Sometimes the experience I have from running doesn’t match up with the data I gather. January 2020 has been one of those times. I feel like I’ve run a lot, and got quite a bit fitter. The data, however, suggests that I’ve only really maintained my fitness. Why is that?
I started what felt like quite a strong month on New Year’s Day, and ran a total of 24 times over 20 days. Two of those days were dedicated double days, with an activity before and after work, and on two of those days I broke my run in two with a mini-circuit at a local park.
I ran 203.6 km in January and spent about 23 hours on my feet. Finally, I climbed 1443 m.
All in all, I am pleased with this effort. It felt like I was putting in a lot of work, with much of my week planned around my running.
Comparison with January 2019
Comparing my progress this January to January 2019, I did actually run further, but only by 3 km. I spent 1:17 longer running than last year, but climbed 297 m less than 2019. So although it felt like I was putting a lot of effort in, it really wasn’t much greater than at the start of last year. Clearly my perception is a little off…
Not everything was equal between my effort this January and that of 2019. There are two main differences I can think of:
- I have been making a conscious effort to lose some weight
- I have been trying to run at constant power outputs depending on the type of exercise
My weight is not a problem, but I have noticed it slowly increasing over the last couple of years. And by November last year it had got to a point where I decided I would like to lose a few kilos.
My strategy was to run more and eat less. I wasn’t particularly strict, but did keep a track of what I ate, and soon saw some positive results. Whilst I didn’t feel like I was starving myself of calories, I did feel like I had slightly less energy, and coupled with the dark mornings I often struggled to wake up in the morning. So by depriving myself of an excess of calories, is it likely that I didn’t have much chance of big gains in fitness. Possibly.
Running with power
I bought a Stryd powermeter a couple of years ago, and after an initial keen interest in it, have spent the majority of that time simply recording my power without looking at the data. With a decent amount of data gathered now, I thought I might try to be a bit smarter with my training. Therefore, I started to run my “easy” runs with zone 1 power. This required a lot of discipline at first, and deliberately holding myself back was quite challening. The slightest uphill gradient would send the power through the roof even if I didn’t feel the additional effort. Eventually, however, I got used to running slow, and really started to enjoy it. I could run in a way that felt almost effortless.
As part of the deal with myself for sticking to power zones, I had to target my workout runs as well. This meant running, say, zone 3 tempo runs, rather than just deciding to run for 10 minutes at a fast pace. Again, this was difficult at first, but I am gradually getting better at running at a constant effort. Even for my long runs on the trails I try to set a maximum power level for the day. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m enjoying the challenge.
Maintenance versus fitness gain
Strava, Stryd, GoldenCheetah and the Elevate extension for Strava all display a similar trend for my fitness level – a slight increase in overall fitness but my running has been firmly rooted in “maintenance” territory, this despite often feeling exhausted. Taking weight loss and more effort on low power efforts into account though, this now makes sense.
Having had a good January of running, I’d like to start putting more stress on my body for February. I don’t want to throw away the gains that the consistency of January gave me, but I think I will try to increase my weekly long run both in terms of distance and effort – at least for some of those runs. And it’s probably time to put more time into the workout runs – long hill runs are probably the most feasible at the moment.
Let’s see what February brings…