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Games joggers play

Or how to get a pacemaker for free

How far can you push yourself? (photo credit: Pixabay)

The other day, I was reading a story on Medium about a woman who won a 100km (62 miles) ultramarathon in honour of her late Dad. She ran almost non-stop for 12 hours and 14 minutes, at the age of 42. As a male jogger who can just about manage a 5 km (3 miles) slow jog, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by this superwoman.

Figuring out high intensity workouts

Straightaway, I resolved to push my jogging pace from ‘pottering along’ towards ‘high intensity interval training.’ HIIT has been at the back of my mind for some time now. To quote Wikipedia, “research has shown that HIIT regimens produced significant reductions in the fat mass of the whole-body.”

Actually, I don’t think Wikipedia is seeing the whole picture. The way I understand it, pushing your body to its physical limits regularly, is the best way to delay the usual health issues that eventually get every one of us. The BBC story below will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, my style of pottering along does seem not conducive to getting those results. After some pondering, I accepted that going on lung-busting sprints of a typical HIIT won’t work for me. The difficulty level is so high that I’m setting myself up for failure. My compromise solution is to increase my jogging pace a bit and add a set of push-ups and pull-ups to my exercise routine. That is within the realms of the possible, and might even give me some of HIIT’s benefits without taking the life out of me.

The problem is, as Wikipedia again helpfully points out:

HIIT requires “an extremely high level of subject motivation” and question whether the general population could safely or practically tolerate the extreme nature of the exercise regimen.

In short, I need to find some motivation to ignore my aching body, and work up enough pace to avoid the humiliation of being overtaken by 75-year-old, saree-clad ladies, out for a brisk walk.

Turns out there’s an app for that.

A tracking app is worth a 1000 pictures

When I began jogging around eight years ago, I started logging my runs in a running app called Runtastic. Though I later switched to tennis, I still would go on an occasional run. Anyway, I went back through my records to compare my current run with my fastest run. The app says that just over five years ago, I had done 5 km in a sub-28 minute run, as against the almost 34 minutes or more, that it takes me now.

My current timing VS my all-time record for a 5km run ©babulous

Aim high, but not too high

Let’s get a perspective on my record-setting 5.30min/km average pace. The current world marathon record is 2:01:39 by Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya at the Berlin 2018 marathon.

Doing the math, Kipchoge’s average pace was 2.9min/km. In other words, that guy ran for two whole hours at an insane pace that was twice as fast as mine, while covering a soul-destroying 42.2 km as against my piddly 5 km.

Now that I have got that out of the way, let’s move on.

The need for a Pacemaker

Theoretically speaking, since I had almost managed a sub-28 minute run once, I should be able to do it again. Realistically speaking, the only way I was going to achieve this is if I run with someone setting the pace for me. That would be the so-called pacemaker or pacesetter.

Easier said than done. There are no runners at my tennis club. Runners and tennis players are two different sub-species of humans. Tennis players look down on joggers, as they think jogging is dead boring and offers no mental challenge, unlike tennis which they believe is the opposite. That’s a matter of perspective so I won’t get into it. What I do know is tennis doesn’t need pacemakers. High-intensity activity happens naturally as you are always sprinting madly after those fuzzy yellow balls. The catch to playing tennis is you have to know how to play it. Sadly, I don’t, and after a few years of shanking shots all over the place, I admitted defeat and quit the sport.

Of course, I knew what I had to do. All joggers do. You find another runner who’s going the your way but at a faster pace, and you hijack him to be your pacemaker (yes, there are solo women running too, but I have no desire to be mistaken for a stalker).

Identifying your pacemaker

I use the term ‘hijacked’ because my potential pacemaker has not volunteered for the job, and will get nothing for it. But he and I are jogging in a public place, and the only way he can shake me off, is by sprinting away. He’s unlikely to do that as it would ruin his rhythm, and so his run. Some runners ignore such challenges by pretending to be lost in their private hell (it’s a like mailing a job offer to a person and having it bounce back with an ‘address unknown’ stamp). But most runners have a bit of pride and take it as a personal affront when passed by someone at their level. This is actually quite silly, as they are doing fine without me. Whereas I need them to turn a plodder like me into a runner.

