An inherent love for sports – part 2

Continued from here

A dump of my confused thoughts on the various options:

Personal Trainer – this seems to be one of the most acquired qualifications in the fitness industry offered by a bunch of training providers (Premier Training, YMCA, Discovery, FutureFit, The Training Room etc.). It is expensive (averages around £3000) and is available to learn mostly online with a handful of practical days OR part time weekend course supplemented with online learning OR as a full time 12 week course. I like what personal trainers do, and someone like me would be motivated to work with one and would see good results. But the course content and assessment puts me off. It looks very theoretical, and for the price, all one seems to be acquiring is a fast paced certification. I have seen some good personal trainers and I wonder if the S&C coach is a better way to get there. But then, the PT certification also seems to be a stepping stone for all the options I have looked into (a very expensive one at that – just putting down these thoughts makes me wonder maybe if it is just a certification, does it really matter which training provider I go with… should I just take one of those online options which are cheaper.. I really don’t want to spend money on this for nothing) – especially for someone like me, with no relevant academic or practical qualification or background in the sports / fitness field and given I did my A level equivalents 15+ years ago in another country, this seems like a way to get some experience / qualification to tick that pre-requisite for most competitive in-depth courses and degrees.

S&C coach – my introduction to strength training was from Stephanie Twell, who was doing her M.Sc in Strength & Conditioning from St.Mary’s university. Obviously her running pedigree gives her significant knowledge and experience and she had a pretty bad injury that affected her career for a couple of years – just listening to her made me realise how much she knew about her body. The S&C coach is what I am looking for with a personal trainer course – the issue is they wouldn’t admit me for this course without a background / experience in this field 😦 Also given this is a going to take at least 2-3 years of study at the minimum, I would need to be sure this is all I want to do – realistically, I want S&C to supplement my interests in coaching, sports-therapy and rehab and not be the only thing I do.

Running coach – this excites me. And scares me. Every running coach or coach in training I know has run at least a few marathons… and I am at 18.75 miles as my longest run. Given how happy I am when I see one of my friends complete a workout, I want to get involved in beginner’s run coaching – to motivate women to get out and do their first 5k & 10k and hopefully like me, they would fall in love with running and get new found confidence and keep going 🙂 Reading Dan’s account of the Leadership in Running Fitness course by UK Athletics, it looks like I would enjoy this (I also know Laura, Sarah and Justin who have done this and they all coach runners; Laura and Dan have also completed their Coach in Running Fitness qualification while Sarah and Justin are on their way :)) – given this is a 1-day course at £160, it isn’t too bad an investment to try this out.

(continued here)

An inherent love for sports – part 1

I became an investment banker by chance. I did not actively look out or prepare for these roles. I vividly remember a chat with one of my batch-mates – I wanted to apply for a research analyst role and he was trying to convince me that the IB role would have a lot more perks and money! True to his word, the only IB role I was interviewed for landed me a lucrative job that paid for a lot of travels and luxuries. Along the way, IB was also the reason I was able to move to the UK with more than a generous relocation support from the IB employer. I enjoyed the work in the first year post-MBA and then it has been downhill – with increased money though. I quit this 4 years ago and moved to the corporate world. The pay was lesser, but the increased and flexible time on the hands made up for it. The work was again good for a couple of years, but for more reasons than one, I have lost interest in my most recent role. There isn’t a wide scope of what else I can do and there doesn’t seem to be any interesting offers available for what I can do.

The science of the human body interests me. I have always liked sports. When I was in high school, I wanted to become the team doctor for the Indian cricket team! In the last 2 years, running has changed my life – and my attitude to many things in life. I got injured on the way and was intrigued by the Physio (& internet) provided information on prevention and recovery techniques. I had never done weight training before Dec 2014 and it fascinated me what just a few weeks of strength training could do to my running. When I got bored of the gym later in the year, I read up on the various ways to build strength outside of the gym – resistance, suspension, kettle bell, circuits and more. I get inspired by other runners on Twitter and Strava. And I feel immense happiness when someone I encourage goes out for a run (my dad, Ranj, Aruna, Preeti, Roshi and even Ankita far away in Bombay!).

