What no meat?

On October 26th, it was reported that according to research carried out by IACR (the cancer research body associated with the WHO), processed meats such as bacon, ham and sausages are carcinogenic to humans. This puts them on a list of 116 items with such substances as tobacco, alcohol and asbestos, diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis, plus a wide range of pollutants.

We’re constantly hearing that this food is bad, oh hang on a minute, no, it’s good… Er, no, it’s bad after all. At this rate, there will be nothing left on the table to eat. 

And if we believe all this research, a so-called balanced diet with the right level of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) is out of the window.

It seems like the World Health Organisation received quite a number of enquires on the subject. Here is a short statement from their media centre explaining that they stand by IACR’s findings.

A deeper look at the numbers paints a slightly different picture, however. The research ties the likelihood to colorectal cancer in particular. 

The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

50 grammes is roughly two sausages or 4 slices of ham.

The average person is said to have a 5% chance ot contracting this particular type of cancer. So doing the maths as we might say means that an 18% increase in likelihood of contracting this specific strain would lead to a mere increase in likelihood of 0.9% (5% x 118% = 5.9%). Cancer Research UK puts the baseline rate at 5.6% leading to an increased likelihood of 6.6%. Either way, hardly worrying statistics. Sure, I don’t want to put my head in the sand but I have also heard over the years that stress is a major cause of cancer. 

It’s all very well giving up everything that is bad for us, and this article points out some more worries about foods many of us enjoy. But for such a small likelihood, I would rather continue eating my bacon thanks! In moderation of course!

The slow cost of eating fast food

Thanks to this great article from the BBC worldwide website, I now have a handy cheat sheet from Harvard Health Publications that details how many calories I burn depending on different exercises. 

I weigh about 70 kg, which in “old money” in 155 lb. So looking at the chart, for a 30-minute run at 8 mins per mile (my average speed), I burn 465 calories. Of course, the major caveat with this type of chart is that everyone is different. Some people have a really quick metabolism and can burn three times as many calories as others. The same can be said of the food we eat. It’s not an exact science.

Not that I eat them very often, but according to the average burn rate for a person of my weight in the chart, I would have to run about 64 minutes to burn off a Big Mac Meal or about 36 minutes for a nice bowl of Japanese tonkotsu ramen (like the one in the picture). It really is true to say “A moment on the lips equals a lifetime on the hips!” Or at least by this calculation, 20 minutes in McDonalds and a noodle shop, 100 minutes running down the road.

 Harvard Health – calorie table

Livin’ on a Prayer

It has been hard to motivate myself to get out and run lately with first of all seemingly endless rain from the middle of June until the first half of July, and then unbearable heat of over 30 degrees every day since.  

Yesterday I ended up walking back halfway through my 24km run with the Mercury hitting 34 degrees. 

This evening I forced myself to go out again for 12km. There’s no sun of course at night, but the temperature was still 29 degrees Celsius. The heat got to me again and I only managed 6km. But still, it’s better than nothing. 

I’m over 100km for the month and will have to work hard to run 46km over the next five days to achieve my monthly target of 150km. 
Every cloud has a silver lining. At the end of this evening’s run, I was greeted with a message from Runkeeper telling me I had got halfway towards my year-long goal of running 2,015km: only 26 days behind schedule. Last year, it wasn’t until October that I managed to run over 1000km for the year.  

   

2010-2015: Which days of the week do I run the most?

It was 9:45 pm on a Friday in 2010 (July 30th), when I started using Runkeeper to track my running activities. Since then, until the end of March 2015, I have run 611 activities. Which days do I run the most?

There are three ways to define “most”:

Number of activities: This refers to the number of different times run on a given day of the week.

Average distance: The average number of kilometres run on a given day of the week.

Total distance: Total kilometres run on a given day of the week.

Number of activities

There were very few runs in 2010, and even fewer in 2011.

In June 2012, after making a commitment in a classroom to run 30 minutes or 5 kilometres every weekday (Mon-Fri) morning, I got back into running.

The table below shows how in 2012, my runs were almost uniformly split Monday through to Friday. In fact, I ran 26 times on a Monday and a Friday; 25 on a Tuesday and Thursday; and 23 on a Wednesday.

My big year was 2013 – when I decided to run my first marathon in ten years. This meant a departure from running solely short distances on weekdays and a shift to runs of various lengths and tempos. Tuesdays and Thursday became by favoured days. The following year, Tuesdays were the clear frontrunner, while this year, I seem to prefer weekends and Wednesdays.

activties weekday table
Number of runs by weekday – years 2010-2015

Average Distance

Sundays are clearly big running days. I try to take advantage of not having to go to work, and get in longer runs in preparation for marathons. The Sunday figures do also include a few full marathons, which has the effect of pushing up the number. I am trying to emulate 2013 with a challenging target of 2015 kilometres. While I am not measuring the number of runs I make, it is clear that the fewer I do, the longer each run will have to be. Having only run 40 times this year, I will have to up the ante to make the target. If I maintain my higher average of 11.05km per run this year, I will have to run at least 182 times or about 3.5 times per week.

