Fitness Big Year: Broken and here’s the fix

This Big Year seemed simple. Attend to exercising daily. Take up cycling, aiming for quite a few kilometers over the year, but maintain some jogging and do a little gym work. I wondered, early in the year, whether adding cycling to my regimen would aid overall fitness.

Here’s what happened. For equivalent “exercise value,” I knew I’d need to cycle more hours than I typically jogged. After an initial terrible jogging period, all went well for a while but then writing work pressures told on me, and I dialled down my cycles to just one hour. So yes, I did maintain the daily commitment to exercise but now the effort, over an entire week, was less than last year. My weight stacked up. I skipped a few days (work whinging). The left hamstring went on what was just a short jog. I kept up light gym work and minimal cycling but a spiral of doom had begun, I could see.

Yesterday I flaunted my Writing Big Year rules and headed to the river just after dawn. The body felt unfamiliar. I was not me anymore. How had this happened? A mist shrouded the track, joggers and cyclists aplenty.

A few days earlier, I’d only managed 2 kms on the tender hamstring, so now I aimed for 4 kms. I’ve lost winter conditioning and had rugged up with too many clothes, so two kilometers down the path, I was drenched in sweat, but you know what? It felt great and I kept going, turning around after 3 kms and lurching homeward. The final uphill felt sweet. 6 kms at a deadly slow 6:45 mins/km . . . heaven!

Fitness Big Year: Marrickville cycling

This next bit’s for dismounting and walking, right?

Grounded for jogging with a tweaked hamstring, I cycled three times in Sydney, a sedate 20 kms, then just as slowly for 30 kms, and yesterday 20 kms a bit faster. Faster meant 18 kms/hour, which is quite a bit slower than what I’ve tended to in Melbourne, but there’s a ready explanation for that: Sydney is hell for cyclists. I made my way to the Cooke River, which is a sweet trail, but every access road, every road crossing , every construction site along the way was designed to push cars through, and dismounting was essential.

But none of those grouses mattered. I felt great, delighted that a sore hamstring didn’t mean no cycling. And I was on a road bike, perched on top like a gymnast. How exciting!

Is the Fitness Big Year flawed and a route to fatness?

My jogging route in Sydney takes me up this thoroughfare but then improves by meandering to a scenic river. The only trouble is, I can’t get to the water right now. Injured!

Injured and I’ve gained two or three kilograms over five months. How did the Fitness Big Year, so hopeful in intent, come to this pass? Who knows what’s luck and what is my fault, but the basic story goes like this. I began aiming to turn 4 weekly hours of jogging into 2 jogging hours and 6 cycling hours, but after a couple of good months, the writing pressure told, and suddenly I was honoring the “daily commitment” aspect by still being a good boy and exercising daily but dialling down the cycling hours to 3, and then I loved my red wine after headachy work days, and cycling isn’t as calorie-killing as running, and last Saturday a short run left me deliciously sore, only it wasn’t delicious but a torn hamstring (I think, I’m no doctor) and now I can barely hobble 2 kms!

I feel like bemoaning this entire Big Year, wailing “I should have stuck with last year’s schedule,” but that’s not the answer. I’m going to take a day off, then cycle short distances each and every day (my “daily commitment”), because cycling doesn’t employ the hamstring much. Next week back in Melbourne: the physio. And I tell myself this story offers lessons. I smile.

For whom a marathon is impossible . . .

Check out this Strava post by Martin Yelling. Such a resonant perspective. For many of us, 5:02 isn’t the soft option, it’s hell. I only ever ran two half marathons, both at around 2:20, and they damaged my body. If I had ever undertaken the full Monty, 5:02 would have been a miracle. Martin, thanks for speaking for the genetically slow and clumsy. (Image from the Strava post)

Can I fit in the kilometers?

2017 is three Big Years: a wonderful all-consuming writing effort, a Rock Music Big Year and the subject of this post, my Fitness Big Year. The Fitness commitment? I undertook to exercise every day in order to cycle 5,000 kilometers, jog 1,000 kms and hit the gym 100 times.

