Sunday, July 02, 2006


It's quarter past nine, now, still light, and finally cooler outside than it is in the house. The Computer Lab weather station says it's now about the same temperature as it was when I went for my run this morning. Which was too hot. But I did 5k, fairly comfortably, in just under 35 minutes. There was a slight tendony sort of twinge in my left foot towards the end, but it went away almost immediately when I got home. So that's probably all right, then. Various thunderstorms are rumbling away around the country, but it doesn't look like we'll get one here. Pity - we need one.

Friday, June 30, 2006

June summary

I've been getting out fairly consistently this month. I've been speeding up significantly in the last week or so; I need to watch that I don't overdo this. But apart from a wobble last weekend I've been feeling pretty good. The challenge for the next month will be the longer runs at the weekend, which will extend from 4.5km to 7km. Also I'll see if I can keep running while we're away on holiday.

Outings: 17
Total distance: 47.6 km (29.6 miles)
Total running time: 5:40
Average pace: 7:08 min/km (11:29 min/hr)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Cambridge 10k

Lurking at the back of a wardrobe somewhere in my house is a t-shirt commemmorating the Cambridge 10k of (I think) 2003. Now, I have never run a 10k in my life, and I certainly wasn't anywhere close to doing so three years ago. But I was involved in the Cambridge 10k for several years, and perhaps one day I will be again.

The race used to be organised by the Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust (who do an excellent job of looking after numerous nature reserves around the county), basically as a fund-raising project with the support of the Cambridge & Coleridge Athletic Club. The husband of one of my (then) colleagues was in charge of organising the race, and I offered to help out with some of the data entry. My role was to process the entry forms of everyone who entered on the day - this basically consisted of entering their details into a spreadsheet as quickly as possible, so that by the time the winner crossed the finishing line, we could instantly look them up in the spreadsheet and announce their name. We also had to identify which finishers were in which age group, to find the first three places in each category so the prizes could be awarded. Particularly in the days before widespread on-line race entry, there were a lot of people who entered on the day, and it was sometimes touch and go as to whether I'd get through all the forms in time for the first finishers. One year several of my work colleagues were running, and one of them wryly observed to my manager, seeing me frantically bashing away at the keyboard, "Now you know how fast Phil can really work if he wants to."

In its first years, the race was based at the Cambridge Rugby Club on Grantchester Road. This wasn't really ideal as a base for a major road race, and we usually ended up with the laptop perched on a corner table in the bar. It did, however, have the advantage of a liberal supply of beer to fuel the race-day operation. Later on, we moved to the University athletics ground at Wilberforce Road, a much more professional, though soberer location.

I think 2003 was the last time the race was held; unfortunately the Wildlife Trust decided that they weren't really raising enough from it to make their very considerable investment of time and effort in it worthwhile. I can quite understand this, though it's a pity, and I hope it'll make a come back one day. Though if it does, I'm determined to run in it for a change!

Monday, June 26, 2006


Last Sunday I ran 4.5k, and this Sunday, the end of week 5, I had 5k on the schedule. Fairly achievable, you might have thought, but soon after setting out it became apparent that all was not well. After about two minutes I felt a bit queasy. After five minutes I felt that I was soon going to suffer from Jeanne's trouble, or possibly Beckham's. Or maybe both at once. They say one of the most important things to do as a runner is listen to what your body is telling you, and mine was telling me, quite firmly, "No running today, thank you". I strolled back to the house and sat very still in the garden until things had calmed down.

Out this morning in the drizzle for a very good run, feeling great. I think I'll repeat a week of the schedule and see how things go.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Well, on the bright side I remained relatively sober and even got a decent amount of sleep while I was away in Nottingham last night; however I didn't actually do any running this morning, despite being up quite bright and early. The thing is, you see, in that part of the world they have these scary-looking things that are largely unknown here in Cambridgeshire. Hills. Well, we do have the occasional one - Cambridge's castle mound, for example, built by the invading Normans nearly a thousand years ago. Indeed a few years back there was a piece in the paper about some poor local runner who wanted to do some hill training, and, in the absence of any alternatives, was reduced to running up and down the castle mound repeatedly. In the end the local council made him stop, on the grounds that he was causing excessive erosion.

