Where once a 5 kilometre run had nearly killed me, now it was comfortable. It was even enjoyable!
All of a sudden, I had achieved my 5-in-5-at-5 goal! But that was just one run. With exercise, consistency is key. I went out for my second 5km run and, much to my delight, it was just as fast and just as enjoyable as the first one! I could comfortably run 5 kilometres in under five minutes per kilometre. In fact, I was beginning to get tantalisingly close to running it in four-and-a-half minutes per kilometre.
Where to Next?
My plan is to run for a few more weeks on my 5-in-5-at-5 schedule. I feel like I can go harder, but I don’t want to push it just yet. I know from experience that if I get carried away, I will just push to the point where I can’t do it anymore, then give up. That cannot happen, a healthy life is just too precious to me to throw it away again. I’m happy for now that I have already achieved my running goal. Not bad considering it’s only February!
I plan to spend at least two weeks consistently running every kilometre in under five minutes. Once I know I have that under control, then I will move to the next phase on my running. That will involve mixing things up a bit. Some longer distances, and some interval training perhaps. I can’t wait!