Back on track (metaphorical)

So, here I am, back on track. My optimistic hope, expressed in my post at the beginning of March; that it would be the last I would need to tag ‘recovery’ for some time, has proved well-founded to date. The relief is palpable.

Since my return to running at the end of January, I have increased my mileage reasonably gradually; though I’ve not observed the 10% week on week rule since I’m returning to previous levels rather than starting anew. All the same, I have listened to my body and eased off when I have felt niggles develop; most often these have been general tightness or knots in my calves or, less often, discomfort in my knees or right Achilles. These niggles have become less frequent and less and less significant, through February, March and April, and from around the middle of May I have felt fully recovered from injury and that I am running niggle free. From about the same time, my mileage has returned to what I consider ‘normal’; around 30 miles a week.

Learning, at last, from my experience, I have continued to use a foam roller, as often as I can convince myself to, to look after my muscles and I have also started to observe a four week training cycle; three weeks of increasing distance and intensity followed by an easier rest week. As of the end of February I now also swim once a week; the first time I have ever consistently incorporated cross training. I have built up to 1.1k (in a 25m pool) in 30 minutes.

fortnightly mileaeg

I have increased my mileage reasonably gradually and have now returned to what I consider ‘normal’; around 30 miles a week. [Bars are fortnightly, values read from y axis, labels express this value as a weekly average.]

My return to fitness is particularly satisfyingly reflected in the series formed by my ten parkrun performances this year. My personal measure for being truly ‘back on track’ being that the last three are within a minute of my 2014 5k PB and rank within the top 20 of my sixty-one 5k events to date.

date parkrun target result average HR rank
12 March Oak Hill 21:50 22:00 158 53
19 March Dulwich 21:50 21:30 159 46
26 March Dulwich 21:20 21:18 161 45
16 April Dulwich 21:00 20:49 157 41
23 April Dulwich 20:30 20:29 160 37
7 May Dulwich 20:10 20:21 158 35
14 May Dulwich 20:10 20:00 157 25
21 May Bromley 19:50 19:40 158 17
28 May Dulwich 19:30 19:41 158 18
4 June Poole 19:30 19:32 14

I am also pleased that my return to running is reflected in my weight dipping below 70kg; my self-imposed ceiling as an active runner although I would like to reduce my weight further, to at most 68kg, if not to my ultimate goal of 66kg. The balance between the two primary drivers behind this weight loss – increased requirement for fuel for my metabolism and less indulgent eating due to my heightened mood – is tipped toward the former, I think.

weight jkfdas

My return to running is reflected in my weight dipping below 70kg; my self-imposed ceiling as an active runner.

Now if I could just commit to a strength training regime, I might consider myself truly reformed rather than just back on track.

Brinkmanship (ii)

I have been out on another four runs since my last post. Most importantly, the latest, this morning, was the first in which not only did I experience no pain or discomfort in my right knee during the run, but I have also experienced precisely zero pain or discomfort post run. Hopefully, this is the last post which I will need to tag ‘recovery‘ for some time. 😉

Across my eight runs so far this year, I can see my returning cardiovascular fitness reflected in my generally constant average HR, notwithstanding the increasing distance or reducing rest days. I plan to be running every other day soon.

date distance average pace average HR rest period since previous run
5 Mar 7.0k 5:00/km 141 2 days
2 Mar 6.0k 4:59/km 140 3 days
27 Feb 6.0k 4:58/km 144 2 days
24 Feb 6.0k 5:00/km 139 4 days
19 Feb 5.5k 5:00/km 139 5 days
13 Feb 5.0k 5:10/km 145 10 days
2 Feb 5.0k 5:18/km 139 2 days
30 Jan 5.0k 5:20/km 148 3 months

I have some way to go though to return to levels of fitness of early 2015; on 29 January that year I ran 16.1k, averaging 5:00/km and HR 126, and that was my fifth consecutive running day. It is not co-incidental that, just a few weeks later, was the last time I achieved a significant PB. (I recorded a 5000m PB in April 2015, but, in only my second participation in the discipline, there was little likelihood of not recording a PB that evening.)