Given my dead-ended feeling with my current career, I want to explore doing something with sports. Given my interests, the paths I have researched include:

  • Personal Trainer
  • Strength & Conditioning coach
  • Running coach
  • Sports and Remedial Massage Therapist
  • Physiotherapist
  • Sports therapist

The one basic topic that needs study across all of these is Anatomy and Physiology of the human body. I paid Coursera for the first time and am currently learning Introductory Human Physiology by Duke University. It hasn’t been easy (a lot of concepts to learn and I am so out of touch) but I am currently in my 6th week of the 10 week course. I am happy I am trying this before going full-fledged and spending on something bigger – the course has set the reality straight on my concentration / focus levels and my out-of-touch state with anything to do with reading and learning. The flexible deadlines have helped (I have reset deadlines twice already!) and I hope to finish the course before the end of the year. The instructors and the content of the course have been very good and I would highly recommend the course for anyone interested in the topic. It gives a sound background in a very wide subject. I intend to read the book – Anatomy for Runners – to get a background into the other human science (Christmas reading?).

(continued here and then here)

Running & Cycling – what else do I talk about?

First things first, I ran the Edinburgh HM at 2:12:33 (6.13 min / km) – four minutes slower than my target, but I was happy with the progress I had made the previous few months.

  • Ran my highest ever mileage month in April at 105 kms (followed by 90 kms in May)
  • Did a ton of 5k PBs which gradually moved up to 29:10 and also did my 10k PB during the HM at 1:00:20
  • Learnt how to pace myself and not run all out in the first 5k of a 20km run! The HM route was ideal to do that sub-1 hour 10k but I held myself back and reaped some benefits in the next 10 kms.
  • Worked on my leg strength which helped increase the cadence to 184 spm (more purple than blue on my garmin 🙂 ) and the stride length at 0.87m during the HM (both metrics better in shorter training runs – but happy I could got these for the HM distance)
Finishing the Edinburgh Half Marathon at 2:12:33

Other good stuff:

  • Track – leading up to the HM, focussing on the speed, I should have been doing some interval training but ignored this all the way. One my colleagues insisted I join a running club and do track sessions (structured interval sessions). I had heard / read the same from a few others and kept postponing and at last decided to give it a try last month. PhoenixTri were the only club that did their track sessions late enough in the day (8 pm) for me to join after work. I have been diligently going for these sessions for the past month but too early to see any results in my longer runs – actually, I haven’t been doing much longer runs (see below) and that’s the reason I am not seeing any results! But the third time I did the track session, I know I did it faster than the first time and I can say that’s all that matters (I am still getting used to the metrics / lingo and 200m, 400m and 800m lap times others talk about on the track – newbie alert 🙂 )
  • Cycling – this has been much ignored since I rode the Ronde / Flanders in April 2014. The winter cross-training consisted of 1-day spin class every week on Tue evenings. Little did I know that this would actually be useful 🙂 I have done a 45km ride, 65 km ride and a 75 km ride this year (80kms a couple of times and a 100km Cambridge ride were the farthest I have ever ridden in a day AFTER a season of training!) followed by a Duathlon (5km run, 21.2km bike and 2.5km run) and I have also ridden faster than I have ever ridden in my life (thanks to one of the PhoenixTri members who pushed me to use the bigger gear on the flats and downhills, basically taught me how to ride a bike with gears 😉 )
  • I have signed up for a 100km ride in August which goes up Leith hill and Barhatch lane – tough and steep (what was I thinking!) It’s a month away and I have a holiday in-between – I better get climbing!
Phoenix Tri 75km ride
75km club ride with Phoenix Tri
Surrey Sportive
65km Surrey Sportive

Now for the things that are not going so well:

  • I lost some of the running / exercising mojo in the month of June. I did only 32 kms running in the month and 2 strength training sessions. I haven’t hit the gym till date in July!
  • I did my June Yateley 10k run 3 days after the HM and did well with a time of 1:02:44. With fresher legs and better weather (with everyone I know bettering their times and PBs), I flunked badly at 1:05:18 for the July run on the same course 😦
  • I haven’t run a sub 30 min 5k since my PB on 30 April! My cadence graph is only blue these days (the gym is staring at me saying you know what you are ignoring).

