6 Month Running Round Up

Progress, Stats, Injury and Recovery.


I have previously written about how I started running earlier this year, I cover a lot of my "whys and hows in this blog: How I accidentally became a runner. It has helped me lose weight: how I lost 14kg of body fat. My first run was on the 2nd of April, and I am writing this on the 4th of October, this is my 6 month summary of my progress. A reminder to myself just how much improvement I have made, even if it doesn't feel like it at times.

Further, Faster

When I started off running, my aspiration was to become competent and comfortable at 5km runs. I had no ambition to run further than that, in fact I didn't want to and didn't think I would be able to. All that changed, pretty quickly.

In the past 6 months, I have been on 49 Runs, a total distance of 408km and a total time of 36h 27min, you can see from the heatmap below that I typically stick to a few favourite routes. I am very lucky in that we are surrounded by a lot of green space with a lot of path options.

heatmap of my running routes

I have not just been running, I have also cycled 1903km. I find cycling a great part of my overall fitness plan, I use it as active recovery from running but it also provides base cardio load.

I have gotten fitter, my resting HR 52 down to 41. I don't have any VO2 Max stats, but I'm not that bothered at this stage as I am happy to measure progress through my running performance.

I have also hit my weight goal, I am now 72kg and 11.5% body fat. Six months ago I was 86.3kg and 27% body fat. The trick now will be to maintain that. Over-eating is easy, but also so is under-eating if you are burning 700 calories in a training session.

Eight weeks in and I had abandoned my "just do 5km" plan. I had been reading more about running and took on board the concept of "run slow (and far) to get fast". The best way to make a 5km seem easier is to start running 10km. Slowing the pace should improve recovery. I started to build the miles and my plan, now that I was a runner, was to be able to run 21.1km (a half marathon) on a regular basis, so I started to build the mileage. I also started to go to a yoga class on a weekly basis to help my flexibility, joint mobility and strengthen some of the minor muscles.

Below is a graph of my weekly mileage over the past 6 months.

Graph of my running mileage per week for the past 6 months April May June July August September 30km Distance Relative Effort


Unfortunately in late July, the wheels started to come off a bit.

I had been building the mileage for a couple of weeks, the recommendation is to add no more than 10% (distance/time) per week. I was around that sort of range, admittedly sometimes it was closer to 15%. I was also cycling to work three days a week, which was 24km each way, and I started doing a yoga class mid-July.

At the start of July, I had a DNF for a run, my hips got really sore in the last mile, I had to stop and walk. I had a couple of days rest and it seemed to have resolved itself. In my second week at yoga, my ego got the better of me and I pushed myself as hard as I could. I felt a bit sore the next day but didn't think too much more about it. That weekend, I went for my first 21km run, and it hurt. My right hip was killing me, but I persisted. I took the whole next week off, and then did another long run the following weekend and the hip was pretty much as bad.

Looking back, I was obviously overdoing it. In fact it was there to see in the data all along, and my problems started before July. In the graph above, you can see a line for Relative Effort, this is a Strava calculated metric which looks at how hard you are training compared to a moving average. You can see that my mileage was ramping up in June, but that my Relative effort was going up at an even steeper rate. The way I now think about this is that yes, I was going further, but my body was finding it much harder. Strava adds together your relative effort for the week and gives you guidance on how much more you should be attempting in the week, see the green zone below:

weekly effort graph from strava

In June and early July, I made it my mission to max out or exceed this recommendation, to try and gain as much fitness as possible. This was folly!

So, now I had strained my hip flexors and they were sore with ever run. I also have an ongoing knee issue, where my hip muscles are too tight, which makes my legs too tight and so they pull on my knee cap when I run, giving me discomfort below the knee cap. The good news is that it isn't structural to the knee, and I am getting physio to try and release the tight leg muscles.

I cannot recommend my sports massage practioner enough, she is a miracle worker at finding tight/tense muscles and making them relax. I had a session last week and as she worked around my hips, she could feel my leg lengthen. If you have any sort of musculoskeletal issue, invest in some sports massge. You should know that there are people out there who really know what you are doing, so take the time to find a good one.

I was left with no option but to radically cut back my mileage (I went back down to 6km), which you can see at the end of July. Since then I have been very gradually building the mileage back up, and I have been careful to do it at a much lower relative effort, which you can see from the graph. In fact, I ran the same run last week as I did in mid-July, my Relative Effort was 84 back then, it was 53 last week. And I ran it 3:46 quicker than in July. So I am fitter and my body is better able to handle the training load. That is what the data was trying to tell me back in July, I wasn't yet fit enough to take the increased load.

This has been a real lesson learned moment for me.

Next 3 Months

I am starting a new job this week, as a digital consultant and it is going to involve more travel. I will still maintain a training regime, but I am not sure how it will be impacted, so I am going to keep my aspirations modest.

My biggest priority is to stay fit, not get injured and in fact hopefully some of the existing niggles will start to fade. I have worked to get back up to running 12km, I don't want to go backwards again.

Above, I mentioned the 10% rule for weekly building of running distance/time. Well, I am planning on doing half that over the next 3 months. In fact, I am planning on doing less than that. I am planning on only adding a 50m increment every week. On a Wednesday morning I will do my 12km route but at the weekend add the modest increment. So, in the 12 weeks before Christmas, I should have added 6km to my long run, and hopefully with reduced knee/hip pain. I don't plan on pushing the pace too much, but if I am building the mileage slowly then I should be able to maintain somewhere around 5:00 - 5:10/km. It is my winter "sort of taking it easy" plan.

Next 6 Months

After Christmas, many of us feel a renewed surge of enthusiasm towards getting fitter. Well, I will be going in to the new year much fitter than I went in to this year.

If all is going according to plan pre-Christmas, I'll be doing a 12km mid-week run and a 18km long run at the weekend, and hopefully that long run is taking no longer than 95 minutes . I will then start adding 1km increments (so still under 10%) per week in January, taking me up to my target 21.1km by the end of the month, in hopefully just under 2 hours.

2hrs of running is about the magic length of time. Beyond that, there are diminishing returns. You start to heavily fatigue your body and recovery takes a lot longer, you run the risk of over training and causing injury.

In to February, I want to plateau at that mileage, but work on form and pace. I want to be in a position that I can run a half marathon every weekend and be able to recover from it fairly quickly. Ideally I would like to be able to run it in 1hr 45min, and enjoy it!

At this stage, I have no aspirations to enter any races, I run for me and run against my previous performances. My long term goal is to be an efficient, comfortable (and reasonably quick) runner for years to come.

I am also going to cycle when I can, but I don't have the commute to the office any more. But now I cycle for leisure, and winters in Fife can be beautiful, but windy.

Stuart McMillan on a bike