2021: My Racing the Reaper Man Year

2021 A Racing the Reaper Man Year

Some months ago, I wrote the Introduction to my book, Racing the Reaper Man which I am initially serialising on this website, and will add to as time progresses. To make it authentic for my target readers in the 50 – 60+ age groups, I had always planned to use 2023 as the year in which I literally lived all of my own methods ‘live’, to underpin the advice in the book. After this I would pull the book together for publishing in a viable format. That target year would see me in retirement, so I could focus without other commitments. But, life is not that simple.

2020 became the most bizarre year of the century. The Covid-19 pandemic’s effect will be remembered by all the generations who lived it. It was no different for me. Working from home and spending around 10 months out of 12 in isolation, I found my enforced solo lifestyle had stealthily ingrained some destructive habits. To those on the outside looking in, I was a healthy living, dedicated runner, but that was only partially true. To paraphrase Dean Karnazes, I had become so comfortable, I was miserable. So it prompted me to use 2021 as a new start, even though the pandemic was still firmly in control.

As I ground out 141 miles in December to reach my 2020 target of a nice, round 1000, the bad habits I had allowed to affect my daily life became an unwanted burden. Circumstances had put me in the right place to make 2021 the perfect Racing the Reaper Man Year. My daily mileage from 27th December was: 6; 10; 10; 10; 6. I had a momentum I did not want to break, so on January 1st 2021 grasped the nettle. As I state in my book’s introduction, I had ‘pressed the reset’.

Serendipitously, coinciding with this dynamic decision, my Personal Trainer, Martin Sorenson, needed a long-time subject for his MSc dissertation. As my goals of losing weight, strengthening my core, improving speed and training for 3 ultramarathons fit his requirements, we formed a partnership. My book and Martin’s MSc became the focal point we both needed. It also reduced any chance of a way out for either of us, so we are committed.

2020 – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Until the Covid-19 Pandemic took hold, I was still commuting to London three days a week. My life had structure. I had control of food intake and alcohol consumption. In 2015 I had reached a point of fitness where I could run 28 miles in under 4:45:00 in training. My low point in life during 2008 was behind me. I’d dropped from a peak of 16 stones, to 12 stones and 7 pounds. I hit 2016 travelling in hope, but little did I know I had 3 years of illness and turmoil ahead. Minor bad habits became major crutches and the after effects of severe illness and a course of Ciprofloxacin saw me dealing with various tendon pains until the end of 2020. Last year was to be my first year clear of major issues, but, of course, life has a way of confounding one. 

My low point in life during 2008

Lockdown, from March, became a two-edged sword. I had no need to commute, but also lost 15 hours a week reflection and reading time. The train was my reading and writing place. It allowed me to dream of many things. Working at home meant I was always in the office, and Covid-19 was also part of my risk management role, so the pressure was sustained and relentless. I could never shut off as my decisions always had long term ramifications – I had to keep people safe. I had a bit of a crisis in April as the unrelenting pressure left me emotionally shattered. Yet, I rallied with the coming of spring and slipped into a comfortable routine that encompassed my best and worst habits.

16 weeks of isolation were eased by taking to my local trails. I did long runs of up to 20 miles in the sunshine, and set about exploring every local footpath I could find. I ran up onto the chalk downs and scuttled around the coastal trails. I introduced more core work and maintained a reasonable level of fitness. That I was in good shape for a 63-year-old was enough, and turning 64 was no issue. However, my two ultra marathon debut races had been cancelled, so I had no real goal and slipped into a daily cycle that may surprise a lot of people. I drank an average of 31 units of alcohol a week! The calories I burned running barely balanced the excessive intake of booze. Running had become an enabler to pour alcohol down my throat and stuff convenience junk food snacks into my face. 

