30.  Having A Clear Run At It
Runners! Are you short of vim? Do you find it hard
to get out on the road? Do you wonder what the
point of it all is? If so, I have the answer for you - my
patented, copyrighted, trade-marked Fitnessometer.
See the reward for every run! See the penalty for every
run missed! No longer will you have no reason to run!
(as for) July 30th 2011
It is the daily question for all runners: Why should I
run today? Why not leave the run until tomorrow? If,
like me, you are not committed to a training regime,
the day-to-day incentive may be lacking. The reasons
usually given for running concern long-term benefits:
improve health, raise money, relieve stress, increase
self-esteem, and so on. These benefits are not
necessarily lost if you just miss today’s run. And, of
course, you can argue the same thing tomorrow.
It is up to each runner to find ways to get himself
out running. Murakami (p178) describes how he lured
himself out onto the road by anticipating seeing the
smiling face of a “very attractive young woman” who,
for several years, ran towards and past him. He says
that he was too shy to speak to her - and a good thing
too because young women need courage as it is to run
without being pestered by middle-aged oglers.
I have never had that particular inspiration. At
the moment, one method that suits me, being a person
who likes playing with numbers, is to refer to my
Fitnessometer, which, as the name suggests, calculates
my fitness. Right now I am 61% fit.
How does my Fitnessometer work? I thought you’d
never ask. It goes like this:
First, I imagine how well I could run if I were as fit
as possible (100% fit) - say, 7 miles in 49 minutes every
day. This is in my imagination, I stress. If I actually
average 2 miles in 16 minutes every day, then my fitness
is some function of (2/7) and (7/8), the latter fraction
being the ratio of the average speeds. The function is
actually a weighted product of those fractions raised to
some power tuned to provide a figure that seems about
right. For 2 miles in 16 minutes it yields 44%.
I don’t average, over, say, seven days because that
generates too much fluctuation in the fitness figure. I
use, or rather my spreadsheet uses, a ...
[If I may just interrupt myself here. This is the
point at which I say “if you don’t want to know
the score look away now, or skip a paragraph”.
I have included this formula to demonstrate
that my Fitnessometer is at the forefront of
... weighted average (WA), calculated as follows:
= 0.95 x WA0
+ 0.05 x R1
is today’s weighted average, WA0
yesterday’s weighted average and R1
is today’s run. So
if my previous weighted average mileage is 2 and I run
6 miles then it becomes 2.2. There’s a similar formula
for the weighted average minuteage.
If I don’t run then the averages will drop by 5% and
my fitness figure will drop accordingly. This captures
the sad fact that fitness is not like money in the bank. If
left unattended it does not accumulate interest. On the
contrary, it fades away.
I add in some credit for my ‘walking fitness’, based
on a similar calculation. If I’m not able to run but go for
a walk instead then I feel I deserve some credit for that,
although obviously less than if I’d run. If I were ever to
cycle or swim instead then I would add them in too.
My mileages are not as measured on the ground.
It is 2½ miles to the Roeburndale Road cattle grid
but I am slower running there than I am running 2½
miles along the old railway track. The cattle grid is
230 metres up the hill. I am faster running down the
2½ miles but not by as much as I am slower uphill. I
therefore add in a compensating ‘altitude factor’.
I also have an ‘aging factor’. I reckon that I have
about 10,000 days to go, at which point my fitness
will be 0%. So, I’m losing, on average, 1/10000 of my
fitness every day, simply through getting older. That
hardly seems fair, so I multiply my calculated fitness
by square-root(10000/(10000-n)) where n is the number of days
since I set the Fitnessometer off. That should do it.
An important characteristic of my Fitnessometer
is that the credit from a particular run is not fixed: it
depends on how fit I already am. If I am averaging
2 miles in 16 minutes (44%) and I run 6 miles in 50
minutes then the averages become 2.2 miles and
17.7 minutes (46%). If, however, by some miracle, the
averages are 6 miles and 50 minutes (81%) then the
same run would leave the fitness level unchanged (but
if I didn’t run it would drop to 79%).
The outcome is that if I have a lengthy lay-off, as I
am prone to do, and my fitness drops to, say, 30% then,
as I begin to run again, it rises rapidly, which is just the
encouragement I need. If I should become supremely
fit, the Fitnessometer inspires me to keep fit. I also use
it to provide private medium-term goals such as ‘get
60% fit before the Christmas break’. It is less stressful
than a goal such as ‘run the Windermere Marathon in
Right: My fitness according to the Fitnessometer.
My fitness, as assessed by my Fitnessometer, since
the beginning of last year is shown to the right. You can’t argue with
that! The subjective feeling that I expressed earlier,
that whenever I approach fitness I have a problem that
sets me back, is supported by the graph. My longest
period of sustained fitness (above 65%, say) has been
the two months from Week 9 to 18 this year. In the first
half of last year my running was repeatedly brought
to a halt. In the second half I never really got running
consistently at all. The consoling thing, however, is that
none of my problems were running injuries (they were other accidents or colds or bugs).
I am therefore encouraged to hope that if I can steer
clear of trouble, by avoiding falling in the beck and
similar mishaps, then I may be able to drive my fitness
up to unprecedented levels. So, rather than trundle on
somewhat aimlessly for the rest of the year, shall we
set a specific objective - say, to reach and sustain a
fitness level of 75%, according to my Fitnessometer?
I’m game, if you are. We do risk asking too much of my
aging body and collapsing in an ignominious heap. I
am, of course, not interested in 75% per se: it’s just that
75% fit means that I can do the running I want to.
What does 75% mean in practice? It requires
weighted averages of 4 miles in 28 minutes (too fast
for me, I fear!), 5 miles in 42 minutes or 6 miles in 55
minutes (conceivable). The highest weighted average
mileage that I have managed so far is 4.3.
My Fitnessometer will, I’m sure, revolutionise
sports science and enable the serious runner to get
really serious. In the meantime, I need to get back to
the business of running. My legs, I am relieved to find,
are still in good working order after their holiday. I
have eased them back into regular running, with five
runs of 40 minutes or so.
In my absence, my riverside paths have been
transformed. Now, as I run along, I can imagine myself
in the foothills of the Himalayas amongst swathes
of sweet-smelling, head-high, purple-pink blossom
- that of the Himalayan balsam, also known as the
‘policeman’s helmet’ and ‘kiss-me-in-the-mountains’,
names that lead my imagination even further astray.
In reality, the balsam, pretty as it looks, is an invasive
weed, swamping indigenous plants and making river-banks vulnerable to erosion. I could pause on my runs
to pull them up before they disperse their seeds but if
I did I would, as there are so many of them, never reach
my running Everest (of 75%).
The rest of Fifty Weeks Running will follow in due course.
© John Self, Drakkar Press