That’s not a trivial undertaking. After nearly five months, I love the way the daily commitment gets me out, in sunshine or rain, without caviling, often just out of habit. The commitment isn’t in fact for 365 days because travel days, for example, are impossible, so I’m aiming for 315 days and so far have headed out 129 times, well on target. For those of you bewailing the impost of exercise, I can heartily recommend the Big Year discipline.

But that good news has to be tempered by a disquieting shortfall in my quantitative 5,000/1,000/100 goals. The maddening problem is what a number of my family and friends predicted: “Andres, ever heard of balance? You’ll never fit it all in!” Wise words indeed, for over the last six weeks, writing pressures have meant that although I can force myself out for an hour, any longer has instinctively been out of bounds. Damn it, I think, the book is more important!

Oh, the cycling has been glorious, a revelation, and I can thank the Big Year for its fresh bliss, but my bike illustrates my quandary. I’ve ridden 1,500 kms and for a few weeks managed a weekly target of 120 kms. But 120 kms is 6 hours (I’m slow!) and lately all I’ve managed is 3 hours. Two choices present themselves: sign on once more for 6 hours, beginning next week, which will bring 5,000 kms within reach; or stick with 3 hours/week, in which case I’ll end up with between 3,000 and 3,500 kms.

Sigh . . . sigh . . . sigh, it’s decision time, for the emotional stress of competing goals is sawing away inside my head. I hereby trim my goals: in 2017 I aim for 3,500 kms of cycling, 900 kms of jogging, and 90 gym visits.

To a geek’s eye, 3,500/900/90 isn’t nearly as attractive as 5,000/1,000/100 but let me ignore that and get on with a challenge that is quite tough enough.

Fitness Big Year: Not a good scorecard

Just over a third of the way through 2017:

  • I’ve cycled 1,422 kms. One third of 5,000 is 1, 666 kms. How can I catch up over 200 kms?
  • Jogging – 280 kms is similarly behind a third of 1,000.
  • 25 gym visits, not close to one third of 100.

A dire situation indeed.

Interview with Bronson Botha

I’ve never met Bronson, nor do I know anything about him except this: he’s a fine runner whom I follow on Strava, and early this year he announced on Strava that he’d embarked on “500 Days of Sobriety.” This struck a chord with me and three months later, I’ve interviewed him by email.

[What was your relationship to the demon drink?]

If I said I spent far too much time dancing with the demon in years before this, my other half would call me a liar, but my views differ and there’s a reason for it, as there are reasons for most things in life. I don’t have an issue with drinking, rather I have an issue with using the drinking to cope with life stresses. That’s where it all goes wrong for me. Too easily you’d have a challenging day at work and find yourself sipping for sweet revenge on all the stress, to hopefully numb the mind. That’s where the issue lies for me. Not the alcohol but the confrontation of issues; rather than talking about it, I’d let the issue consume me further. 

[Why, precisely, 500 Days of Sobriety, including why you called it that instead of something like Alcohol Free?]

Why 500 days? Well I’ve done it before, it’s my second run at doing it for the full term, but this time is different to the first. Different this time because my better half and I got hitched in Feb of this year and with marriage comes the age old question of “when are we having kids?” Now I know this is far from the true extent of what a woman will go through, but one thing they would do, most women anyhow, is to give up alcohol. So I’ve started this time because it’s only fair if she’d have to give it up too. I’m doing it to show I’ll make the necessary sacrifices too and once it’s over we will start trying for a family. Well, that’s the plan anyhow ?.

[How is it panning out?]

So . . . 10 weeks in and the temptations are always around, but there’s a certain joy that lacing up your sneakers brings when you hit that footpath. Running or walking, sprint sessions or just crawling to make it back to the front door, the general idea is to use that time out to focus on issues in my mind rather than letting them fester with me sitting back on the couch with a beer in hand.