So, anyway, rather than slogging up and down the hills of Nottingham I settled for a brisk sunshiny walk around the very attractive University campus this morning; I'll get back on the road tomorrow. Oh yes.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Sunday morning's run was my longest run yet, and pretty comfortable it was too. At 33 minutes for 4.5km I won't be breaking any records just yet, but the aim is gradual but steady improvement without overdoing it and hurting something. I'm still only four weeks in to my running programme. A shorter run this morning, the start of week five, also very comfortable. Heel happy, shoulder fairly happy, calves tolerable.

It's at around this stage of a beginner's running programme, when you start seeing a significant improvement, that there's a great temptation to push things too hard. You right-click your pace graph in Excel, select "Add Trendline", and discover that at your present rate of progress you'll become world running champion within a year, and achieve warp speed soon after that. But, of course, it doesn't quite work like that - your initial rapid improvement gives way to much more gradual progress once the low-hanging fruit is plucked. The key thing is to keep pushing onward, but with realistic expectations of how rapidly you'll improve.

Unusually I'm going to be away from home tomorrow night, at a work conference at Nottingham University, so my Wednesday morning run will be round some part of the campus there. From the map, it looks like there's a loop of about 3k which which probably be about right. We should also have access to the sports centre there, but that might be a little complicated first thing in the morning. Now, if only I can avoid drinking too much beer while watching the England v Sweden match on Tuesday evening...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Aches and pains

This wouldn't be a proper running blog if I didn't spend some time complaining about my aches and pains. But I think I have some justification - I nearly didn't go out for my run this morning because of a really quite painful stiffness in my right shoulder. I'm almost certain that this was brought on by sleeping in a funny position, which in turn was brought on by some other twinge in my upper left back, which (I'm pretty sure) came about by lifting heavy weights. Two weights in particular. One of them is aged four and a half, and the other one turned seventeen months yesterday, and they both like being lifted up a good deal. Perhaps I should try some yoga (which my mother used to swear by for her back problems) or Pilates or even some more organized weight training. Bench-pressing the children is quite fun. For them, anyway.

As I set out I noticed a slight ache on the inside of my right heel, which felt rather as if I'd banged it into something. I worried about this for a little bit - what does plantar fasciitis feel like? Have I really got a classic running injury only three and a half weeks since I restarted? - before remembering that I actually had banged it into something in my rush to prepare dinner for nine people after the England match yesterday. So let's hope that's all it is.

The other slight concern is that my calf muscles really, really don't like the first mile of my runs. I stretch, and I warm up with a brisk walk first, but they're still not at all happy for the first ten minutes or so. After that they settle down and stop complaining, but I do wonder if I'm asking too much of them too soon, or I should do a bit more warming up, or something. Hmm.

So, all in all it was a bit of a struggle on quite a short run this morning. It wasn't helped by the fact that, in my hurry to set out, I had selected a top which wasn't actually a running top at all, but (I realised soon after leaving the house) had fitted me quite snugly about eight years ago, and was now rather accentuating the bulges. I shall dress more carefully next time.


Watching England play football doesn't count as entertainment. It's 90 minutes of intense anxiety.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Faster but larger

Another quite reasonable run this morning; I definitely seem to settle in to it after about a mile. I'm still taking it nice and easy, but the intervals are up to run 2.5/walk 1 now, and that's fine. Well, the run seems about five times longer than the walk, but still.

On the other hand, I weighed myself a couple of days ago, and in the three-and-a-bit weeks since I restarted running, I have...gained nearly five pounds. I'm now heavier than I have been all year, which was a bit of a surprise. Still, I'm not going to worry about it too much, just yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Three weeks in

It's now three weeks since I restarted running, and this morning's run was my longest so far, all of 3.5km. It was quite hard work - I don't know if this was due to the muggy heat (even at 8am), or the amount of wine I'd drunk at Tim's barbecue the previous evening, or just general tiredness after quite a sweaty night. I was at least cheered on my way by a passerby, who from her general demeanour seemed to be on her way home from a particularly raucous all-night party. She appeared to be wearing wellington boots and fishnet stockings, an odd combination for a summer morning, but I only saw her from the other side of Gilbert Road and I wasn't going to cross over for a closer look, so I might have been mistaken.