There are a couple of other brinks that need manning too …

My weight. Having returned to close to 70kg by Christmas I’m a bit frustrated by my disappointment, in not running in the first quarter of 2016, being expressed in weight gain. At 72.3kg today, my first goal is to return to sub 70kg by late Spring and then, hopefully buoyed by ongoing fitness and some racing success, to press towards something close to 66kg.

At 72.3kg today, my first goal is to return to sub 70kg …

Finally, my RunBritain handicap is now languishing at 7.9, its lowest value since mid 2012 when it was still rising following my return to running at the beginning of that year. I don’t have absolute goals in mind for my handicap, but would enjoy a return to my previous peak of 5.1 recorded in December 2014.


My RunBritain handicap is at its lowest value since mid 2012 … I would enjoy a return to my previous peak of 5.1 recorded in December 2014.

Re-focus and run (Christmas is over)

I really enjoyed my Christmas and New Year. From the first moments listening with my wife to our three and five year old girls investigating their stockings, through evenings in front of an open fire at my mum and Alan’s in Dorset playing games, to spending time with friends.

I enjoyed the food too; it seems to have become a tradition that I cook on Christmas day, beef this year, and my first attempt at Yorkshire puddings went surprisingly well. I was very happy to find chocolate coated marzipan in my stocking and amaretti biscuits under the tree. Throughout Christmas itself I doubt whether my festive eating was anything other than typical. My weight gain was minimal; finishing the year at 68.3kg and writing my 2014 review and targets for 2015 on New Year’s Eve I reflected that my weight had been “around 67kg and stable since June”. It seems almost all my Christmas calories were offset by some very enjoyable Winter running.

The New Year hasn’t been so successful in relation to food. With the holiday period long past, I’ve failed to draw the festive eating to a close within any culturally normal time frame. If anything my eating has increased as the holidays have receded. And saying that it has increased is of course a euphemism for binge eating. Last night’s binge was a generous portion of cheese and biscuits followed by a whole tube of Pringles. The previous night I finished the second half of a bag of marshmallows; notionally for use one or two at a time to accompany hot chocolate. The other tube of Pringles disappeared one afternoon last week. I’ve tidied up the remaining mince pies. There has been quite a lot of tidying up.


Almost all my Christmas calories were offset by some very enjoyable Winter running. The New Year hasn’t been so successful …

Despite running more than ever I’ve gained another 1.8kg in the first 18 days of 2015. Out of curiosity I calculated my base metabolic rate (BMR) for the sedentary version of me: 1,554 calories per day. Energy expended running this year according to Garmin Connect: 10,165 calories. The internet consensus seems to be that an additional 500 calories consumed per day for 7 days produces a weight gain of approximately 0.5kg. A little maths indicates an additional 700 calories per day are required to produce a weight gain of 1.8kg over this period. In summary:

BMR 1,554 x 18 days = 27,972 calories
running = 10,165 calories
weight gain of 1.8kg 700 x 18 days = 12,600 calories
TOTAL food energy required = 50,737 calories
DAILY food energy required 50,737 / 18 = 2,819 calories

Quite an achievement. Today is national euphemism day.

Running more than ever … The week ending today is my highest ever weekly mileage.

Last weekend I told my wife that I was giving up cheese and biscuits because, in that combination, they are always superfluous to my nutritional needs. I have eaten cheese and biscuits on two evenings since then. Earlier this week I made a bet with my brother in law regarding our relative weights. The stakes are measured in Amazon gift cards. I have broken the seventy kilogramme barrier, in the wrong direction, since then.

It is the catharsis of blogged confession I need to truly repent. So, time to get out of sackcloth and ashes and into my pyjamas for an early night. My running gear is laid out for a tempo run in the morning.