Average distance by weekday
Average distance by weekday

Total Distance

I ran further on Sundays in 2014 than any other day/period (405 kilometres). While the sheer number of activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays in 2013 contributed to total runs around 380 kilometres for each. A quarter of the way into 2015, with 9 activities covering nearly 177 kilometres, I hope to easily top that.

total dist weekday table

 

Kyoto Marathon in numbers

Today I had a lot of fun in a masochistic sort of way!

Starting out, I took it nice and slow – keeping a sensible pace. For the first ten kilometres, I was enjoying playing the running tourist, taking pictures of the crowds supporting the runners as well as the sights visible from the road. I will post some of these pics in a later blog.

The temperature didn’t reach the 11 degrees that the forecast promised us. In fact, it was pretty chilly and rained two or three times during the race. But this for me was a good thing.

Looking at the splits for the whole race downloaded from the official website, we can see that my pace was very consistent throughout. Split times refer to the time measured from the start to a given point along the way, while lap times refer to increments within the race. Except for the first 5k and the last 5k lap (35-40k), I managed to run each kilometre in less than five minutes.

Here are the times laid out in a chart:

IMG_5597

Graphically, with the y-axis set to between 4 minutes and 6 minutes, you can see the consistency of the lap times in the middle of the race. Evidently, my split times got faster on average as I went through the race. This is because I sped up somewhere around 8 or 9 kilometres and held my pace consistently for most of the rest of the race. This had the effect of canceling out the slow start. As we approach the end of the race, you can see the split time starting to go up slightly as I got tired. I don’t mind admitting that resisting the urge to walk was quite a battle of the conscience!

IMG_5598

Over 42.195 kilometres, even a few seconds per kilometre up or down on average pace makes or breaks a full marathon. Today was my best ever time by about 6 minutes. This translates to around an average 8 seconds per kilometre quicker than last year’s Tokyo Marathon. It took me 4 minutes 54 seconds to run a kilometre today, while in Tokyo it was about 5 minutes 2 seconds. It just goes to show that every second counts.

IMG_5599

Numbers don’t lie… or do they?

Every day, I receive a motivational email from Runner’s World. Often their quote of the day really gets me thinking. One such recent quote is by the famous American runner Frank Shorter:

Numbers don’t lie. You always seem to remember your workouts as being a little better than they were. It’s good to go back and review what you do.

This blog is about critical thinking while running – at least it is if you read the tag line! It unites my passion for running with my critical eye for looking at numbers and patterns.

Let’s take a look back at my numbers from January. Below are a few points which I feel will develop into key themes as the months roll by.

Stated Targets
Will I hit my big target if I miss the incremental ones?

First and foremost is my slight disappointment in not achieving my stated target to run at least 150k during the month. My goal this year is to run 2015 kilometres. Based on simple division, this is approximately 168 kilometres per month, though I committed to 150 each month as I know that there will be some big 200k-plus months in the mix. Sadly, according to Runkeeper (which until now I have used as my de facto basis for measurement) I missed my mark by less than 8 kilometres – one solitary run – in January.

There’s a Japanese word: omoikomi (思い込み) that literally means to get deep into thinking something. It doesn’t carry the suggestion of deep thought or consideration that my clumsy translation suggests. This word usually has the nuance of prejudice or assumption. It can also mean a preconception or an unquestioned thought. For some unknown reason, I decided that Sunday was the last day in January. This was factored into my thinking about 2 or 3 weeks before the end of the month. On the last Saturday of the month (actually the 31st), I felt shattered from taking my kids to a theme park and let myself sleep early – thinking I could cover the last 8k and then some on the Sunday.

It wasn’t until the next day after my Sunday run when Runkeeper gave me a running total for January (and February!!) that I realized my mistake. Of course, as it was set in my mind that Sunday 1st February was the last day in January, it never occurred to me to open a calendar! I won’t make that mistake again! But to answer my own question, a few barely missed goals here and there is nothing to beat myself up about as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

Running total for January and February in Runkeeper
Running total for January and February in Runkeeper

Surprises
Am I faster in the morning or at night?

I care about the answer to this question as I am aiming for a pace of 4:45 per kilometre. So I want to optimize my running times to increase my chances of hitting my targets.
First glance at the data, I was surprised not to be much faster in the morning than at night. But then I realized that my morning runs start in the dark.