So to get back into training mode,

  • I have done four days of at least 5k runs this week – to be finished off by the 5th run tonight before the holiday begins tomorrow evening.
  • I have to – have to – have to better my time in the final Yateley 10k on 5th August.
  • Have a weekend riding plan of climbing and distance to accomplish in the next 4 weeks leading to the Surrey Sportive of 105 kms and 1150m of climbing on 16th August.
  • Force myself to get back into the gym and do some strength training at least once a week
  • Do the calf stretching routine at home every day – I really don’t want the injuries that are trying to show their nasty head
Eton Dorney Duathlon
Eton Dorney Duathlon
Yateley 10ks
Yateley 10ks – highly recommended!

And hopefully that will continue the training to achieve that sub 2 hour HM before the end of the year!

Continue reading

Couch to HM – My running journey for a year and beyond

One cold but fine day in Dec 2012, two of my male cousins sprinted up Box Hill. The 33 37 year old beat the 27 year old. But there was the 30 year old me who was struggling to keep up with the pace of the walkers. I always told myself I have the stamina to walk however long I want – little did I realise that is just mental strength. My 6 month old dog was running back to me every 2 mins and questioning why we weren’t moving faster around this big green space!

Today when I speak to many of my friends (especially back home), I hear all those excuses I gave myself – we have all given up thinking this is what happens when you turn 30. I was 50 Kgs when I finished undergrad in 2003. I was almost the same when I went to Bombay in 2006.

I was 65 Kgs when I last checked my weight in 2013. (I am barely 5 feet tall!). Biscuits, Pizzas, Eating out, Evening Snacks and No exercise. I was looking ugly in the pics and I just hid them all thinking this is what happens when you turn 30.

That’s me in Aug 2013.

Aug 2013

Something happened in me that day when I saw the boys run up the hill. It was another 6 months before I did anything about it though.

A had tried Couch to 5k (C25k) and was upping his running distances quite a bit – he could climb all those hills on his bike (had had ridden at the Flanders twice by then) but running was a new domain for him and he seemed to be loving it. Slowly without any expectations at all, I went for that first C25k run in Aug 2013. It is a 20 min set of 8x 1 min jog + 1.5 min walk. All I wanted to do was finish it – and I can still feel the happiness inside me when I think of that day. Yes, the 4th jog was difficult, and I was just hoping the 60 secs gets over as quickly as possible for the next 4 turns but yes, I could do this! The only thing I promised myself was that I will get out 3 times a week as per the plan and try and do as much of it as per the plan – it doesn’t matter how slow I am, all I wanted to do was follow Laura (the NHS podcast girl all C25K runners come to love 🙂 ). The plan repeats the same run 3 times during the week before progressing to the next stage the following week (2nd week was three runs of 6x 1.5 mins jog + 2 mins walk). I could see that the third run was always a tiny bit better than my first run each week which gave me the mental confidence needed to move to the next week (the first run of every week I would always come home and crib how hard that run was and how it is getting more and more difficult).

It was not all easy. We were moving houses at the end of the summer and at the end of Week 4, I stopped the runs. I was busy shopping, setting up the new home and settling in. In Dec 2013 when I saw that 65Kgs on the scale, I started again. On 29th of Dec, I went out again for Week 4, Run 2. I almost died doing the Week 5 Run 3 – 20 mins continuous jog – slow, slow and very slow, I think I was walking and telling myself I was running! but I completed the plan and for the Week 9 Run 3 I went on to do my first Park run on 1 Feb 2014 🙂 which was a disaster in the mud and I came last (by a big margin) at almost 48 mins 😦 .

