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Tuesday, 10 January 2012


If I'm going to blog about ongoing running adventures I suppose it needs some sort of context so lets jump back to just over three years ago to about August 2008.

At that time I hadnt done any consistent running training for around 12-13 years and weighed in at something between 14.5 - 16 stone (I know it was somewhere in that range but cant be any more accurate) compared to a previous racing weight of 9.5 stone. Thats a fair old difference to carry around on the same pair of legs.

Previous attempts to get running again had been a bit half hearted with a typical effort being no more than about half a mile in 6-7 minutes. Even this was leading to aches galore for days afterwards. It was relatively easy to conclude that my body, especially my legs, were knackered beyond repair.

Thats all well and good but my brain still thought it could run 10 miles in 55 minutes and didnt really want to believe otherwise.

The Plan

So in August 2008 came a moment when I decided that it was time to do something about it. Previous attempts had convinced me that trying to run with 5+ stone of excess weight was simply pointless and was just asking for injury. So I needed an alternative plan. That plan had to consist of weight loss THEN running rather than running to achieve weight loss. I could think of no better way of achieving this than walking, lots of walking over several weeks and months....this wasnt going to happen overnight so I may as well set my stall out properly.

Before I had taken even one step I resolved to build up to walking 50 miles per week and, once at that level, to maintain it for 12 weeks. I knew full well that running 50 miles per week was reasonably time consuming so walking 50 miles was quite some committment . On the plus side, I also knew that mentally this would probably be the toughest training I was ever going to do and as such would set me up well for getting back into proper training when I was able to run again later.

Roughly speaking I was expecting to take 8 weeks to build up to 50 miles per week plus the 12 weeks at 50 miles thereafter and at the end of the 20 weeks I thought it might be reasonable to have got rid of 3 stones of the excess weight. I was therefore committed to 5 months of pretty much all walking taking it through to about January 2009.

The First Steps

It took a huge effort to get round the first walking session, a route of 6 miles which took 1 hour 50 minutes. My feet were burning, I was in agony and I couldnt stand......for a whole day! So was this a depressing state of affairs? Absolutely not. What I now had was a starting point, something to build from and that is all that I needed. The stiffness would get worse over the next 2 days, I was prepared for that, so just ambled 2 miles for the next two days. Patience and stickability were the required ingredients now and you wouldnt believe how motivated I was to see this through.

Progress was slow for the first month but into the second month the weight seemed to be dropping quicker than I had expected, 50 mile walking weeks seemed to be leading to 4lbs of weight loss so the week to week differences were very noticable. It wasnt long into the second month before I started to get ideas of having a little run just because I was feeling fitter, lighter and ready to get on with it.

I was still critically aware not to do too much too soon on an infrastructure which was rather creaky to say the least but nonetheless I managed to run 2 miles and then 3 miles, something which I hadnt done for a few you can probably imagine how my motivation was now growing more quickly than Simon Cowell's bank balance.

I'm not sure why but at this stage I started searching around to see if there were any low key 5 mile or 10K races that I maight be able to aim for a few weeks down the line. It still seemed like a step too far but there was no harm in looking, right?

Google Delivers The Goods

Google seemed to insist on pointing me towards something called 'parkrun'. I'd never heard of it but since Google insisted I thought I may as well have a look. Well what do you know, they ran 5k time trials every week! Even better there was one just down the road in Leeds. And even better than that....they were FREE! Really? There had to be a catch, surely!

Well after much searching I couldnt find the catch and I figured that I might go and have a go because if it really was a step too far and was getting embarrassing I could always skulk off and nobody would even know that I'd been there.

So, on 22nd November 2008 I made my way to Hyde Park in Leeds not really knowing what to expect. This was only 11 weeks after I had started a 20 week walking program so this definitely represented being ahead of schedule no matter what happened.

What a great concept this was, just turn up and run with results recorded on their webite the same day. Leeds is a 3 lap course of an undulating park. Before I had even got around the first lap my lungs were burning, I was panting like an old steam engine and my legs were screaming to stop. But I couldnt stop, pride wouldnt let me. After another 2 laps of extreme discomfort I crossed the line in 45th position with a time of 23:21 .

That time stunned me. Up until that point I had run one solitary mile at sub 8:00/min pace and that was 7:57 around a triangle near where I live. This later turned out to be 0.94 miles so even that wasnt really sub 8:00. Therefore it wasnt any surprise that a 5K run at 7:30/mile had been quite an ordeal!

Guess where I ended up 7 days later at 9am? On 29th November 2008 I had another crack and came away with 22:47 or 7:19/mile (50th position). Weight was still dropping significantly week to week but all the same I was chuffed with this result.

On 6th December 2008 I was there again. Dont jump to the conclusion that this was getting easy but I was kind of enjoying and it was getting slightly easier. The pain and discomfort involved was completely different to that which you experience when pushing yourself to the limit in a race when already fit, this was far worse.
The result for the third run was 22:08 or 7:09/mile (25th). This was becoming an excellent way to measure progress.

I really couldnt face putting myself through it again the next week but was back up for the challenge 2 weeks later, clocking 21:44 (15th)on 20th December 2008. For the final parkrun of 2008 on 27th December the weather wasnt too good resulting in a lower than usual turnout. Nonetheless, when I found myself moving through from an initial 18th position just after the start to 10th after 2 miles I had to pinch myself. Just four weeks earlier I had been delighted to finish in 50th in 23:21 and here I was in 10th place. The resulting energy boost gained me another place for a final 21:09 (9th) at 6:49/mile.

And that was 2008, just 15 weeks after starting a 20 week walking program at 5+ stone overweight, not only was running now a possibility again but a top 10 position in a 5K at sub 7:00/mile was already under the belt. This felt like remarkable progress to me and left me beaming from ear to ear. To actually run at a reasonable speed again was one thing but to feel the competitive juices flowing again was going to become very addictive.............


  1. Excellent stuff Steve. Would your advice to anyone with significant extra weight who wants to become a runner to drop that weight first through walking / gym / rowing or some other form of aerobic exercise?

  2. Indeed so and have posted along those lines a few times. The response has usually been in the form of quite vicious attacks since, however you word it, it seems to always get received as 'fat people shouldnt run' rather than a more positive interpretation.

    The dual benefits of weight loss and strengthened connective tissues means that walking improves the power/weight ratio pretty rapidly. Running with significant additional weight just cant do this because of the stop/start nature resulting from all the soreness.

  3. Yes it's a mistake many people make with running of starting from where they want to be, rather than where they are. However, it probably accounts for the equally misguided advice to buy lots of cushioned trainers, as the legs are not doing the work they should be capable of due to not having been prepared adequately.

  4. Thanks Steve, I am just starting to walk/run and your blog has given me a bit more confidence to hang in there and keep going. I too going through the aches and pains and definitely its the mileage thats important.

    Also very important to mix it up a little and do exercises you enjoy, rowing, cross trainer, treadmill work, plus long walks along different routes. Also throwing in hills helps.

    I am hoping to do my first 10k in sept this year so any tips on preparing would be much appreciated
    Thanks again. Dean Parry

  5. Good to hear Dean.

    Just bear in mind that by doing something, whatever it may be or however gentle, it is difficult to avoid getting fitter. Patience is the key.