On New Year’s Day, 2022, I had planned to write up a review of my Racing the Reaper Man Year. That I would be in Scotland, supporting my newly widowed brother, whilst fighting burnout and anxious about my physical health, was never in the plan. But, that is life, and we can never know what will happen to change the most well strategised journey. However, rather than having a neat year of benchmarked successes, I found reality had tested my self-experiment to limits I had never imagined.
The idea was always to apply years of running and fitness lessons to a single, designated year and see what a healthy, balanced, exercise-based adjustment into older age would do for me. By year’s end I had also been able to see what a fit body could do to carry me through mental illness and some worrying physical issues with my prostate. At 65, such issues are not rare for a chap, but the affects can be exhausting. Indeed, at time of writing I’m still in the middle of things, so I had to decide what to do as regards writing. In the end I have determined to add more months to myself-experiment, remain candid and weave my recovery and quest for a first 100k ultra in June. So, in this month’s blog I’m tying up my Racing the Reaper Man Year and segueing it into Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra.
Racing the Reaper Man Year: 2021 – the results
My blog posts give the in-depth, month-by-month details of 2021, so this is a general synopsis of the results. In January 2021 I weighed at least 13st 5lbs (187lbs/85kg), with a BMI 27.6 and a belly circumference of 38 inches (96.52cm). I had always been a regular runner and considered myself to be in reasonable shape for a 64-year-old. Yet, I knew I had given in to accepting how I looked and that older age would mark a gentle decline in my powers. The end of 2020 gave me the shake-up I had needed, I had to run 141 miles in December to reach my annual benchmark of 1000 miles and in doing so realised I could possibly improve several levels. Could I drop my weight and waistline significantly? Would my running improve because of it? As my book, Racing the Reaper Man would depend on living my own philosophy in full, and in the public domain, I determined to take a disciplined approach to the year and the following, basic rules evolved:
- Run every day, a minimum of a mile, to instill running as a normal way of life. In doing this, even when travelling, I would automatically find excuses to run, rather than not to run.
- Keep my balance of food intake below 2000 a day:
Using ‘online calories burned whilst running’ calculators, I found that I was projected to burn an extra 125 and 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 an absolute science, but trust me, it works very, very well.
- Keep meat-free and be 80% plant-based.
- Get below 12st by the end of the year.
- Make core strength work an integral part of my year.
As a basic tenet, I felt the following goals were achievable:
- 1200 miles for the year.
- Compete in at least one 50k with the aim of getting below 6 hours.
- Noticeably improve my racing pace and seeing if running at sub-10 minutes a mile could become normal.
In addition to my commitment to running, my personal trainer, Martin Sorenson, chose me as his subject for attaining his MSc… between us we would see how core strength and conditioning would aid my goals.
By the end of January, I had run every day and, once this streak was in place, it became harder to drop. Thus, I continued right through the year, running a mile on travelling days, even stopping the car on long drives to get that mile in. At the time of writing, I’m aiming to continue through 2022 and beyond. The great advantage to this was running became part of everyday life, not an addition to it. It became an added incentive, so I added another. Could I do a whole year of topping 100 miles for every month? I did, with room to spare.
I managed to keep my daily balance of calories below 1600, and proved that excess calories are not required for modern life. Avoiding alcohol for long stretches, keeping to a meat-free, mainly plant-based diet and reducing dairy intake to cheese only, saw my weight drop off. I hit 11st 6.8lbs at my lightest, and kept well below 12st for the rest of the year. My BMI of 24.5 was healthy, and my belly stayed between 30” and 31”. Effectively, I was very close to my 1986 stats. At 65, I had shifted all the excess weight I’d gotten used to, and proved it could be done.
To put this into further context, my food became better, more delicious and the smell of meat and fast food is now nauseating to me. I had pressed a restart and weaned myself properly. My physical health improved and I was able to maintain a resting heart rate of 48-49 bpm.
The core workouts did not build excess muscle. They did, however, make my muscles stronger, my muscle mass % rise and my flexibility greater. At my lighter weight I could squat 85kg, hold a 10 minute plank and run up hills without stress.
Everything came together in a 5:18:33 50k on a loop course near my home. That was 10:15 minutes a mile for over 31 miles! At 64. I even ran 25:43 for 5k and won my 60-64 age group (8:20/mile pace). These are not world-class times, but very respectable.
Later in the year, at 65, I ran a trail 50k in 5:54:00 in hot weather. Then, in December blasted out a 1:34 10 miler to show I could hold 9:30 pace over distance. This was the fastest I’d run for decades. I managed to run above 100 miles every month and ended the year on 1358 miles.
So, my self-experiment of the Racing the Reaper Man Year proved to me that regaining what one has lost is possible. It comes down to want. You are what you want to be. To change, the want must be driven by desire to change permanently. Was it easy? No. I’m a human being with all the same frailties. In fact, by November things were not good in my working and personal life. It was sticking to the basics that has helped me through. I am now confident that my book will be based on fact, not hope, personal results, not borrowed data.
Racing the Reaper Man Year: 2021 – the stats
- Total miles: 1358
- Ave weekly miles: 26.11
- Run streak 370 days from 27-12-20
- All 12 months above 100 miles
- Weight at end of year 11st 11lbs
- Ave daily calorie balance: 1592
- Ave resting heart rate: 48-49bpm
- Waist: 31”
- Best mile 7:24.6
- Best 5k: 25:43
- Best 10k: 57:13
- Best Marathon: 4:27:08
- Best 50k: 5:18:33
All the above were after-effects of training for the fast 50k, rather than planned events. It shows plenty of room for improvement across the board. Now I need to maintain this new lifestyle and focus on honing my race times down. My diet was spot on and my training has found the correct, long-term balance. A healthy lifestyle is not a burden, but gives one freedom to live a full life into older age.
Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra – 2022
I left a lot of things in midair at the end of my December 2021 blog post. I was miles from home, ill and exhausted. Thus, because I had hit a hard patch, I had to find a way to show my philosophy, my basic tenet in staying physically fit, would hold me in good stead. So, as I prepare the outline to my book, Racing the Reaper Man, I am extending my self-experiment to June of 2022. This will see me through to my first ever 100k, the Race to the King. These additional months will show my readers how life’s common hurdles can be overcome.
My aim is to reduce my weight to 11st 4lbs (158lbs/71.6kg), complete the 100k and try to improve my racing speed once more. So, my next blog post will be Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra – January 2022.
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