As any runner will know, there are good runs and bad runs and ok runs – it all comes as part of the package. Running a 5K was a big achievement for me and in a couple of weeks, in better conditions, I could do 45-46 mins. And then I did a park run in 40 mins by the end of March!  All through the C25k and beyond, given my body wasn’t used to all these workouts, one of the painful things I had was shin splints. A’s advice helped me here – ice packs after every run whether there was pain or not. Recovery is as important as exercise. I wasn’t going to run consecutive days and ice ice baby.

I had to now focus a bit more on the cycling as I was doing the short distance (80Km) at the Flanders in March. My next big celebration was when I rode up Box Hill on my bike without stopping (I now know it is one of the easier climbs, but back then it was the ultimate climb for me 🙂 ). I had ridden tougher ones before I went up there but I was happier when I went up Box Hill in one-go! With the Flanders done in March, I took a long hiatus in April and May and slowly got back to running again in June. I registered for a 10k for my Birthday weekend in July and slowly started increasing my 5k runs to 6 and 7ks. I did my first 10k on the 5th of Jul in 1 hr 18 mins. My actual event 10k on 26th Jul was slower than that – 1 hr 21 min (bad run day 😦 ).

The only way I was going to continue running and motivate myself was to register for the next event when I finish one. I work better (I only work) with deadlines and challenges! Next up were:

  • Kingston run at 13Km on 12 Oct – this was finally my first good run on race day and I smashed a 5k (35:33) and 10k (1 hr 14 min) PB :). The 13 Km took me 1 hr 38 mins. I was getting better – I was running sub 8 mins / km pace.
  • Leatherhead Duathlon 3k run, 10k bike, 3k run on 19 Oct – my first Duathlon and an opportunity to take my bike out for the first time after Flanders! The realisation of how difficult it is to do the second run after riding the bike 🙂

Last year A had done the HumanRace Winter Trail Series and I decided (still trying to figure out why I did this and why I want to go back and do this again!) to try my leg on a different kind of (hillier muddier) challenge. I was running up Curling Vale (long but gentle climb) more often and also tried jogging up the Mount (steep long one) a couple of times. WildMan on 22 Nov was a good introduction to the trail hills followed by a good run at the tough Iceman on 7 Feb 2015 and a bad slow jog / walk to finish the tough tough MudMan on 7 Mar 2015. I was slow, one among the final few to finish, but I really enjoy these runs and will definitely be back 🙂

I also started to increase my distances (more 10 and 10+ kms leading to a 16 km run in 2 hours in Richmond Park on 29 Nov) in order to be able to run a HM distance before the end of the year. I logged my highest monthly mileage in Nov at 70 Kms. But Dec was a write-off month with only 13 Kms in total! In Jan, I decided to sign up for HumanRace Garmin Race Your Pace HM around the Eton Dorney Lake on 28 Feb. Now that I had signed up for an event, I was back to training. In Jan I did 5 runs for 60Kms. Feb training was another 5 runs for 50 Kms including a 20Km run and a 5K PB (31:51) just two days before the HM!

Running hills and increasing distances did have an adverse impact on my right knee. Rest and ice packs didn’t make it better. Driving 2 hours every day was making it worse. Internet searches asked me to do glute and quad strengthening exercises but all these were greek to me and I got bored doing reps of these without knowing what I was doing. I needed a plan and I needed someone to tell me what to do. I also wanted to work on my speed. I signed up for a 4 session S&C coaching program with Surrey Sports Park and asked for a running specialist coach. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better – I met Stephanie Twell who was patient with a newbie like me and showed me nuances on how to strengthen / activate different muscle groups that aid running. Within the month, I could see the impact of weight training and my speeds were improving a tiny bit every other time.

When I registered for the HM in Jan, a decent time in my head was 2 hr 30 mins. Anything below that I was going to be happy. My 20k run on 14 Feb took 2 hr 29 mins. I told myself I am going to push to get inside that 2 hr 30 min I wanted to do for 21 Km. On the night before my HM, I felt confident. I felt good that Sat morning. It’s been a long time since I felt this – a nervous feeling when I don’t want to disappoint myself when I have prepared well.