Looking at my training log for the year, several statistics jumped out at me:

  1. My alcohol consumption of around 1630 units worked out as 96,000+ kcal.
  2. That added around 2000 kcal of useless input to my weekly intake.
  3. Without that I would be around 14lbs lighter.
  4. My barrel chest was also a barrel gut.
  5. That 1000 miles was achieved in spite of not running at all for 195 separate days!
  6. My diet still included lots of junk, even though I do not eat meat.
  7. I achieved my running in constant hangover recovery.
  8. I was underachieving and unhappy with how I felt.
  9. My health recovery had paused at the altar of perceived comfort.
  10. The ‘comfort’ was not real – I was often depressed.
  11. My habits gave a bad example and enabled others not to get fit.

2020 – the final 42 miles to The Reset

A six miler, three 10 milers in a row and a final six: I’d reached my 1000.  Every mile I was in deep thought, but over those 5 days I still consumed 43.6 units of booze! I was sick of alcohol, but poured it in every evening; then, the next day, ground out those miles. Yet, for once, it was considered: I had been reading, strategising and planning. By New Year’s Eve I had juxtaposed how I felt against what I desired. I knew January 1st 2021 would be a very new start.

I had initially had a rough idea as to what I wanted to achieve in 2021. Then, I read Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new book, Eat Better Forever. I collect cookery books of favourite authors, and usually skim through the prose and use the recipes, but this one was different. It explained the differences between food groups, how our ‘treats’ and food preferences are most often based upon manufacturers understanding our primitive minds. They create food we crave, hit our ‘sweet spot’ and we up our consumption thinking we enjoy it. A packet of crisps is a case in point: the more we eat, the more we crave. Science and marketing, pure and simple. The proof of this marketing brilliance is the increase in obesity in the western culture. Even being overweight is now acceptable, as there are so many much heftier people about to dilute the perceived lesser danger.

I have become sure that we no longer wean our children into a wonderful world of subtle and fantastic tastes, rather they tend to be hit with mighty junk food taste bombs. In a short period, a healthy diet becomes ‘bland’ and unappealing. It is hardly surprising. I grew up in the transition culture. From lots of exercise and unprocessed home cooking, to becoming adult and getting into the convenience food and social media driven world. Urgency in everything overtook gentle reflection. Food became something to stuff quickly in ones cake hole, and the taste bomb took the place of savouring new flavours. Thus, I too had weaned myself into bad habits, born of incipient junk food propaganda and chemical wizardry. So, The Reset: for the whole of 2021 I will live the adjustments I conceived and apply Martin’s strength and speed techniques. I invite you to watch what can happen if you reset your life by positivity and shrug off learned bad habits. At all times, remember I reached over 16 stones (225lbs/102kg) at the age of 52, so reaching this point has taken years of reflection, application and, at times, demoralisation. Also remember, I have the same cravings as any one and subconscious weaknesses to grab for a reward – junk food, booze and prolonged arse-sitting. I am human. I am 64. But I know older age can be loaded in our favour. My January overview will appear here very soon. 

Racing the Reaper Man in 2021

A Racing the Reaper Man Year: January 2021

In my opening Blog Post introducing my Racing the Reaper Man Year, I explained how being fit but retaining unnecessary habits, kept me in a self-imposed Limbo of not quite resetting my life for the better: the pandemic had the same effect on me as everyone else. My stubborn final drive to run 1000 miles for 2020, covering 141 miles in December, liberally laced with red wine as a reward, changed my mindset. I decided to stop kidding myself and put my philosophy into action. Thus, armed with hindsight and moving firmly forward, I started to put my ideas into a year-long journey. This post is about my first month ‘being my own experiment’.

On January 1st I had reached my sixth day of running at least a mile, and I planned to keep that going for as long as having no excuses would let me. I gave up drinking ‘for a month’ and applied some heavy pruning to my diet. Butter was gone: it was replaced with finest olive oil. No refined sugar, chocolate, crisps, pies and those nutrition-free ‘treats’ the whole Western World are addicted to. In came grains, nuts, locally sourced fruit and veg, and 0% alcohol beer. My bread consumption dropped to a loaf of locally baked sourdough rye for the week. This was a ‘live’ learning curve which I intended to refine as I went, and I was dead-set to reject my diet if I found it awful. I have not eaten meat for years, but kept sustainable fish in, and retained only cheese as a dairy product – this sourced from Britain.