With apologies for bastardising Lennon and the spirit of the original …

So that was Christmas
And what have I done?
Another few kilos
I’m seventy point one

And so that was Christmas (now it’s over)
I guess that was fun (if you want it)
The cultural norm binge (now it’s over)
Re-focus and run (if you want it)

Top five runners’ rules of thumb

Rules of thumb, I love them. A little maths, useful and concise. For example, I came across this one recently; “the perfect blog post title references an ordered list, contains six words and at least one prime number.” Very recently. Unfortunately as a rule of thumb this fails because a true rule of thumb is borne out in practice rather than made up on the spur of the blog.

There’s a reason why this definition is on a t-shirt, but I’m not quite sure now what it is.

And talking of the spur of the blog, this post is dedicated to running blogger Boy On The Run. Not that this is an obituary or anything, just that he’s a much less introspective, more disciplined and generally more reliably informative and amusing bloggist than this one. Homage, tribute, pastiche, sycophancy, plagiarism. It’s all here.

Let me see those thumbs …

1 “Calories burned equals distance in kilometres multiplied by weight in kilogrammes”

This is pretty accurate and in fact rather usefully errs on the side of caution so you can be absolutely sure your post run treat won’t outweigh the good you just did. The Runners World calculator multiplies the rule of thumb result by 1.036, though this too is an estimate. The true factor will vary from individual to individual primarily dependent upon metabolic efficiency converting food to energy and running efficiency converting energy to forward motion.

Snickers bar chart

Other brands of post workout recovery nutrition are available.

2 “Every pound of excess weight lost equals a 2 seconds per mile increase in pace.”

I’ve seen it argued that this rule is simply unsubstantiated running lore and elsewhere that whilst it is research based the paper only looked at performance over 5k. (It may even have been this piece of research, but I can’t even read all the long words let alone follow the maths.) Even so it is very appealing to extrapolate to various race distances and I have found it highly motivating when contemplating weight loss in the light of my target running weight.

weight loss race time improvement
5k 10k half marathon marathon
1 lb 0:06 0:12 0:26 0:52
2 lbs 0:12 0:24 0:52 1:44
5 lbs 0:31 1:02 2:11 4:22
10 lbs 1:02 2:04 4:22 8:44
1 kg 0:13 0:27 0:57 1:55
2 kg 0:27 0:54 1:55 3:51
5 kg 1:08 2:16 4:49 9:38
10 kg 2:16 4:33 9:38 19:16
3 “A change in pace of 10 seconds per kilometre equals 15 seconds per mile.”

Starting from the premise that a pace of 5 minutes per kilometre is equivalent to 8 minutes per mile this rule enables fairly easy mental estimation of equivalent paces starting from either unit. Despite my age I’ve come to think primarily in pace per kilometre, probably because most of my early races were over 10k where the link between goal time and metric race pace is so straightforward. However joining my first running club, Beckenham RC in January 2013, introduced me to a culture where mile pace was the norm. I find this rule useful to convert club night run paces as they are announced; “8:30 miles … so that’s 2 fifteens over 8 minute miles, so 2 tens over 5 minute kilometres … 5:20. OK, that suits me.” It’s also helpful when chatting with other runners to be able to converse in whichever unit system they prefer.

15s per mile, 10s per km

If this was a post by Boy On The Run this image would feature a donkey wearing a Spiderman costume in a Greek island idyll. But it isn’t and it doesn’t. It’s tabulated data. I can’t help myself.

It’s clear that this rule becomes less accurate the further from the original premise the desired pace lies. Fortunately for me my range of easy paces is centred exactly around the 5 minutes per km / 8 minutes per mile pair of values and so a faster or slower easy run will still lie well within the range illustrated above and hence will be accurate enough in most contexts. A simple corollary of “10 seconds per kilometre equals 15 seconds per mile” is of course “20 seconds per kilometre equals 30 seconds per mile” and using this to illustrate the results even further from the original premise does reveal the limitations.