Cambridge is in the grip of World Cup fever to a quite remarkable extent. At our house we don't have a television ("Are they poor?", a visiting friend's child apparently asked), and international football matches are about the only event that I arrange to go and watch somewhere else. As I was walking over to my father-in-law's, it seemed that every passing car had an England flag fluttering from it, houses were draped all around, and the streets were full of entire families dressed in England strip, no doubt on their way round to some friend or relative's house to watch the match. Later on, after England's rather unconvincing 1-0 victory over Paraguay, the city centre was full of fans, and the area around the big screen on Parker's Piece looked like a battlefield might after a lengthy struggle between two opposing forces armed only with beer cans. Four weeks to go.

Friday, June 09, 2006


The Met Office has just issued its first heatwave warning of the year, and it's certainly looking like a scorcher this weekend. There are good and bad aspects to this. On the upside, there's sitting in the garden with a cold beer watching the children play happily in the paddling pool. I might even get around to erecting our canvas gazebo - which is so enormous that it was visible on Google Earth for a while - so we can eat outdoors without getting frazzled. On the downside, though, there's tossing and turning in sticky sheets all night unable to get to sleep. If global warming continues, home air conditioning might become more common in England, but until then we'll have to rely on keeping the windows open and hoping for a cooling breeze.

At least running first thing means I'm likely to hit the coolest time of day, though it was still a bit on the muggy side this morning. I'm about two and a half weeks in to my current running programme now, and my fitness is improving noticeably. It seems to take me about a mile to warm up, and then I hit my stride and run quite comfortably. I'm still on run 2/walk 1 minute intervals, and I'll keep that creeping up gradually. In a few weeks my longer runs on Sundays will be far enough to head down towards the river, and I'm really looking forward to that.

Gratuitous Running Advice

Here's a summary of the advice for beginners that I've posted recently. I'll aim to keep this post updated as a reference for the surprisingly steady stream of people who arrive here looking for information about beginning running.

I suppose some sort of disclaimer is appropriate. I'm not claiming to be any sort expert on running; I'm just writing about my own experience as a new runner, and summarizing things I've read elsewhere. If you follow all the advice on this site, and both your legs fall off, don't blame me. Before starting a course of exercise, or indeed anything else, you should take responsibility for your own actions :-)

Gratuitous Running Advice:
  1. Do some walking first
  2. Making a schedule
  3. Get some good shoes
There are lots of other resources on the web for the new runner. The Serpentine Running Club in London has a particularly good selection of advice for beginners, and obviously they know vastly more about running than I do. And there are a vast number of running blogs listed at Complete Running, many of them regularly updated. And you can always start your own...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Gratuitous Running Advice, part 3: Get some good shoes

You don't spend a great deal of money on running gear. Well, you can if you want to; there's all sorts of GPS tracking, heart-rate-monitoring and audio equipment you can load yourself up with if you want to. But all you really need is some comfortable clothing that isn't going to expose you to public ridicule, and some running shoes. And since running is such an inexpensive sport, compared to, say, skiing or skydiving, it's worth spending a bit of money on the shoes.

For the beginning runner, the prospect of buying some running shoes can be a bit intimidating. Here you are, currently capable of running perhaps a hundred metres in one go, and suddenly you've got to worry about baffling concepts like overpronation. It can be tempting simply to go to the first shop you find and select the first reasonably-priced pair of shoes that seem to fit. Resist this temptation. The quality of your running shoes can make a big difference to how comfortable you are, and how likely you are to get injured.

If possible, go to a specialist running shoe shop, rather than a general sports or shoe shop - a specialist shop will usually have knowledgeable staff who are interested in running. If you can get a recommendation from someone, great. Ideally, pick a time when the shop isn't too busy, and make sure you let them know that you're a new runner.

