I haven’t posted in a while (in fact since this one back in July 2020), so here’s two for the price of one. You’re welcome.
Part 1: Reflections on lockdown (non)adherence
Around this time last year, I was in a routine. I was running regularly in among ‘normal life’, as it was pre-Covid. I had even managed to establish this for two years at that point, following reflection on the Motivation and Adherence (to exercise) lectures I give to our University of Aberdeen SR2501 Exercise and Health students. I’d committed to ‘adhere’, having reflected on my past phases of starting a running regime and then giving up, several times over since 2012. Those annual lectures really hit me in 2018, when I felt like such a fraud talking about theories relating to adherence and techniques to help individuals not just establish, but also stick to, exercising habits – because I was, at that point, a failure in this regard. In 2018, I made a pledge to run at least 20k a week and 1000k per year and had managed to sustain this up until my two year runniversary (my first being in 2019). Just as we were about to enter the first phase of lockdown, I gave those final on campus lectures in March 2020 and celebrated something of a success in that I’d managed to keep up my running at those rates and make it a habit. As we were sent home, I was determined to keep these levels going regardless of what else was happening, or for how long. I’d even upped my 2020 running aim total to 1200k. That was fine all the while spring/summer 2020 was weather-kind… My trusty Apple Watch was encouraging: last spring, I was averaging 15000 steps a day, with an active daily calorie burn of 1350. It was great to have the smartwatch tracking everything, providing positive feedback and keeping me on target, although I felt like my running was slipping in favour of more walking at several points. Anyway, when I was running, it was good working from home as I could nip out during the day, either listening in to a meeting on my headphones or using a lunch break, or I could replace my commute slot either end of the day with a workout, but I was struggling a bit, picked up a couple of injuries and then had a blip in August, when I just had no running mojo. I managed to lift this a little, to get my enjoyment of running back after feeling a bit urgh, but then autumn/winter 2020-21 hit and presented some practical challenges…
Here’s my monthly running check in for the last 14 months (Jan/Feb 2020 for comparison):
While I managed to continue to run during some of those shorter days, it was getting harder as the days closed in either end. I live rurally and so it’s not possible to run on the roads in the darkness. I’d ordinarily park up in a town before coming home, or sometimes even go out again after dark to run on lit streets to hit my weekly goals, but I am driving once a week these days and I didn’t think that ‘going for a drive for a run’ constituted an essential journey. My watch soon prompted me to lower my active calorie burn expectation to 1000 (from 1350) and I could see my weekly running levels dropping to 15k, sometimes 10k, a week. By December, it wasn’t looking likely that I’d hit the 1200k mark by Hogmanay, but I committed to my “12 runs of Christmas” (running 1k on Christmas Day and adding 1k to a daily run every day for 12 days, culminating in a 12k on 5th January). I did this in 2018 and 2019, and 2020 was going to be no different. Except it was. While I managed the distances, I was sometimes having to run indoors on the spot or on my stepper (slower) to get there: some days I was not running and then others doing two distances on a single day, including one day when I covered a half marathon (~22k) indoors… staring at the same wall. As 2021 dawned, I’d just made it over the 1000k/year mark. That will do, I thought. It’s been a tough year.
Going into January, I was doing ok, keen to reignite my running bug, and I hit 100k for the month 💥 😅 I felt I was back on track…
But then the ice and snow had other ideas as February began. I couldn’t get out much for about three weeks and these were the worst of lockdown for me. I just felt rubbish. I was sleeping more as well, more than ever, and felt lethargic and lazy. Even though I participated in the #525challenge (celebrating the University of Aberdeen’s 525th anniversary) and covered 5.25k either running or indoor cycling every day, it was more cycling than running, which I hate and is less vigorous. I think I was eating more. I definitely drank more 🍷. I gained about 5kg in weight during last month, which made the whole trap even more depressing. So, I was determined to do something different for March.
Firstly, I decided I’d stop sleeping so much. I was previously used to about 5 hours per night, waking up at 5am, at my desk for 7.30am. More recently, I was lucky if I saw 8am. This increase in sleep happened early on in lockdown and I’d been sleeping in the region of 9 hours per night by winter 2020-21. I thought, initially, maybe this was a good thing as I didn’t sleep enough… but then I don’t think excess sleep suits me. So, I planned to reduce it to 7 hours per night. I also accidentally pressed the 200k/month Strava challenge instead of my usually 100k/month one, setting another goal. And this segues nicely into Part 2…
Part 2: Conflicting advice/a digital dilemma
By my calculation, I’d have to run 6-7k/day in March to hit that 200k for the month. If I ran every day 🤔 (I love this emoji as I just have to type my initials and it pops up). Could I do it? Especially after such a sh!t February. Yes. I. Can. Am. Also, could I sleep less? Yes. I have just forced myself to get up at 6am on weekdays and 7am on weekends. Non-negotiable. March 1st happened to be a Monday, a day not well regarded for starting a new diet (although check this and NB fake news??), but this was no diet. It felt like re-finding myself.
I have managed to adhere to the sleeping less plan so far. I like it. I get up, read, answer some emails over breakfast, walk the dog and go for a run. I had been a bit worried about my sleep. In December 2020, I managed to see my dentist for a chipped tooth and had been diagnosed with bruxism (teeth grinding) while getting it fixed. I now have a splint to wear as I sleep, but what is causing this (apart from a global pandemic) concerns me. For that reason, I upped my sleep tracking. I had previously used Apple Health Kit and AutoSleep, which provided decent enough insights and suggested my sleep was as efficient as it had ever been, even if I was getting more these days. But I wanted something a little more sophisticated to better understand the phases of sleep – particularly because I seem to have 4 hours of what I call sleep, followed by subsequent hours of being aware of my sleep (enjoy this) and moving around a lot until I am properly awake and it’s time to get up. I acquired an Ōura ring this month and am now paying more attention to my sleep patterns and data, including how these relate to my activity levels, especially since I’m running so much again.
On that… I’ve clocked 130k of running at the time of writing, day 20 of March 2021. By my reckoning, this leaves 11 days to cover 70k. I had one Saturday off (6th March – I was bingeing Bridget Jones movies) and decided to take another one today. BECAUSE, although my Apple Watch is delighted with my ever increasing exercise, my ring is not…
I have been receiving motivational messages of congratulation and encouragement from Apple about smashing goals. These feel good. But my ring has been urging me to take a rest day. It is learning my patterns, and suggesting that I have 95% sleep efficiency, but flagging concerns about not allowing myself sufficient recovery time between workouts. I don’t know what to do because I am feeling ok: sleeping less and running more. The devices are giving me feedback, but in differing directions. It’s a digital dilemma. I raised this with my undergraduate Honours dissertation students at our digital health mini-conference this week as we considered the benefits and disbenefits of health technologies, and living by numbers (or as a #quantifiedself like me), and it remains a tension between which device to go by or whether to ignore one/both and do what feels right…
I guess I still have 70k to cover over the coming 11 days… that’s 6.36k a day… or, if I do a longer run tomorrow and bank some ks, and do 7k a day next week Monday-Friday, then maybe I can take next Saturday off too 🤷♀️
Watch this space…