Couch to marathon; or better living through gadgetry

Scott training for the Gold Coast Marathon. Or stops, lays down and takes a photo of his shoes, with the race turnaround point in the background.
Scott training for the Gold Coast Marathon

Last December, I had one of those milestone birthdays. For some people any birthday can become an elephant in the room of your mind. Generally I keep the elephant at bay, occasionally only seeing it appear when I see the release date of a song or film that I had filed away in the quite recent past folder.

Anyway. Milestone. Elephant. It got me thinking for a while, about setting some new goals for myself. And the prime one for me is getting fit. Once upon a time I did triathlons, ran half-marathons, swam at a State level, and it wasn’t unknown for me to play 4 or 5 different sports in any one week. Then a few things hit me. Two knee reconstructions, juggling studying full-time with a full-time job and a part-time job, 90-hour work weeks, a 6-hour per day daily commute to work… the sporty, fit me took a hit.

None of that is offered as boasting, or reasons, or excuses, it’s simply background. Before and during all of this, I did make some serious attempts at dialling back the damage, but nothing quite stuck, and nothing quite worked.

Then, in late January, I bought a Fitbit. I’m not going to review it here, if you want to read my Fitbit review, follow the link. This tale is about the change the device has brought upon me… no, that’s wrong, it didn’t make the change, I did. It was a tool that helped me make that change.

The Fitbit does a few things – some better than others – but in the way that I use it, it’s simply a pedometer. It’s always on, and always counting. By default it sets you targets of walking 10,000 steps a day, and climbing 10 floors worth of steps, be they actual flights of steps, or hills. The 10,000 step target isn’t an arbitrary number, I’m sure the figure was arrived at based on recent recommendations from the US Surgeon General and by the UK Department of Health. The choice of the figure of 10,000 steps a day goes back a little further than that, as outlined on Wikipedia:

In 1965, a pedometer called a manpo-kei (meaning “10,000 steps meter”) was marketed in Japan by Y. Hatano. Y. Hatano promoted “manpo-kei pedometers” from 1985, after his research was accepted as proving that 10,000 Steps A Day was the proper balance of caloric intake and activity-based caloric expenditure to maintain a healthy body.

Generally, without exercise, I walk between 6,000 – 8,000 steps a day, with a stride length of 0.8 metres. You can do the math there kids. The first couple of weeks with the Fitbit I would find myself at 10pm at night, heading out for a walk to push me over the 10,000 step barrier.

Now another thing the Fitbit tells you, is how many calories a day you burn. That’s your base metabolic rate, all the energy you use to blink, breathe, interpretive dance and whatnot, plus whatever energy you use in your exercise. So you see some results, you start to be smarter about what you put in your body, and look to burn more through activity. The calorie awareness and those 10pm sessions soon had me feeling better, and pulling in the belt two notches. And there is nothing like a little success in a program to make you step things up!

In late February, I began to go out for a 10 kilometre walk, six nights a week. On Saturday afternoons, I went for a 30 kilometre walk. After a while, I stepped things up again. The same distances, but little by little I mixed in some running. I also looked to do negative splits, meaning I travel from point A to point B, time it, and then try to get back to point A in a quicker time. And the belt notches kept coming in, to the point now that I am up to my last notch.

I should add, I’m not being uber obsessive about the calorie thing. I am not counting them every day, but I know the approximate caloric value of the food and drink I consume. I’m not existing on a diet of blended green algae drinks, I’m simply being more mindful of what I’m putting in.

Couch to marathon

Six weeks ago, on one of my 30 kilometre sessions, I saw a sign advertising the Gold Coast Marathon. It took all of 2.5 seconds thought before I said to myself, “Yeah, I can do that!” So July 1, at Southport, I’ll be one of the entrants. By that time it will have been about 5 months that I’ll have trained for the event. That sounds like a lot of time but I’m not being a hero about it, expecting to run the entire distance. That’s five months after a lot of years of being sedentary boy, so I’ll be doing a mix of walking and running. ‘walkrunning’ if was to be all Joyce and e.e. cummings wordinventy about it. Trying to run the whole marathon would not be a smart idea at this point in my program. My knees would protest, as would my doctor. And this article is called couch to marathon, not couch to coffin!

The 42.2 kilometre event has a 6.5 hour time limit. My fast walking pace is around the 8 to 10 minutes per kilometre mark, so I need to mix in running to knock my time down under the limit over the 42.2 kilometre course.

Much of my training is on the race course, so I know where I can shave time, where the flat grass is that I can use to lessen the impact on my body, and I’ll have the advantage of knowing exactly where I am, and how I’m placed for time. And my well being in relation to how long there is to go.

Before the Gold Coast Marathon, I’m also doing the Ballina to Byron Charity Walk, on May 20. It’s a 37 kilometre course, that will I think be more challenging than the marathon. It hugs the coast, so it’s sand, bush trails and hills, rather than a flat, paved running track.

Better living through gadgetry

The Fitbit has been my main piece of tech kit so far. When I decided to do the marathon, it was joined by the RunKeeper app on my iPhone. I use Runkeeper to provide an accurate snapshot of the distance I’ve done, my average speed, and my current speed. All to help me work on getting my time per kilometre down. It’s a free app, and it’s available for the iPhone and Android phones.

I’m looking to acquire some more tech-related products to review as I keep heading along on this journey, so makers of sports shoes and clothes, heart rate monitors, exercise equipment, and so on… prepare to be contacted!

The numbers

Another reason I like the Fitbit, is because it helped me reduce this ‘project’ to pure numbers, and that helps me keep my focus. To keep it as simple as move more, eat better, sleep right.

So here’s some of the numbers that matter:

42.2 kilometres. The marathon distance. That’s a Southport start, heading south to Burleigh Heads, turning around for the trip north to Runaway Bay, and then south again to the finish at Southport.

390 minutes. The time limit in which to finish the race.

3500 calories. The less of me there is, the easier it will be to walkrun, and the less impact to my body on each footfall. Burn 3500 more calories than you consume, and you lose 0.45 kilograms.

Why am I doing this?

There’s a couple of big reasons, and one very big reason. I want to feel better, look better, and reduce and wind back any physical limitations brought about by my years in the fitness wilderness.

But mainly, it’s that I have a 5 year old son, and I want to be with him as long as I can, doing as much with him as I can, and be a good role model for him. All of this despite the fact that he just growled at me and slammed the door not five minutes before I finished writing this, because I the temerity to suggest he have a wee before he got back into bed after waking up. Parenting: it’s a rollercoaster.

I’ve got to go now, there’s running to be done. More couch to marathon soon.