Choosing a pacemaker is important. You want to stick with runners at your level. No point biting off more than you can swallow. You don’t want to end up like the lion in the video below who is beating an undignified retreat while being chased by a frisky buffalo who badly wants to register his strong objections to being considered as the main course at the lion’s dinner.

Video credit: National Geographic via Youtube

Like I know enough not to chase after teen runners who flash by me as if I’m standing still. They carry little weight, and most of what they carry is muscle. You don’t want to tangle with them. Instead, I prefer to prey on the office-going crowd. Sitting behind a desk for long hours is the best way to get unfit.

Recruiting your pacemaker

Accordingly, I put my plan into action the next morning, My 5 km jogging circuit is basically two rounds around the local racecourse. There’s no sign of any prey for most of the first round, so I plod on gamely. I do make a brief one-minute pit stop at one of the open gyms to dash off a quick set of pull-ups, or maybe it was semi pull-ups (it admittedly comes a bit easier when you have spent your childhood climbing trees at your family farm).

However, my luck changes around the 2 km mark. A jogger pulls past me. I take a close look at him. He’s around my weight and height, and though he’s running a fair bit faster than me, he looks to be at my level. What catches my eye is the strained look on his face. Looks like he’s pushing himself, and won’t have much left in his tank to accelerate if he finds me chasing after him. So if I can keep up with him, while running within myself, I should be able to enjoy the pleasure of showing him a clean pair of heels when I sprint up off for the last 200m of my run.

I must confess to a sadistic streak. That last stretch of my run is an uphill bit where most runners naturally slow down, and my pacemakers are usually taken by surprise when I take off. Even if they make a valiant attempt to catch me, most run out of steam quickly. Some even suffer the humiliation of being forced to slow down to a walk to catch their breath.

This is where choosing the right prey is vital. If they have enough gas left in their tank, the whole thing can backfire, and I would be the one huffing and puffing in their wake. That’s because I’m not much of a sprinter and it’s easy to catch me. I admit this strategy of launching my attacks on uphill stretches is a devilish one. Not surprisingly, I picked it up from that Champion of Crooked Cyclists, the one and only Lance Armstrong.

Anyway, my choice of a pacemaker was perfect on this day. He accelerates to try to shake me off, but I grimly hang on around 10m behind him. Bob Marley ‘Jamming’ away on my headphones helps. It’s hard work, but I grit my teeth as I know it’s what I need to pick up my pace to 6min/km for the rest of my run.

As usual, I pick up my pace for the last 500m uphill stretch and do a sub-6 minute kilometre. My poor pacemaker who is pooped by now doesn’t know what hit him when I casually glide past.

I usually warm down after my run in a little park at the top of the incline just off the jogging track. From my vantage point, I can observe without being observed. As I get down to my push-ups (the last bit of my makeshift HIIT routine), I see my guy jogging by with a disconsolate look on his face. For a moment, I feel a pang of pity. But then I tell myself the experience is good for his soul, and he will probably emerge from it a better runner.

©babulous

As for me, I managed to knock off more than a minute from the timing of my last run. Not bad for the first day of shanghaiing pacemakers.

Do unto others…

As karma would have it, I get a taste of my own medicine the very next day. My first kilometre is usually a slow 7 minutes plus. I take it easy till I warm up to avoid the risk of aggravating an ache into an actual injury.

Anyway, I have run barely 500m when I pass a stocky muscular guy with bulging calves. This usually indicates a good runner, but he seems to be struggling today. A couple of moments later, I hear footsteps coming up behind me. It’s Mr Muscles. He seems to have caught a second wind and gives me a dirty look as he passes me.

Damn, my turn to be hijacked. Mr Muscles has just appointed me as his personal pacemaker.

I could pretend to be one of the ‘caught up in my private hell’ types. But this is my day to be silly. I pick up the gauntlet Mr Muscles has thrown down, and chase after him. But he builds up a lead and speeds up every time I tried to catch up. After 200m, Mr Muscles abruptly completes his run, and struts victoriously around the side of the track with a smirk on his face.