As I would expect, my afternoon runs have been fastest (as well as closest to my target pace). But two runs in clear daylight this year do not a pattern make. Through the rest of the year I will be looking for this pattern to optimise my pace. Clearly with work and family commitments, running in the afternoons is a rare luxury for me. I will be looking forward to the end of winter when the sun will rise earlier so I can get daylight runs in before work.

Screenshot 2015-02-03 21.22.19

Numbers do lie (somewhat)
Which numbers do I believe? Or should I believe any of them?

I swear by measuring all my activity as I run. I like to compete against myself along similar courses and similar distances. In a later post, I will discuss the various tools I use. In this post, I will just merely point out a discrepancy between my two key running wearables (Runkeeper on my iPhone; and my Garmin Forerunner watch). A look at the data will show a number of differences between the distances, times, pace and calories.

Screenshot 2015-02-03 21.19.47

On the subject of target pace, my Garmin watch consistently reports a quicker pace than my Runkeeper app. To strip pace back to its constituent parts, there are two factors: total time spent and total distance covered.

Distance is supposed to be measured by GPS and so in theory, there shouldn’t be a discrepancy. However, on occasion, my Runkeeper app gets an anomaly reading as something interferes with the signal and causes huge bounces where I might suddenly “run” a whole kilometre in just a minute or even occasionally a few seconds. The craziest instances were in amongst skyscrapers in Hong Kong where the signal bounces off windows. I try to avoid running in areas that are too built up, but this is a hazard in Tokyo too! Anyway, I usually notice this when it is a big bump, and I go back later and correct them with the map editing feature in the desktop version of Runkeeper. But maybe it’s the smaller bumps that I’m not noticing. Not that I’m going to be so anal as to check my route online after each run. I just simply don’t have the time or inclination for that. So I will aim to paint a picture over time of any average discrepancies and factor these into my total measurements. I may also try the old-fashioned approach of getting a city map book and measuring my routes on paper with a piece of string and a ruler.

January according to Garmin Connect
January according to Garmin Connect
January according to Runkeeper
January according to Runkeeper

The other factor in pace is time. I know through habit that I tend to turn my Runkeeper on first as I start my run, and turn it off last afterwards. There is therefore a difference between these numbers too, but it is usually simply a matter of a minute or so. After my January 10th run, I remember forgetting (oxymoron?) to turn it off until I was already back inside the house! This was a good five or six minutes after the run, hence the large discrepancy between the Runkeeper “Duration” and Garmin “Time”.

The critic in me makes me question these numbers. Twelve days is not enough to develop a clear pattern. So as the year progresses, I will start to build a hypothesis and hopefully get closer to understanding which ones I can trust more, or whether the reality is somewhere in between. When I get round to it, I will also factor in past data from last year.

Being the closet geek that I am, there are other ways I measure my activity. I won’t go into them here for now, but I have noticed discrepancies with other data and am really starting to wonder what affects them.

Of course, I have to be careful not to disappear under my own pile of big data… 😉 But it would be great to hear your suggestions on what other influencers to measure: mood, impact of sleep, weather…9 As Douglas Hubbard says, you can measure anything!

Ups and downs: A question of mindset

One running goal missed and one achieved. That’s how 2014 ended.

2013 went so well, achieving the 2000-kilometre target weeks before year-end. 2014 was a different story and though I covered less distance, it was a much harder journey. It didn’t kill me so it must have made me stronger in true Nietzsche tradition. With scars to prove it, I feel invigorated and ready for the next challenge.

distance 13 v 14

Over the last two and a half years since running has come back into my life, it has been more than a mere metaphor for my life itself. Setting goals has pushed me to some huge efforts but has also at times made me want to throw in the towel!

Here is an account of the last year and what I have learnt along the way.

January-February:
The year started really well. After achieving my 2000k target in early December and setting a new target to run 1000k in the five months until my 40th birthday, I was on the crest of a wave. I went on to run my biggest ever month in January. This set me up nicely for “Tokyo” at the end of February. At the Tokyo Marathon, I set a very ambitious 3:30:00 target – 10 minutes quicker than my PB. Tokyo was the first of three marathons I ran last year.
While I started well and was 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 30k, my overzealousness got the better of me in the last 12k. I slowed down significantly, resisting the urge to walk. My eventual time was 3:32:13. During these last 12 kilometres my self-talk turned negative as I focused on the the pain I was feeling rather than on achieving a challenging goal. Japanese novelist, Murakami Haruki said in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

My feelings at the finish were mixed: joy at finishing with a good time and not walking; despair at not meeting my target. My thinking was turning towards self doubt and I was choosing to suffer – not just during the race, but after too. My extended honeymoon period with running was now over and I found it hard to get out on the road again. Hindsight now tells me that I managed to get to the end without walking because I had trained so rigorously. It would take me until later in the year to learn this lesson of tenacity.