Locally-sourced farm shop fodder

My aim is to reach certain targets as the year progresses and to report honestly how it affects me, and how my life changes. January was the reset month where I allowed myself time to adjust and make errors. So, on January 1st my starting point statistics were:

  • Age 64
  • Weight: 13st 5lbs (187lbs/84.8kg)
  • BMI: 27.6
  • Belly circumference: 38 inches/96.52cm

For years I have counted my daily calorific intake and for this year determined to consume no more than a ‘passive’ 2000kcal a day. This is not purely scientific, but without a laboratory and funding, I developed a rough benchmark to work from. It goes thus: using online calculators for calories burned whilst running, I found that I was projected to burn an extra 125 or 150 kcal per mile. I took a baseline figure of 130 kcal. So, I would count all my calories in through the day, then subtract 130 per mile ran as follows:

Running 6 miles eating 2000 calories: 2000 – (6×130) = 2000 – 780 = 1220 kcal day’s balance.

Not perfect, but far from cheating. If I stuck to 2000kcal a day and ran 40 miles a week, I would soon fall over. Trust me, it works very, very well. And, I will prove it this year.

I committed myself to a weekly core strength session with my Personal Trainer, Martin Sorenson. He is working on his MSc, so is going to use me as a small part of his work. On top of this, I would do a single core workout exercise each day, along with some shoulder strengthening and mobility exercise – I’d had a cortisone jab in my left shoulder to ease several years of pain from a damaged rotator cuff, and needed to bring it back to normal.

My targets are 12st 4lbs (172lbs/78kg) by May 1st; a couple of ultra-marathons; and try to crack a 7-minute mile by the end of the summer. My organised 50k was postponed until October, so I determined to run a solo time trial over the same distance in the spring.

How did I fare in January?

I started with the commitment of the newly converted, but was aware that this was not a short-term regime. I was prepared for self-doubt and negative thoughts surfacing as excuses. Yet, the longer I avoided booze, the easier it became. By the second week I had no craving at all. I remained true to my diet needs and there was no junk.  My daily food intake was averaging 1600kcal and I started to feel much better. In January I ran 116 miles – running every day. I had completed 4 x 11-mile long runs and was pleased to have been alcohol free for a month. Relevant stats:

  • Age 64
  • Weight: 13st 0lbs (182lbs/82.6kg) – down 5lbs/2.27kg
  • BMI: Down from 27.6 to 26.9 
  • Avg kcal/day = 1544

As I had been drinking too much in 2020, it came as a relief to commit to abstinence. My sleep pattern became erratic for a while, then, by the end of the month, had settled and I was getting proper rest. I began eating regularly in small amounts through the day, so I was never really hungry. My final meal of the day was no larger than 750kcal and eaten before 20:00. That way I effectively fasted for over 12 hours most days.

Core training once a week was initially hard, but as I started trimming down, I found exercise was becoming less of a burden – I was no longer training through a daily hangover. My runs were starting to be fun again, and photographing my progress for Facebook posts encouraged me to run as many varied routes as I could.

Swerving along the rooty trails in January

The first month was a test as everything was new. My mental processes were very strange as I would imagine excuses not to run automatically. It was as if my body and mind were conspiring against the change. However, once out in the cold I was fine, so one has to be aware of that inner voice. It stems from the primitive instinct not to expend energy, store fat and rest until the no-longer-relevant time of hardship arrives. That is the main message I have for January. Your stone age self has a built-in set of triggers designed to save energy. As modern humans we must override this, as energy stored as fat is no longer a requirement for survival, but its corruption is certainly a modern killer. Pressing the reset takes commitment, but it has been well within me so far. Contact me if you have any questions or comments.