30s per mile, 20s per km

“To infinity and beyond!” OK, not Spiderman. And not desperately relevant to the image, but that doesn’t deter Boy On The Run either.

4 “Multiply race time by 2.1 to predict race time over twice the original distance.”

This can be used to predict, or at least set realistic goals for, different race distances based on existing race times. It’s usefulness is slightly limited by the fact that race distances are not all inter-related in terms of being double, or half, of another; the mix of metric and imperial race distances doesn’t help. Nonetheless 1500m/3000m, 5k/10k, 5 mile/10 mile and half marathon/marathon are all such pairs. Trying to apply the rule to shorter distances doesn’t work so well which is a shame since 100m/200m/400m/800m/mile (1609m) makes a great related set. My intuition is that this is because the transition from entirely anaerobic to predominantly aerobic events occurs over this range of distances.

Certainly over the distances for which I have PB pairs the relationship is very close to this rule; 5k/10k 18:55 PB/predicts 39:44 (39:33 actual), 5 mile/10 mile 31:36 PB/predicts 66:22 (66:41 actual).The corollary of the rule, used to work from a longer race distance to a shorter one, is of course to “divide race time by 2.1 to predict race time over half the original distance.” This is the hardest do mentally, but it is worth digging out a calculator for if necessary. Personally I’ve whiled away many minutes during longer runs calculating and recalculating my predicted marathon time from my current half marathon PB. Calculating the km pace required to achieve this can easily keep me occupied for the rest of the run.

As with all calculations of this type the rule takes no account of natural ability favouring longer or shorter race distances, rather it assumes absolutely equal ability and quality of preparation over all distances.

5 “Racing over middle and long distance hurts in inverse proportion to the distance.”

This is probably as good a time as any to note that this rule is casually plagiarised and paraphrased from Boy On The Run’s original in his post “the different types of runner – part 5” where it appears as “Running hurts. If you are a marathon runner it hurts a fair amount for a long time. If you are a mile runner it hurts A LOT for a short while.” You may be pleased to read that it involves no maths whatsoever and so probably doesn’t qualify as a true rule of thumb. I’m not even sure what my personal relationship is to this rule just yet.

As mentioned previously I started out racing predominantly over 10k; my first event was in 2006. Since my 2012 return to running I have raced predominantly over 5k, thanks to parkrun, and have only very recently run my first handful of races of less than 5k and hence “middle distance”. Reviewing my performances in those I think I subconsciously adopted my long standing, long distance habits; starting out carefully, settling in to goal pace after a few hundred metres and then containing effort to ensure I was able to maintain my goal pace to the end.

On reflection I realise that optimal middle distance performance requires a sharp start, adopting goal pace with a few tens of metres and then pushing the limit hard throughout. I think that racing in that way is much more likely to bring me into contact with the intensity of lactic acid pain that middle distance racing is famous for. To date I think I’ve experienced greater mental and emotional discomfort in races, typically in longer races like half marathons, than I have lactate running pain. And certainly nothing approaching the levels described by true middle distance runners.

I am perversely looking forward to pushing myself further towards it.

Success! [5:2 Diet, Epilogue i]

Those of you who have been enthralled by my recent series of posts (the precursors to this post being chapters one, two and three) regarding my attempts to control my eating and lose a small amount of weight will perhaps be disappointed that we are entering the epilogue. (For completeness the effective prologues “Can’t Weight!” and “Redemption?” should also probably be included as part of the canon.) However, I cannot contain my satisfaction a moment longer. I weighed in this morning at 67kg!

something something

Weight change from 25 March to 9 June 2014 achieved using Fast Diet approach to weight control.