March-June:

march june
My passion for running reached its lowest ebb. I took a rest after the exertions of Tokyo. While I needed to be averaging 200k per month to meet my goal, I struggled to run more than 75 in March and a paltry baker’s dozen in April. By the time of my 40th birthday, I was nearly 500k (a mere 48%) shy of my goal. I have to take this opportunity here to thank my wife again for all the birthday party planning – behind my back – in bringing my father and many of my friends to Kamata to surprise me!

Source: runkeeper.com

I didn’t have the appetite to set a new goal right away having failed so miserably!

Finally on June 1st, I set a new goal: seven months to run 1000k by year-end. While June was also not a great month, I did start to rebuild my habit again. It may sound basic, but commtting to these basic steps has worked for me:

  1. Set alarm
  2. Get up an hour early
  3. Put on running gear
  4. Step outside

If I achieve the above, I succeed in going for a run. When excuses set in, it is usually because I wait until after work to run.

July-September:
Anyone who knows Japan will know that these are the most unbearable months of the year when the humidity and temperature combine to create a double whammy of stickiness. And this is just from raising an arm to press the remote control. Running is not well advised during these months unless very early in the morning or late at night. But when you have a commitment to running, you have to overcome every excuse for not going out, even if you run the risk of getting complaints from your wife about stinky, sweaty running gear 😉
In 2013 I didn’t use it as an excuse as I ran more than 200k in August and September in preparation for the Osaka Marathon. In 2014, this dropped significantly though I did give myself a ready-made excuse: a career change!

July to September happened to coincide with the biggest change in my career in ten years, when I brought a close to my very rewarding and enjoyable time in publishing for a role working with a wider cross-section of industries spanning the public and private sector.
While I stepped up my efforts in July, as I got closer to leaving my old job and starting my new job, I let busy-ness keep me off the road more often than I would have liked. It was easy at the time to justify taking a day off here and there, but as I re-learned later, I need to go for a run to refresh my spirit and relieve the stress of the day!

As Nelson Mandela famously said:

In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the results. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.

Running is my garden.

mar to jun

October-November:

October and November brought new challenges as I learned my new job. Anyone who has changed careers will have experienced “Impostor Syndrome“. During my first three months, I allowed myself many times to suffer from these symptoms. Once again, it was running that provided me with a crutch, when at other times I might have used my travails as an excuse to take a day off training here and there. So I did my best to run as much as I could. I took my running gear on a business trip and managed to get runs in in Northern Ireland (Belfast), Scotland (beautiful Edinburgh including the Royal Mile and the castle), and my hometown in England (past Warwick Castle – an even more beautiful construction than Edinburgh Castle – excuse my bias)! Of course it helped that I had to run two marathons during this period.

At the end of October, I ran Osaka for the second time. After my 3:32 at Tokyo, I entered the race confident that I could run 3:30. I was quietly confident of 3:20. What I chose to ignore was my training record. With a poor summer record to compare against the previous year, I was deluding myself. While I was on target for 3:16:00 at halfway, I hit the wall at 26 kilometres and faded fast. Though I will spare the photo, it didn’t help that I had developed a blood blister covering a quarter of my left foot! Succumbing to the pain, I made myself suffer through the shame of walking, hobbling, trotting, cramping up and getting a free massage through the last sixteen kilometres. A poor but justifiable return on my investment: 4:27:45 – more than an hour slower than my secret target.

Just a few days after Osaka, I received a package in the post from Fujisan Marathon – a race around two of the five lakes near Mt. Fuji at the end of November. In the excitement of changing jobs, I had forgotten that I had entered! My wife frantically booked the last room in a hotel right near the start line. Thanks again for the support you give to me Eri! My expectations were much lower, but with the benefit of Osaka and my autumn runs still in my legs, I ran the course in 3:40:54. If I hadn’t succumbed yet again to walking with four kilometres to go, I would have achieved around 3:35:00.

December:

While I had managed to pick up my run rate in the autumn, I had left myself with lots to do in December. In order to achieve my 1000k target by New Year’s Eve, I would need to run 212 kilometres. I knew this wasn’t impossible as I had achieved this before in January and also September 2013. But at the same time, I knew that I would need to run most days to make it happen. In June 2012, it was a public declaration of intent that gave me the impetus to begin running. So I tried the same tactic, posting this image on social media:

IMG_5207

It worked! On New Year’s Eve, I managed to run the last 14 kilometres needed in order to meet my goal.

Source: runkeeper.com

Seven days into 2015, I am tracking nicely towards my 2,015km target. As I re-learned the importance of habit, each month I will commit to running at least 150 kilometres. My next marathon will be in my favourite Japanese city of Kyoto.

And if you fancy a run in Tokyo from time to time, let me know! It would be great to encourage one another!