Looking across to a bitterly cold Bosham in January

A Racing the Reaper Man Year: February 2021

I started February with the echoes of a dry January filling my ears. I realised that, in being true to my aim – showing people what may be possible and reporting how I felt – I needed to take stock. Well, my whole body has changed, including the way my mind works. Initially I thought of alcohol a lot, especially my very favourite combination of a perfect day. Saturday: do a long run of 10+ miles, then buy a large haddock and large chips from my local chippy (superb by the way) and a good bottle of Malbec. Eat with mayonnaise. 2070kcal of bliss. The habit and action had become a mental totem I could barely resist. Yet, resist I did. By the third week in January I was no longer feeling deprived. By February, I no longer drooled at the thought of booze.

Icy February running by Two Mile Oak

It took a month for my body to adjust to being without what I used to habitually put into it. And here was a stumbling block – a month did not denote success. It marked a single step to adjusting to my reset way of life. I made the logical decision to keep up the no drinking for another month, and to refine my eating habits. I now grazed through the day, eating the very healthiest, unprocessed food where possible. The result was I was seldom hungry and never went above a balance of 1600kcal a day. It was relatively simple. The main link I had broken, I have come to realise, is that between eating for the simple joy of good nourishment, and stuffing ‘bliss-point’ treats into my face without thought. I had stopped being a self-satisfying pig, put simply. The bonus of looking carefully at food, is my cooking skills in plant-based recipes have improved remarkably. I now ‘see’ food, rather than just grab for a taste bomb. I have come to realise that the only pleasure I had shoving junk in, was just that… after there was no pleasure. Now I’m not bloated, and I’m even starting to notice my body ‘asking’ for specific food. If I crave for a slice of bread with olive oil and tomato, it seems to come from a need for that type of nutrition. I’ve experienced this on mountains where the craving for fat is obvious. This is something I will examine as I go forward. Interesting.

My new diet is not boring

At the start of the month I was called in for my first Covid-19 Pfizer vaccination. Two days later I was extremely tired on a 2-mile run, and coincidentally developed a boil on my back for which I needed antibiotics. I did short runs for the rest of that week, but by the weekend was fine. 

I ran every day of February as well, totting up 102 miles, with long runs of: 1 x 11 miles; 2 x 12 miles; and a glorious 13 miler up onto the South Downs. At 64, I’ve learned that shorter runs of 1 and 2 miles are very important for recovery after long runs. Recovery takes longer and getting injuries is easier. It is a fine balance. I hope that this experimental year finds me on the safer side of that line. The core work I do is a great help – I can feel that already. There are early indications that a layer of fat has been stripped from my legs, as my muscle definition has surprised me.

February running at Bosham

How did I fare in February?

  • Age 64
  • Weight: 12st 8lbs (176lbs/80kg) – down another 6lbs/2.8kg (11lbs/5kg in total)
  • BMI: Down from 27.6 to 26.0
  • Avg kcal/day = 1403

My Personal trainer, Martin Sorenson, decided to make me the main focus of his MSc work, so during the month we firmed up our plans to square with his project. So, I will continue to do weekly core training, but geared towards a weigh goal of 12st 4lbs (172lbs/78kg) by the end of April. We have set a 50k time trial for May 1st with a target time between 6 hours and 6 hours 13 minutes. These goals will show how well the diet, training and strength work affects my running. (In addition, I finally caved in an purchased a smart watch to give me easier access to running statistics, freedom to run adjusted routes and see distance covered and a whole series of health monitoring readings. I chose the Garmin Forerunner 45, which turns out to suit me just fine.)

Martin Sorenson PT, my trainer for a sub 6 hour 50k

The hardest day was a Fitness VO2 Max test on 26th: 1.5 miles at 8 min/mile pace, 25 pushups and 35 pull ups. It showed 43 – my fitness age was 28. Average heart Rate at rest 49.

