According to the NHS BMI Calculator, I am officially obese. Even as I write this, I don’t actually think I am obese. Either:
a) I am in denial about my lardy body shape.
b) I am actually obese and need to get my act together.
When I stand on the scales, I think “But I can smash out a 2-miler with 44lb on my back with no problems!”
This is something you will hear from any Infantry Soldier that is on the heavy side. My training programme of squats and deadlifts have been accompanied with beer and the occasional rack of ribs. My fitness routines have been sporadic. Training hard for a few months followed by long deployments where I will use being busy with work or the hot climate as an excuse not to continue training. But having spent the last 11 years in the Army, running has always been something that I’ve had to do.
You can’t be a soldier and not be able to run. Moving over tough terrain with heavy equipment is one of the fundamental basics of soldiering. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and performed well at. I’ve always felt that being heavy was a benefit when carrying large amounts of kit.
Being heavy is not a benefit on a trail run
This weekend I completed the Akamas Blossom 21km Trail Race in Cyprus. As I took my place on the starting line up, I realised that I was probably the heaviest person there. Everybody else looked like a runner. I look like a short rugby player that had turned up to the wrong event.
Running a half-marathon with over 700m of climb requires a certain amount of mental toughness, regardless of fitness level. To be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is something that the military has given me plenty of experience with. I have spent countless weeks away on training exercises where you get less than a couple of hours sleep a week, moving through day and night in the wind and rain to conduct attacks and ambushes. These exercises have built my mental resilience over the years. I’ve learnt not to quit when I feel tired and my body just wants to stop. To continue regardless.
A surprising result
Even with my larger than normal gut, I ended up finishing 13th out of 67 other competitors. I signed up for the race with a colleague called Ollie. If you were to put us side by side and guess who would finish first, I would definitely guess Ollie. He looks like a runner and unlike me, doesn’t look like a 1970’s darts player.
I ended up finishing 11 minutes ahead of him.
My wife said, “I don’t mean to be harsh but I’m quite surprised that you beat Ollie”.
I don’t blame her. But what she forgets is that I have developed a horrible stubbornness over the years to abuse my body and push it to its limits.
My average heart rate for the half marathon was 172 bpm. If that means nothing to you, basically my heart was working like the clappers for just over 2hrs (below is the Strava record for the run for those that are interested in stats and other geeky numbers).
Heart rate is a fantastic measure of the level of exertion on the body. When I was running, I felt good, even if my heart was working at almost its maximum rate. I’m used to my body working at these high heart rates and I feel like I can cope with it for about 2 hours. Any longer and I start to struggle. As much as heart rate is great for training, during a race I believe you should listen to your body. Work hard and leave the tank empty on the finish line.
BMI is a flawed measurement
As a former sports scientist, I fully appreciate that BMI isn’t the most accurate way of measuring fitness or body composition. Vox recently made an interesting video that is worth watching on just about how flawed BMI is. Regardless, I’m definitely not what somebody would consider to be a natural runners build. At 171cm (5ft 7in) and 90kg (14.1 stone), running is definitely not something that I should excel at (I definately don’t excell at running!)
But I enjoy it regardless. Running a trail race for me isn’t about finishing on the podium. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever won a race, even at school. When you enjoy something for the activity itself, winning isn’t the be all and end all. Sure, I would like to improve but for me, it’s about being out in the wild with the sun and wind in your face. Running over mountains with other like-minded people. When I was hurtling down the steep tracks from 700 metres to sea level, I was running so fast I felt like I was flying. One miss-step and I would have twisted an ankle at best. That’s what trail running is about.
What makes a runner?
For me it is simple. It is somebody that runs. Be it once a week or 10 times a week, if you enjoy running and do it, you are in my eyes a runner.
If you are interested in training plans, I would highly recommend the Full Potential Training Plans. If you sign up to a free Garmin Connect account, you can access the basic training plans for free (classic Yorkshireman, money saving tip!)