Also, be prepared to spend. Running shoes can seem expensive - mine were £85 (around US$150) - and they need replacing every 400 to 500 miles or so, but that's still a lot of running for your money, and it works out at a pretty small amount per mile. By the time you replace your first pair, you won't be a beginning runner any more.

Monday, June 05, 2006

May summary

Of course, having decried an obsessive interest in how fast you're running, I'm now going to post some stats. :-)

Not terribly exciting numbers for May (though a good deal more so than for April).

Outings: 5
Total distance: 12.9 km (8.0 miles)
Total running time: 1:37
Average pace: 7:33 min/km (12:09 min/hr)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Gratuitous Running Advice, part 2: Making a Schedule

If you want to stick to a regular schedule when you're beginning running, it's a lot easier if you make an advance plan of what your schedule is going to be. Here's what I've done since I restarted running a couple of weeks ago.

Firstly, decide how many times a week you want to go running. I'd say twice is probably the minimum if you want to make reasonable progress, and six times is the maximum - you need to have at least one rest day a week, since it's when you're resting that your body improves its fitness. Then plan which days you're actually going to go. I've decided on four times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, all first thing in the morning.

Secondly, decide roughly what weekly mileage you want to aim at. The key thing here is to start low and increase gradually - your aim is to get fit while avoiding getting injured. There is a great variety of injuries you can get whilst running, and other than road rash and dog bites, they are mostly caused by doing too much too soon. A reasonable distance to start with is as far as you could comfortably walk in half an hour. For my first week I decided on a total of 10km (6 miles), so about 2.5km (1.5 miles) per outing. After that, you can increase the distance by no more than 10% per week. In fact, compound interest being what it is, I decided 7.5% per week would be a bit more sustainable. You also need to decide how to split the distance between the different days - it can be a good idea to have a longer run on one day in the week. Since my time is more limited during the week, I've decided to have a longer run on Sundays.

Thirdly, plan your routes in advance. The last thing you want when you're heading out in the morning is to be dithering about where you're going. The extremely useful Gmaps Pedometer is your friend here - you can measure routes round your neighbourhood to the nearest few metres. But you don't need to worry about running the exact distance on the schedule - a reasonable approximation will do.

Finally, don't give up on your schedule if you miss an outing or two for whatever reason. Either carry on regardless of the missed outings, or skip back a week.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Average time

Quite a few people arrive at this site trying to find out the "average beginner's time" for running a mile or a kilometer, or whatever. Well, I don't really think this is something you want to worry about too much when you're beginning running. Your pace will depend on a lot of different factors - your age, general fitness and weight are three that spring to mind - but in any case you should be concentrating on running at a pace that's appropriate for you, not on trying to outperform some mythical average beginner.

For what it's worth, when I started running last year my pace was initially around a 13 minute mile, and over the first six weeks or so fell quite rapidly to a little over 10 minutes. After that it fell very gradually for the next three months, to a little under 10 minutes. This year, a week and a half after I started running again, I'm currently at about a 12 minute mile pace. For context, I'm 40 years old, a little overweight (my BMI is 26.8), and I do a fair amount of cycling. Now, in absolute terms this isn't very fast at all - a brisk walk will cover a mile in around 17 minutes; a runner finishing a 10k race in 45 minutes is running at around 7 minutes per mile.

But when you first start running, the main thing to concentrate on is improving your running fitness, and the limiting factor is getting your legs and feet strong enough to cope with the stresses and strains. Key points:
  • Don't run so fast that you can't talk comfortably
  • Start with run/walk intervals, and gradually increase the running time
  • Don't increase your mileage by more than 10% a week
Don't get hung up on how fast you're going - it can be interesting to keep a record and see how your pace improves, but that should be a side-effect, not a goal in itself. Your first goal as a beginning runner is to get fit for running.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


This post will ramble a bit. But it will get to running in the end.

In Scotland, a popular mountaineering endeavour is to climb all the Munros, peaks over 3000 feet in height. In Colorado, where they have younger, more thrusting mountains, there are the Fourteeners, mountains over 14000 feet. There are 54 of them, and when I was living in Colorado one summer long ago, I met someone who had climbed the lot.