I started off with 10 min / mile pacers and I was surprised I could run faster than them (albeit only for a short while). I smashed another 5k PB at 31:13 and a 10k PB at 1:04 🙂 I knew that the next 5k is important as I will flag after 15 km. I did slow down behind the 10 min pacers but I kept them at sight for another 4 kms. The 15th Km was tough and I was flagging – my slowest km at 7:44 mins. Slowly started picking up again to get back to low 7:05 – 7:10 mins / km for the next 3 kms. At the 18 Km mark, the 11 min / mile pacer caught up with me. She was my much needed saviour. The final 3 Kms were all run with sub 7 mins / km pace to finish in 2:21:44 🙂 at 6:44 mins / km (11 mins / mile).

I couldn’t be happier with my run. I just did my 21 Km run, 7 mins faster than my 20k run two weeks ago.

When I ran my first 5k in Feb last year, I definitely didn’t think I could run a HM in one year and definitely not that pace! 🙂 I am used to my Garmin showing 8 mins+ a km for anything longer than a 5k 🙂

And that’s me in Feb 2015.

Feb 2015

I exercise to get fitter, stronger and feel better. Weight loss and looking good is a nice and very welcome side effect (I don’t hide my pics any more 🙂 )

Next up is Edinburgh Half Marathon on 31 May – I want to do 2 hr 8 mins. Looks difficult, but now that I have put it up here, I promise to give my best 🙂

Childhood memories

I have a vague memory of my younger self – cuddled in the far corner of the bed which was in the far corner of the bedroom in the corner of my home, with a book in my hand and eyes deep into the said book.

The best ever gift my dad has gotten me is the membership to the small library shop – with the old and new copies of Tinkle (& other comics), Famous Five, Secret Seven, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew (and also M&Bs which I tried but didn’t interest me at all!!) and more.

Until I was allowed to cross the busy Arcot road on my cycle (I think I was allowed from 6th standard 🙂 ), dad used to take me every 2 days in the evenings to pick up my books. I was allowed two books at a time. Usually, a Tinkle Digest (more volume) and an Enid Blyton would be my choice. And then the far corner used to happen. During the summer holidays, it was very easy for me to finish these two books in 24 hours instead of the 48 scheduled hours between my trips across the main road. And then I used to try my luck asking mom / dad another trip to the library. Now, a comic would cost us 50 paisa and a book about Rs.1 or 1.50 – the costs can add up quite quickly if I was allowed every day trips. My hobby was a luxury that my parents encouraged, 2 days at a time. I still crib about every damn thing they refused to spend on me in order to save for gold, but I (now) know how difficult it is to manage a household budget.

I remember my childhood as school, volleyball, riding around on my cycle and my books. When I was happy, I was in the corner with my books. When I was angry or upset, I was in the corner with my books. That’s how my parents remember me. That’s how I remember my younger self.

I don’t know when all this changed – was it the rigour of board exams and college admissions? Moving far away from home to the new found freedom in the Pilani hostel? I still used to spend my Saturday mornings in one of the corners of the Bangalore Forum Landmark but life had too many other distractions. And then Hyderabad, Bombay, London… life has been busy and I forgot my childhood friends.

I want to get back to my corner… deep inside the book without the distractions of the to-do list, the dog, the husband, the work stress, the worries and life.

New Year Resolutions

I believe in starting on New Year Resolutions in December – if I am still on them on Jan 1, I know I will continue through the year 🙂

1. Read more books
Given my meagre reading in the last decade(!), this is one area I really want to get back to my younger-self and has been a resounding success.

