A Healthy Obsession

Running-ShoesAfter you get past the first hurdles of taking up running, i.e. you manage to get into a regular rhythm of jogs without giving up, it becomes very easy to develop a preoccupation with stats and goals. I can personally attest to this. PBs, splits, handicaps, etc. all somehow become super interesting once you get broken in a little bit. The stats are addictive. It’s human nature to want to progress and after the initial training wheel phase, it becomes important to set attainable and specific goals to reach that damn fine potential you got going on. Often, pursuing those goals all comes wrapped up in weirdly fascinating personal data.

Runs can be long. Even a 5k, for me at least, uses up nearly half an hour. That’s a long time to keep your head in the game, so to speak. While the body is being tested, it helps to give your mind something to do besides wonder whether that really is a stitch coming on. Naturally, you get to thinking about times, and goals, and pace (and sometimes just what you’re having for dinner, to be totally honest). This is why, at race start lines, you often see a huge number of runners equipped with various forms of wearable technology. It’s the new black. In some cases, it literally is black. Would this be a good time for me to mention that unless the goth-vampire aesthetic is your vibe, I really think it’s boring when people go for black when there’s so much colour available in the market of wearables and kit? Whatever, though, you do you. (But seriously, spice up your life.)

The technology available for tracking training is vast, ranging from fancy gadgets like my mother’s beloved Garmin watch to the free app I have on my phone to boss me about. The reason they’re all so popular? The technology is invaluable. It does wonders for managing health goals. Oscar Insurance, a health insurance company in New Jersey and New York, is just one example of a company promoting and using this kind of technology to help members manage their health and fitness. All Oscar members get Misfit bands that they can use to set personal activity goals, sync with the company’s mobile app to keep track of their progress and then get cash rewards at the end of the month for reaching their goals.

In the case of my Runkeeper app, I can have it set up to give me a playlist and interrupt my music to tell me my pace at certain intervals. It allows me to obliviously listen to the whole TSwift catalogue and the app will let me know if I’m on track, pacing my runs for me while I’m getting in some much-needed music therapy. The times keep pushing me on to race my previous bests while my music offers a valued distraction from the aching in my, well, just about everywhere. It’s a great system. Added to the help it gives during the run, all of my times and splits get logged and recorded to enable a wealth of resources when mapping out future fitness ambitions. It’s perfect.

Alongside the pacing, informing the training is the creation of personal goals to enable steady progress. Those goals have varied from a simple 5k personal best to being able to run a new distance to trying to match up split times, or more recently to get a 8.0+ handicap improvement through the last annual year (check!). Tracking my runs is always integral to that; it enables you to become your own personal trainer. Or, in the cases of some of the technology, the recording of the nice lady announcing your times becomes your personal trainer. I talked in a previous blog about my quick burst of progress through the end of 2014, culminating in my ‘Best Improved’ title in December. This was a direct response to recognising an attainable, specific goal and pushing hard for it. Along the way, I was constantly checking my graphs on runbritain.com, looking to see how my progress was coming along in terms of the statistics. There is nothing more motivating than seeing results, and being able to chip away at my times little by little allowed me to keep my streak of success going strong.

Ultimately, running comes down to what works best for each individual, I think. I’ve been keeping fit through my training for over a year now and, after my initial progress, I found that I plateaued for a long period of time in mid-2014. The best answer to that was goal-setting. By the end of last year, I felt unstoppable, smashing PB after PB and far exceeding the goal I had initially set myself. I think it starts with one attainable goal, and then comes the momentum. Once you have the big mo, you’re set.