One day he invited me to go and climb Longs Peak with him (14,255 feet). There's no great technical challenge to Longs Peak; it's basically just a very long steep walk with fantastic views. And not quite as much oxygen as you might be used to. Not to mention the over-friendly marmots. You start at around 9,000 feet, but it still takes all day, so getting an early start is essential. There's a book you sign into at the starting point, and we were there well before dawn, but even on a weekday there were fifty people on the mountain ahead of us.

In fact our expedition had been slightly delayed by a transatlantic misunderstanding. I was living in an apartment block in Boulder that summer, and I'd told my friend that the apartment was on the first floor, meaning one floor above ground level, as is the British usage. But in the US, the first floor is the one at ground level, and I was in fact on the second floor. So my friend had spent a while poking around at ground level in the pre-dawn darkness trying to find the right door.

So to avoid causing any misunderstanding to American readers, I should explain that when my wife and I were first married, some years after I climbed Longs Peak, we lived in an apartment which in British English was on the second floor, but in American English was on the third. There was no lift, and the stairs wound upwards, giving you a fine view over neighbouring bits of Cambridge.

Often when we arrived home at this apartment, we noticed a particular phenomenon, which we christened the getting-out-of-the-car-monster. We would get home with a carload of shopping, turn off the engine, and...just sit there for a bit, perhaps talking, perhaps just enjoying the peace and quiet. There was a definite reluctance to actually get out of the car and face the prospect of heaving our bags of shopping all the way up the stairs. We attributed this to the getting-out-of-the-car-monster, which had noticed our arrival, and even now was lurking behind a nearby bush, ready to attack as soon as we foolishly opened the car doors. So we had better just sit there comfortably for a while until he got bored and went away. Eventually, of course, we would muster the energy to get out of the car, grab the shopping, and trudge over to the building entrance and up all those stairs.

A few years after that, we moved to our present house, where we can park just outside the front door, and the getting-out-of-the-car-monster disappeared from our lives.

Runners, however...well, some runners, anyway...well, runners like myself, at least, have a similar challenge to face on early morning runs: the getting-out-of-the-house monster. There he is, lurking just outside, waiting for any unsuspecting runner who ventures out at such a ridiculous hour. Much better to stay indoors. Preferably in bed.

There are various ways of dealing with the getting-out-of-the-house monster. The two I'm currently using are, firstly having a morning routine which involves getting up at the same time whether or not I'm going running, and secondly, sleeping in my running gear. And it's working reasonably well so far. Of course, I have extra motivation to get up early on non-running days, because it's a vital opportunity to deal with certain dull but necessary domestic tasks while the children are still asleep. And on running days, it definitely helps to get in the mood if I wake up already wearing my running gear. Though not the shoes, obviously. My wife would probably object to that.

So if you're planning to go running first thing in the morning, be aware of the getting-out-of-the-house-monster, and develop strategies to deal with him. Because once you actually get out there, and are striding along breathing in lungfuls of the invigorating (and, today, surprisingly chilly) morning air, then the getting-out-of-the-house-monster will vanish away like the phantasm that he is.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Of course being a bank holiday it's now tipping it down. And to reinforce the British public holiday stereotype, I have some shelves to put up.


Running on a sunny spring morning is just fantastically gorgeous. The warmth of the sunshine, the birds singing, the little white puffy clouds floating along - and a minute's break from running every 90 seconds. Hello trees, hello sky. It's great to be alive.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Easy like Sunday morning

A gentle but very pleasant run/walk this morning, round the slightly longer loop. I felt as if I could have gone on for some time, though a minute running then a minute walking isn't too challenging. Sunday morning is definitely a good time to go out. I'll increase the running interval by half a minute a week until I get to run 4/walk 1, then by a minute a week until I get to 10/1. And I'll gently increase the overall distance, too - no more than 10% a week is a popular rule of thumb.

One thing that slightly concerns me is that my standard route is on surfaces that all slope gently down to the left, which is probably doing something funny to my running form. Perhaps I should cross over to the other side of the road to spend a bit of time running on a surface that slopes the other way, or perhaps I should just run down the flat middle of the road, if there's not too much traffic about. Hmm.