Christmas break reading:

The Book Thief – my first 500 page book in years!
The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances – compensated for the above by finishing this short and sweet one in a couple of hours

Jan 2015 reading:

Faster than Lightening
Born to Run (will finish this weekend)

2. Get back to learning and speaking Spanish – and keep at it
My on-off relationship with Spanish has to be taken to the next level. I did spend a fortune flying to Peru a couple of years ago and I could have a conversation with the locals there and even started reading some children’s books etc., but without practice, all is forgotten faster than the learning. We hope to go to Cuba sometime this year and I want to be able to speak the language there and want to continue beyond this.
All I have managed this month, is getting back on Duolingo for 10-30 mins every day (actually, still trying to do this every day – but I do manage 2 lessons on most days). Need to step this up with all the material I have from Bombay and Cusco.

3. Strength training and speed work for my runs
I will write about my running in 2014 in another post but the focus this year is to run faster. I think I can do a half marathon – scheduled my first official one on Feb 28 but I really need to work on my speed – I am just really slow. End of last year, I learned to do strength training and I know I should be doing intervals but need more commitment to do more than the current 4 workouts a week – 1 swim class, 1 spin session, 1 gym (strength + cardio) session and 1 long run over the weekend.

4. Learn to Swim
I am scared of water, scared of drowning in a 5 ft pool.
I am spending too much money on this but I am not giving up. I know my confidence is growing a tiny tiny bit every time I get into the pool. Hopefully during the year, I will get to swim 25m non-stop in the middle of the pool.

5. Read more on the WWW (yes, the world wide web)
I installed the gReader and cleaned up my TheOldReader feed (the back-up I took when Google Reader shut down) and I am now reading the few people who still write blogs among the umpteen people I used to follow almost a decade ago. I cleaned up my Pocket feed and now using it a lot more on my chrome.
It is a smaller success but I hope to continue and increase the breadth of topics I read.

6. Write / Blog more
This is my fifth post this month – Not bad eh?

7. Watch less TV
Exercise, Books and Duolingo fight for time that TV inevitably loses out. Somehow A has also stopped watching all those weekly shows which has helped. We do listen to a lot more music these days, which is a good substitute 🙂

8. Be more organised
Even though I am Monica-ish on how I like things to be planned and organised, the last year or so has been disaster in this regard – my paperwork is awry and my organisation and planning skills have been in a coma! I should get this back on track. Still not much of a breakthrough yet.

9. Find a new job – to find something I enjoy doing more
No, this is the worst of the list – I really need to do something about this – but again not focussed yet.

10. Wake up early
Don’t ask – Disaster, with my boss traveling on work, I go into work a good hour late these days – I better correct this before she gets back!

It is not a bad start, but I have not been crazy busy at work – hopefully I will still be doing most of these when work gets kicking (soon) and also pull my socks up for the few that I am lagging on.

A day in London

Yesterday, I had to go to Paddington for a work related meeting – this was my first trip to central London in the new year (actually, the first since the girls day out in November!). Living in the countryside means, a very early morning start (for my morning standards) on a cold winter day to get to a 9.00 am meeting. I was looking forward to enjoying the hour long commute on public transport and reading on the Kindle.

My drive back home from work has been getting increasingly painful. I am tired at the end of a work day and my eyes and head get stressed with driving on the country roads with oncoming headlights making me blind by the time I finish my 50-60 min drive back home. And for this specific reason, I have been thinking of looking for a job in central London. And today was supposed to be a test of that journey.

It didn’t begin so well when SWTrains cancelled my train due to signalling problems and my 35 min train journey became a 70 min one. Through the day, I had to use the Jubilee and Bakerloo line (in non-commute direction) and even though the tubes themselves were manageable, the tube stations were swarming with people – the crowd – that reminded me how much I like my space in my car. After using the trains, I hate being underground (the nightmare of the hot summer days on the jubilee line) with no internet (no the wifi that comes up only in the tube stops doesn’t count) and I can’t stand breathing into all you tall guys’ armpits!

It was another tiring day (the good part, I exceeded my target steps on my Vivofit on a weekday 🙂 ) but with all the driving mileage I have been accumulating for almost 3 years now, it is time to get back on public transport – and maybe I can use the bus and bike to avoid the armpit scare we short people have to endure.