So, February was a month of consolidation where the reset of January became more of an ingrained habit. The main take away is, I’m enjoying running much more.

A Racing the Reaper Man Year: March 2021

Running through March gave some treats like this

In March I stopped reflecting upon what I was missing when it came to my new dietary regime. I had become quite a Socratic thinker and questioned every intrenched desire, asking myself ‘Why?’ Why did specific foods seem to become treats or rewards? Why had booze become something that can control a person’s actions? Why do things that are bad for health, become something desirable? I had deciphered most of the answers during the previous few weeks, so the month of March became a proving ground for defusing dangerous subconscious programming and habits. I seemed to have broken through a very common mental blockage. All my planned adjustments were becoming a way of life and I was interested how March would pan out.

I extended my Dry January through February into March and still did not miss alcohol. The benefits of my new style of eating had been marked. I’m never hungry, am enjoying tasting new flavours and have found that knowing the nutritional values of the food I eat, helps me enjoy it even more. 

My training became more intense. Martin’s core workouts each week included 5 fast sprints, and lots of strength work, focusing on making me resilient to the needs of a 50k. Indeed, I was feeling very strong, and the most remarkable thing was I was losing my ever-present stomach. Each evening I would do shoulder exercises with light weights to strengthen and give flexibility to my recovering rotator cuff, and would add a single core workout at random. 

Magnificent mammatus clouds in March

I increased my long runs through the month with 15, 16 and 18 milers being completed over varying terrains. I was still nervous about speed, but the Garmin Forerunner 45 gave me a boost I’d not perceived at first. My resting heart-rate was between 47 & 51 bpm, and showed my VO2 Max stayed at 43, improving to 44. With such a strong heart, and with very fast recovery from effort, I had no reason to worry about my main engine being fragile. My new regime had improved all my stats, so it was also the month to start testing my speed over distance.  

Being imperial in my running measurements, I selected a 3-mile course to see if I could find a racing pace. It had been so long since I had considered speed, I had no idea what I was capable of. My last timed run was a 4:30:48 marathon in 2019, so all I knew is I could maintain 10:20 pace two years ago. My first 3 miler was 28:32 (9:32 pace) which felt hard, but my third one near the end of the month was 26:18 – 8:46 pace was quite an improvement. However, with even bigger mileage coming, I shelved time trials for the following weeks. I completed 110 miles for the month and had not missed a day’s running since 27th December 2020.

Out of the blue I was called in for my second Pfizer jab on the 28th, the after-effects of which caused me to ease down for the following few days to the end of the month.

How did I fare in March?

  • Age 64
  • Weight progression:
    • Dec 31st: 13st 5lbs
    • End Jan: 13st 0lbs
    • End Feb: 12st 8.2lbs
    • End Mar: 12st 4.8lbs
  • BMI: Down from an initial 27.6 to 25.4
  • Avg kcal/day balance = 1500
  • Tummy: Down from an initial 38” in November, to 33”.

Being my own experiment, applying my accumulated knowledge to a whole year, was starting to show big improvements to my health and fitness. I had also started to use a set of ‘Smart’ Scales that gave me a whole suite of statistics, which I’ll cover more in April’s overview. The main thing I’d noticed was my visceral fat – the fat that men store around their organs, giving the classic gut – had dropped from 13 to 12.5%. Finally, after 20 years, my tummy was shrinking! 

After three months I had never felt deprived of anything and had started to build a new confidence. Distance didn’t worry me, but I was still wary of sustained pace. Yet, I was now running every day for enjoyment, and because I could find no real excuse not to. I had yet to complete a run feeling worse than when I started. Racing the Reaper Man, as a philosophy, had yet to fail under scrutiny. April was to be my toughest month yet.