Whilst 67kg is strictly short of my 66kg running weight goal, I decided this morning – a scheduled fast day; currently Mondays and Thursdays – not to fast and to adopt a practice of weighing in on each scheduled fast day and only fasting if I weigh more than 67kg. This formalises what I have been doing by feel over the past few weeks. On a few scheduled fast days I have either skipped the fast entirely or modified the day so that I have eaten a light breakfast and even lighter lunch as normal, but have then also eaten a light dinner rather than omitting it entirely as has become my habit. The Fast Diet book suggests moving from a 5:2 pattern to a 6:1 pattern as an option to maintain weight which is essentially what I have begun to do.

The last few weeks have been successful not only in that I have effectively achieved my weight goal, but also that I have not binge eaten either. As a direct tool for weight loss the Fast Diet has certainly worked for me. But more than that, and the core reason why I intend to continue fasting as part of my lifestyle, I have found that each fast day effectively resets and re-calibrates my physical sense of hunger, re-sensitises me mentally to my eating choices and reasserts my control over eating and my weight.

As of the last few weeks I am back to running around 20 miles a week and I’m aware that there is still significant recovery required; for my sprained right ankle which is still noticeably ill at ease in comparison to the left one, for my cardiovascular system as it adjusts to my renewed activity after 6 sedentary weeks and for my body composition; dieting as I have been and mostly without exercise I have certainly lost significant muscle as well as fat. I’m looking forward to returning strength, fitness and my next PB!

Stillman running weight

I first came across the Stillman running weight formula sometime in 2012 although I can no longer find the particularly thorough article in which I first read about it. The formula presumably comes from the pre internet age as I can only find it referred to indirectly online and even then some articles* appear to have been published offline before appearing online.

The formula reflects the simple observation that elite runners are typically lighter than non-runners (of healthy weight) and that as the event distance increases so the athlete tends to be proportionally even lighter. Whether there was any physiological justification of the formula is not clear from the articles I’ve seen; it may be that Dr Stillman derived the formula mathematically to best model the weight of elite runners at the various event distances. I’m writing about the formula not to prescribe a particular running weight as “right”, but purely because I’ve used it to set a personal running weight goal and found using it interesting.

The formula uses imperial units for both weight and height and though I’ve seen the formula re-expressed to use metric units I’ve found it simpler to convert my metric height to feet and inches via Google and subsequently convert the imperial weight value produced to kilogrammes. If imperial units meet all your needs it’s a calculation that can easily be done mentally.

The formula can be expressed concisely in two steps:

Calculate a base value for a healthy, non-active individual by adding 5½ lbs (male) or 5lbs (female) for every inch in height over 5 feet to 110lbs (male) or 100lbs (female).

Modify the base value reducing it by a percentage dictated by event type; sprinters 2½%, hurdlers 6%, middle distance runners 12% and long distance runners 15%.

In my case, a five foot ten inch male, the base value is calculated as:

10 x 5.5 + 110 = 165 lbs = 11 stone 11 lbs = 74.8kg

And modified as below for each event type. [Note  the additional information on what constitutes a sprinter, hurdler etc.]

event type reduction weight BMI
non-active 11 stone 11 lbs 74.8kg 23.7
sprinter (100m – 400m) 2½% 11 stone 7 lbs 73.0kg 23.1
hurdler (100m – 400m) 6% 11 stone 1 lb 70.4kg 22.3
middle-distance (800m – 10K) 12% 10 stone 5 lbs 65.9kg 20.8
long-distance (10 miles plus) 15% 10 stone 0 lbs 63.6kg 20.1

I spent some time considering my racing weight in the context of the formula during early and mid 2012 and in the process decided I was most definitely a middle distance, not a long distance, runner. That is quite likely the case as subsequent performances over 800m, 1500m and one mile would appear to confirm, but at the time it was more in the harsh light of the results produced by the formula. When I first completed the calculation, the goal weight for even a middle distance runner seemed to border on the impossible; I had come close to 70kg / 11st as an adult, but only momentarily. Nonetheless by the time I set my running targets for 2013 I had fixed my goal at 66kg / 10st 5lbs / BMI 20.8.

