Middle-aged desk jockey Chris Reed explains how he forced himself to get fit by entering tomorrow’s Auckland Half Marathon.
I suppose it started with five letters. I was, my GP informed me, obese. Clinically, not morbidly. But still. O-B-E-S-E. A word that’s somewhat onomatopoeic if you say it slowly with puffed-out cheeks. And the puffed-out cheeks weren’t a problem.
When I told people, they looked awkward and said things like, “You’re not even that fat.” But you know, science, and data, and those internationally accepted body mass index charts.
That was late 2018. Despite a subsequent nudge from the doc I did little but worry until earlier this year. That’s when I decided to stop working for a while, in part because I was determined to sort out my physical and mental health.
But I’ve never been very good at exercise – I need a purpose beyond activity itself. I’m a decent tramper because I love solitude; I can mountain bike okay because I like going down hills; I play football badly because I might occasionally not make the mistake that leads to the opposition scoring the winner.
I got into running for a while in 2005 but I was single then so had to do something. I got thin and did Round the Bays at a decent clip. But earlier this year I was 48 with a range of health concerns and a very tolerant wife.
I can’t remember exactly why I entered the Auckland Half Marathon. It was probably a late-night decision fuelled by bravado and self-loathing. Even so, I’m not daft. I knew the full Marathon was about 30,000 steps too far. That the half is 21km and I’d never run more than 8.4km didn’t faze me too much – I’m a pretty sensible chap.
So, with a self-imposed purpose to get me moving, I googled “half marathons for dummies” or something and found a 16-week training programme.
Working back from the event date, it meant starting on July 13 with an “easy 10-minute jog”. But when I registered, around the end of the level 4 lockdown, I couldn’t do two minutes.
So I googled “jogging 10 minutes for dummies” or something and read about short “sets”, combining a brief jog with some walking to recover.
And that’s how I started, shod in fashion trainers, plodding round the block in three sets of 90 seconds jogging and 90 seconds walking.
Every tiny advance (and they were frequent) felt great – two minutes jogging and one walking, then joining sets until I could do six minutes, nine, 12 and so on.
By that point, I’d invested in proper running shoes from a shop where they put you on a treadmill and show you live video of how little you lift your splayed feet from the floor. I moved like a duck.
I paid about $300 for the shoes and some socks that “wick” away moisture from your feet. Money well spent because I sweat. A lot. One day I thought one of the cats had peed on the floor till I realised my recently vacated running top was hanging above the damp patch.
In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the images in the shoe shop. Three weeks ago I needed a leg massage because pain in the outside of my calves was hampering my sleep.
I’d never seen a sports masseur but Jock Jones was a marvel. He said the problem was my IT Band. That’s not a covers group formed by the office computer boffins, but a long piece of tissue that runs down the outside of the leg and helps you move your hip. Jock said it can get tight if you sashay your hips from side to side rather than engaging the glutes (the muscles in your bum), although he was too kind to use the word sashay.
Within a couple of days, the pain had gone. Happily, because I was in peak training week. The programme scheduled shorter runs on weekdays with a big one at weekends. There were usually four a week, which I supplemented with yoga for conditioning and stretching.
Looming large throughout were a string of big Sunday sessions culminating in 100 to120 minutes with a fortnight to go. (After that you “taper” so you’re relatively fresh for the race.)
Bored of the streets around home and seeking a flat route where I could build endurance, I took to Tamaki Drive, where I was alternately buffeted by northerlies and baked by spring sunshine.
And two weekends ago I ran for two hours – from Spark Arena to St Heliers and back, about 18km. That’s a slow pace for serious runners but I am not one.
But I did it without stopping and broke through “the wall” – that point where every electrical impulse pinging around your brain is imploring you to stop.
Although I’m looking forward to tomorrow, I’m a naturally trepidatious person. I’m worried about getting up at 4am to eat appropriately; about getting into the city to catch a special ferry to Devonport, where the Half-Marathon starts at 6.50am; and, most of all, about whether I can do it. Mornings are warmer and the course isn’t as flat as some.
You climb fairly evenly from Devonport before dropping down into Narrow Neck. There’s a slog up towards Takapuna before joining the Northern Busway. After a fairly level section along the motorway, there’s the looming menace of the Harbour Bridge and the sucker punch of the Shelly Beach off-ramp. Then it’s flat through Westhaven and the Wynyard Quarter to the finish at Victoria Park.
While I’m apprehensive I know I’ve trained well. My cardio fitness is reasonable and I’ve got decent control of my pace – slowing when I need to reset a bit and going slightly less slowly when I get my seventh or eighth wind. I wish I was faster, but if I can crack two-and-a-half hours without walking I’ll be happy. If anything stops me it will be muscle or mental exhaustion.
I’m not sure if I’m still obese but my annual health check-up is imminent. And I’ll keep running, albeit shorter distances – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Things I learned
• Train at the proper pace for your age and base fitness: if you stay committed you will see positive results and avoid daft injuries.
• It’s not just about weight loss: I slimmed down a bit as the runs got longer but felt significantly fitter, physically and mentally, well before that.
• Get the right gear: proper running shoes and clothes that “wick” sweat aren’t cheap but are invariably high quality and last for ages.
• Microwaveable rice is great: I’ve eaten lots of carbs to fuel my body, usually supplemented with eggs or tinned tuna for a protein hit.
• Anyone can do it: six months ago I couldn’t run for two minutes. Last Sunday I told my wife I was “only” going out for an hour.
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