A Racing the Reaper Man Year: April 2021

Running through April

I have often written about Pressing the Reset. In the Racing the Reaper Man book, I intend to dedicate a whole chapter to this subject, but I will try and condense my meaning here. The shortest possibly explanation: it is changing all one’s detrimental habits to new, positive, healthier ones, making a permanent adjustment to have a fuller and fitter older age. It is easy to write this, but proof of my theory’s efficacy has needed a real, live subject. That subject is me. 

So far, the changes I made have been consciously followed and the temptation to grasp for hard wired comforts – booze, junk food, giving in to lounging about after a tough day – were a constant. I am no different to anyone, but my well-publicised experiment gave me the extra push to keep with the program. By April there was a sea change that had a direct influence on my progress. Put simply, the changes I had made, which had become ritualised with conscious effort, had become my way of life. I no longer thought of the changes as scripted. Indeed, I no longer thought of them at all. The Reset had kicked in. The net result of this was freedom. Freedom from the desire to eat crap; freedom from the desire for booze; freedom to fully accept my own commitment without being affected by naysayers. 

Running by Two Mile Oak in April

The changes in my body and general health were accelerating. My blood pressure was down, my weight continued to fall, and running was now a daily part of my life, not an addition. I no longer thought of having a rest, and had run a minimum of a mile for 127 continuous days without any negative effects. 

April was even more important as it was the month of my peak training weeks towards the 50k time trial I was running solo on 1st May. On the 3rd to 5th April I ran a 10, 20 and 10 without ill effects. The following weekend a 22 miler which meant I had covered the best part of 74 miles in 9 days. Martin’s core sessions with sprints, each Wednesday, were hard, but never destructive. I was much stronger. I ran a final long run of 10 miles on 17th April, then started to taper. The following day, on an easy 2-mile jog, I tripped and fell barely 700m from my house and cut up my left hand very badly! Two days later I sliced my third finger, right hand on a broken porcelain cup! Both nasty wounds that needed a series of dressings. I ran on…

Five days before the 50k, Martin put me through a fitness test: 1.5 miles at 8:11 pace followed immediately by 26 press ups and 41 pull ups. Brutal in its intensity, but I recovered quickly. The 50k was upon me, but that starts next month’s overview.

How did I fare in April?

  • Age 64
  • Weight progression:
    • Dec 31st: 13st 5lbs
    • End Jan: 13st 0lbs
    • End Feb: 12st 8.2lbs
    • End Mar: 12st 4.8lbs
    • End Apr: 12st 4lbs
  • BMI: Down from an initial 27.6 to 25.3
  • Avg kcal/day balance = 1500
  • Tummy: Down from an initial 38” in November, to 32”.

My weight was plateauing, but my tummy was still in retreat. I’d hit my target weight for the 50k. The strangest thing was the change in my mental processes. I sincerely could not understand why anyone would think my new lifestyle was boring or some kind of deprivation. I loved the food I was eating, loved the clarity of a sober mind, loved the way I have started to enjoy hard running again, and loved my new, slimmer body. A couple people told me I look ‘amazing for 64!” I couldn’t even understand that comment, in all honesty. As far as I am concerned, the only benchmark I have is me. I’m not special. I’m not a gifted sportsman. My running style is ‘industrial’ rather than refined. I have a few ailments common to people in my age group. To me, this is what 64 looks like. What are my limits? I have no idea, but I aim to explore that undiscovered country, to paraphrase Hamlet. So should we all, if we choose to.

A Racing the Reaper Man Year: May 2021

Running through May

It was all well and good tracking my progress each month by weight and miles run, but I had a single, looming target that would show if, indeed, my new lifestyle would translate into a quick 50k. In the last week of April, I decided I needed one extra day’s rest to recover from the fitness test imposed upon me by Martin, and moved my 50k to Sunday 2nd May. I reached the day weighing 12st 5lbs, a shade heavier than the previous few weeks, as I had been increasing my carbohydrate and liquid intake for several days. Yet, my weight was exactly what I had hoped it would be, and, most of all, I had tapered down and was well rested. 