By August 2012 I’d come close to 70kg / 11st as an adult, but only momentarily.

By August 2012 I had come close to 70kg / 11st as an adult, but only momentarily.

Writing now, within 2kg of my goal weight, it doesn’t seem extreme to any degree; it’s remarkable what a change of position does for perspective. I’ve read that every pound of excess weight lost can be expected to produce a two seconds per mile increase in pace …

event PB weight at PB hypothetical PB
at 66.0kg
800m 2:25.9 71.6kg 2:13.6
1500m 5:18.2 71.2kg 4:56.8
1 mile 5:31.7 73.7kg 5:08.8
5k 18:55 73.5kg 17:13
5 mile 31:36 71.5kg 29:35
10k 39:33 71.6kg 37:00
10 mile 66:41 71.3kg 62:48
half marathon 88:16 73.2kg 81:20

There are some pretty exciting numbers there! I’m looking forward to achieving my goal weight, returning to full fitness after my recent ankle sprain and then rigorously testing out my new physique to see just how much difference it makes.

* See articles at Serpentine and Horwich RMI Harriers club sites.

Weighting too long … [5:2 diet, chapter 3]

One problem with keeping a post in draft too long, aside from thoughtlessly keeping my adoring public waiting, is that the whole tone of the piece may need to change as circumstances unfold. This post for example was set to be an entirely positive update at the end of my fifth week using the Fast Diet (5:2 diet). A further week in draft and I have another binge eating episode to record. I’m not going to detail the crime scene as I did in my last post, but several gingerbread men, assorted nuts and raisins and two small golden rabbits were involved. Oh well.

Weighing in last week at 69.3kg I had achieved my short term goal by reaching 70kg / 11 stone by the end of April. Even with this week’s lapse I remain inside that threshold at 69.9kg. When first calculating my goal running weight I rationalised that whilst 66kg was potentially the optimum for running performance I wanted to stay at or under 70kg at all times. Having now achieved that for the first time I want to maintain it.

The 5:2 pattern, fasting for 2 days and eating normally for the other 5, has become part of the rhythm of life and I find myself genuinely looking forward to my fast days every Tuesday and Friday. I notice the taste of my food and savour it more, particularly the food eaten on fast days and breakfast the following morning, but also at other times. It seems that the fast days continually re-calibrate my appetite both in terms of restraining my physical appetite and increasing my conscious consideration of food. My habit of binge eating is quite separate and I’ve gained awareness and some control just by blogging about it.

I now think that retaining the 5:2 pattern permanently, beyond my immediate desire to lose further weight to achieve my goal running weight, is not such a strange proposition after all. This is what is proposed in the Fast Diet book since there is evidence that intermittent fasting produces health benefits aside from its effectiveness in weight management. For the last few weeks my typical fast day nutrition has been as described below. I changed from the porridge and poached egg that I had typically eaten for the first two weeks since it included no fruit or vegetables and, given that I’ve not been running either, was leaving me feeling distinctly lethargic. Yes, that’s a euphemism.

typical fast day nutrition
cereal: 30g bran flakes, 15g all bran, 35g porridge oats, 165g semi skimmed milk
energy: 110 + 50 + 133 + 81 = 374 calories

tuna salad: 139g tuna, 10g olive oil, chinese leaf, spinach, cherry tomatoes
energy: 138 + 88 = 226 calories (+ salad)

one white coffee: 1g instant coffee, 20ml semi-skimmed milk, 5g brown sugar
energy: 2 + 10 + 19 = 31 calories

TOTAL: 621 calories (+ salad)

Fast Diet, chapter 3, weight graph

Weight change from 25 March 2014 to date achieved using Fast Diet approach as modified by two episodes of binge eating.

Here’s to maintaining my sub 70kg weight.