The power of planning


I’m a 44 year old bloke, we don’t read the manual…

I mean I’ve watched a couple of documentaries about running/training/endurance events and I once used to be fit so I must be able to put together a quick plan to get myself fit.

Well that’s what I thought when I began this journey and to be fair, I wasn’t just winging it, I did set myself goals for each week and schedule runs and bikes before each week.  And I’ve watched the kids training for their cycling races so I know how important it is to have a plan so I made one – I made it up each week, and I stuck to it.  And I didn’t really get the results I was looking for.

Looking back now I can see where I went wrong and there were a number of areas where I made rookie mistakes, mistakes that I’m sure aren’t new or original but mistakes nevertheless.

So here’s my assessment of where I went wrong:

  • I overestimated my level of fitness – I still thought that I was fitter than I actually was, even after my first attempts had clearly shown me that I wasn’t
  • I underestimated the amount of time it takes to make progress – I thought that I would improve after each run, that I would go faster and further each time.
  • I set unrealistic goals – I felt that because I was training for a 6k run that I would just go out and run 6k and get progressively faster as my fitness improved.  I also spent a lot of time running up hills (or attempting to) when I couldn’t even run on the flat.
  • I focused on distance rather than time – instead of building stamina over time, I just tried to go further each time I went out, while this did build stamina the results were mixed and I would walk/run longer to achieve bigger distances rather than concentrating on running longer within a given time
  • I was a bit hard on myself when I didn’t achieve my goals.  This one took a while to get my head around, I wasn’t happy with my Round the Bridges time, I’m still not happy with it, but looking back it was the time I deserved and the time I was capable of at the time.

Which all sounds a bit negative, but its really just coming to terms with the enormity of the task I have set.  And I didn’t do it all wrong, in fact I feel that there were some things that I did do right.

Things I did right:

  • I made a plan – Yes it may not have been a perfect plan but at 6am when its dark and you’re still half asleep, knowing what you are supposed to be doing is a great motivator. In order to keep track of my plan I use Training Peaks to plan and then record my actual session against the plan – it changes colour once you’ve entered your actual data to indicate if you achieved your goal or missed.  Trying to keep each session green appeals to my OCD (Red means it wasn’t achieved or not done, yellow means you took >10% longer than planned)
  • I stuck to the plan – Even when I was tired and a little disillusioned I got up and went for a run, when it was raining I went for a run, when I was away for work I went for a run. Sticking to the plan has really been the secret of my success.
  • I started this blog – Yes telling the world about getting fit makes it a lot more difficult to just chuck in the towel and having to come up with an article at least once a week gives me something to think about when I’m running.
  • I changed the plan when it didn’t fit into my life – Wait? didn’t I just say I stuck to the plan, well yes I did, but I also modified the plan when my week didn’t fit in with my normal routine.  BUT – the plan was modified at the start of the week when I was planning the week, not the morning of the run.  I’ve looked at many plans for getting beginner runners up to varying distances from 5k to half marathons and there are some out there that look terrible – not just too ambitious but also look like they would be really difficult to fit into a normal working life.  The ability to change things slightly has kept me at it and as I progress I find that the urge to change the routine actually diminishes with time and I go to greater lengths to fit the exercise into my day.
  • I bought the right clothes – I’d heard of chafing, chafing is what athletes get when they run marathons… It’s also what unfit 44 year olds get when they run in cotton and sweat a lot.  A set of running clothes (t-shirt and shorts) transformed my running comfort and made it a little nicer to go out each morning.  A decent pair of shoes also helped.
  • I recorded every run/bike session – I used apps on my phone to record each session and I then entered it into Training Peaks so that I can look back over my progress.
  • I reassessed my training after my first event – I knew a couple of weeks out from the Round the Bridges that I wasn’t making consistent progress – that’s when someone mentioned the Couch to 5K series on the internet.  I didn’t want to change my training right before the event, but I knew I needed to change my training and did so as soon as the event was over.  Could I have changed the plan before the event? Probably and I possibly would have seen some improvements, but sticking with the original plan was the right decision at the time.

So on balance it looks like I did more right than wrong which is always great, even better because I recorded every session I can plot my improvement.  I pulled the data out of Training Peaks and graphed them in Excel, as you can see having a more structured plan has definitely paid off with my average minutes per kilometer coming steadily down each week as the plan ramps up.  I will finish week 5 on Christmas Eve and the whole program will finish when we are away on holiday.


The red triangle is the Round the Bridges race and the green dots are the C25K runs.

So what will I do next – its clear that having a plan with a bit more structure leads to better results so I think I might look at a half marathon training program – the main run for the Coast to Coast is 33k so pretty much 3/4 of a Marathon so getting the half distance sorted feels like the next logical step, of course I will be adding some more cycling and kayaking into this mix which means that rest days will become fewer and further between…  2016 is going to be an interesting year.




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