It is so difficult to predict running times over a marathon, let alone over 31+ miles. In 2018 I tested myself over 30 miles and managed 6 hours 8 minutes, so that was all I had. Together, Martin and I had set out a wish list of times. Best: sub 6 hours = 11:35 pace. Mid: 6 hours 10 mins = sub 12:00 pace. Slowest: 6 hours 13 mins = 12:00 pace. To me these seemed like respectable times for a 64-year-old man.

As I lined up on that Sunday morning at the start of a 24 and-a-bit lap route I was apprehensive. Martin and my Passepartout, were there to support, but there was no field of runners to pull me along. To me, a solo time trial is always hard. 50k was new territory for me. Yet, it was a perfect day: sunny, but with a cool SW wind which would be behind me on the gentle climb of each lap. I wore sunglasses to ease my eyes, and had invested in some Hoka Carbon X shoes. As the countdown began, it was all up to me, and the efficacy of mine and Martin’s living experiment with very new training methods.

At the start of our timed 50k with Martin Sorensen PT

“Go!” Watches synched, Martin ran the first 300m with me to his van, then I was alone with my thoughts. Immediately I felt ‘right’ and decided to run instinctively, rather than with the watch, however fast or slow I was running. I hit mile 1 in 9:44, throttled back, did a 9:40, throttled back and started to run at the steadiest of paces I’d ever managed. Just above 10-minute miles and feeling fine.

Reaching the Marathon distance in my 50k

We were not prepared for this as the plan was 11:30s, so it was a worried support team that watched me pass by on each 2.28-mile lap. Passepartout cycled a few laps with me, but I was deep in another world by 10 miles. I took liquid or gels most laps and by 20 miles I was still averaging about 10:08 pace! It was too late to ease back now, so just relaxed, slowed slightly and focused. I drifted through the Marathon at 10:11 pace and decided just to keep pushing. Insane! The only issue I had was a sore right nipple, so I ditched the vest for the last couple laps and finished in 5:18:33 – 10:15s for 50k! And I felt just fine.

A great start to the month and solid evidence that the application of my philosophy was working. For the record I lost just 2lbs in weight over the run.

For the rest of May I was in a dilemma. I had a 53 miler in my plans for June, but realised I wanted to test my speed, more than endurance. A family emergency made my mind up, so deferred my entry to 2022, and reduced my training in favour of resetting my mind to long-lost speed.

This suited Martin too, as his MSc would benefit from the change – he could show his program of strength, core and plyometric sessions would support speed as well as endurance. For me it was no longer working hard at endurance, but hurting myself to regain some of the speed I had ignored for years. By the last week of the month we had decided a fast 5k on 4th July at Goodwood was a fine target, adding a series of attempts at getting close to breaking a 7-minute mile between the end of the month and 14th July.

Even with lower mileage I still lost weight, breaking through the 12 stone barrier for the first time since 1998. I ended the month with a glorious 10-mile trail run around Thorney Island. I finally looked slim, felt confident and, most of all, was living a new lifestyle based on my own philosophy. I was becoming what I wanted to be and working towards that every day. I no longer looked for excuses.  I set a benchmark by running a mile time trial in 7:44 on 26th May – I had a long way to go.

How did I fare in May?

  • Age 64
  • Weight progression:
    • Dec 31st: 13st 5lbs
    • End Jan: 13st 0lbs
    • End Feb: 12st 8.2lbs
    • End Mar: 12st 4.8lbs
    • End Apr: 12st 4lbs
    • End May: 11st 12.4lbs
  • BMI: Down from an initial 27.6 to 24.5
  • Avg kcal/day balance = 1493
  • Tummy: Down from an initial 38” in November, to 31”.

My racing the Reaper Man Year was not yet halfway through. The results, so far, have been astounding. June’s strength and speed work would be a new challenge for me. 

A Racing the Reaper Man Year: June 2021

Running through June

The end of June marked the halfway point of my Racing the Reaper Man Year. There is no shadow of a doubt it was my most difficult month so far. The fast 50k I managed in May (5:18:33) marked a transition period. Rather than continuing with endurance-only training, I had a niggle – speed training hurt. I had been avoiding it for years as I felt I’d lost any semblance of fast times for good. But that was a cop out – I had to set new benchmarks as a 64-year old. So, I decided to change my focus to speed: a fast mile (I want to get close to 7 minutes) and 5k (aiming to get under 27 minutes). Thus, Martin my PT, adjusted my core work to include plyometrics and I added some speed sessions. In May I’d set the marker down with a 7:44.8 mile, and managed a 7:29.8 in mid-June, but could not improve and posted a 7:48.7 on the 30th. Was there anything wrong? 

My quest for speed. Running a 7:29.8 timed mile in June

Looking back at my training log, I can see no major issues. I did a couple hefty long runs of 10 and 13 miles, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and evened out my mileage to post 108 miles for June, and 675 total for the year, so far. Other elements had crept in. Physically I was still going in the right direction, but mental and emotional exhaustion had started to be seen in my training log comments. I had been managing the mental stresses from work, but some deep family related problems needed my input, and that added emotional pressure had an interesting, if unwanted, side-effect. I found excessive, multi-factorial life pressures can transfer to the physical me. When I ran that 7:48, I could not get into top gear, even though it was there. So, I’ve had to step back and regain a little control.

The top of Kingley Vale on a 13 miler

Life is a singular, linear event for each of us. Seeing that is difficult – mythology, opinion and self-delusion becomes a fog of baseless hope. Giving control to others, allowing imposed duties to drain you, is a deathly addiction. That is no way to live. After 6 months I have reached a point of clarity I had not expected. My diet is clean, my body lighter and leaner. Yet, it is my mind that is clearer. The gravity well of apathy, that inertia caused by hoping rather than doing, has gone. Thus, even though June was tough, I still stuck to my new lifestyle, sure that I would still be getting fitter, even if some people suggested I had taken things too far. Mind and body are connected, but I’ve found keeping up good habits at times of stress will carry you through. Excuses to give in are many fold, but grasping them is a betrayal of the self.

After 6 months, I have reached a point of clarity I had not expected

Was June a ‘wobble’? No. Just a coincidental confluence of negative events. I’ve still run every day since 27th December last year and cannot see me missing a day this year. I even had my only alcohol of 2021 on a trip away – a single bottle of ale – 2.5 units. It made me feel light headed, I didn’t like it much, so eschewed booze again to date. By the very end of June I had a little bit of bounce back in my legs as other pressures were managed or concluded. There was a chance that July would see me in mental and physical harmony again. There was a 5k race coming on 4th July… that would be very interesting.

Bridge Sprints. By the end of June I had a bit of bounce back in my legs

How did I fare in June?

The stats are interesting as, though my weight remained fairly steady, I’ve marked some key points:

  • The most hydrated I’ve ever been, so technically as heavy as I will be for a weigh in.
  • % body fat lowest ever at 19.6
  • % visceral fat lowest ever at 11.0
  • Bone mass up a shade.
  • Muscle mass much higher than ever.
  • BMI: Down from an initial 27.6 to 24.4
  • Avg kcal/day balance = 1493
  • Tummy: Down from an initial 38” in November, to a steady 31”

Weight progression:

  • Dec 31st: 13st 5lbs
  • End Jan: 13st 0lbs
  • End Feb: 12st 8.2lbs
  • End Mar: 12st 4.8lbs
  • End Apr: 12st 4lbs
  • End May: 11st 12.4lbs
  • End June: 11st 11lbs
Two Mile Oak amongst fields of future beer and after a storm.
Racing the Reaper Man enables me to see wonderful things.

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