That’s it? A 200m race? I curse under my breath. Nothing I can do. It’s a case of ‘All’s fair in love and jogging.’

I give Mr. Muscles the side-eye as I go past him and continue on my way.

Sensors aren’t always sensible

After running another 50 m, I reach the open gym and drop in for my quick set of pull-ups. Joggers usually don’t this midway through a run. It upsets our breathing rhythm. My reasoning for doing is not very reasonable. But for what it’s worth, I find it very boring to work with weights or bodyweight. This way, that workout gets over in less than a minute. However, I wouldn’t recommend mixing the two exercises as it messes up your run. More on that below.

There’s one other complication with my unorthodox ‘pull-ups’ break. My run is tracked by my Runtastic app, which uses my iPhone’s motion sensor. In theory, the app should sense when I stop running and pause the clock. But in this case, Runtastic mistakes the motion of my ‘pull-ups’ for running and doesn’t pause the clock during my ‘pull-ups’ break. This means my actual time is approximately a minute less than Runtastic’s clock. Maybe more, because it takes me another kilometre to get my breathing back in rhythm, and pick up my pace to what it was before my ‘pull-ups’ break.

Your best competitor is your own self

As I run along, trying to smooth my ragged breathing post the gym break, my Runtastic app decides to join the fun. The app has a feature by which it announces my timing at every kilometre I complete. It informs me that my first kilometre was done in 6.46 minutes. That catches my attention as I’m usually 7+ minutes for the first kilometer. Is today my day?

I don’t know if it’s an adrenalin kick-in from chasing after Mr Muscles, but my aches seem to have disappeared. Bruce Springsteen comes on with “Hungry Heart’ on my headphones. I’m not sure about my heart, but I do have a hunger to get a good time today. So I push up my pace a bit more, and keep going. At the 2 km mark, Runtastic tells me I’m below the 13 minute mark.

There’s no pacemaker in sight. Suddenly I realise I don’t need one today. I’m racing the clock. On the dot, LSD decides to pep me up with ‘Thunderclouds.’ Nothing like a thumping number to get my legs moving, my elbows pumping, and my feet ankling (a kind of little push with the ball of my feet at every step which I hope will eke out a little extra speed).

I’m definitely feeling an adrenalin buzz because I run the third kilometer even faster than the last one. I maintain my pace till I touch the 5km mark when Runtastic informs me to my surprise that I’m still below the 28-minute mark. Oh, what might have been! My run is actually is around 200m more than 5km. I hare it off down the last stretch and finish that bit in less than a minute.

Touch ID goofs up

With the run done, I desperately swipe at my phone to stop the clock. But the phone won’t register my sweaty finger (it’s similar to what happens when you try to swipe a wet touchscreen on a rainy day). It’s at times like this when I wish I have Face ID. I feverishly wipe my thumb dry on my shirt end and keep trying. Finally, the phone relents and lets me swipe the lock screen to the right. I scroll down to the Runtastic widget and hit the finish button. The clock halts at 30:10. Take away a minute for my ‘pull-ups’ break, and that makes it a 29-minute run. That’s just one minute off my record time.

Hey, Mr. Muscles, I owe you a big ‘thank you.’

©babulous

I think I could have beaten my all-time record if I had pushed just a bit harder, as I wasn’t really going all out, except for the last 200m. Never mind, there will always be a tomorrow. For now, my body aches, but my mind is at peace.

The Aftermath

The next day, reality kicks in. It wasn’t a particularly fast run, but it was fast by my standards. I hurt in places where I didn’t know I had muscles, like high up on the front inside of my thighs. My timings fall off. Sunday was when I got the 30-minute mark. By Wednesday I’m back to 34:27 minutes.

That evening, I stub my little toe and hurt its nail, and decide to take a day off from running. That’s when I realise I have been running three weeks without a break, and that may be why I’m aching. Looks like I have been getting a bit too paranoid about timings. I definitely have to take Thursday off, and I do.

©babulous

This morning, I’m back on the jogging track and my timing improves a shade. But what catches my eye is something else. I’ll be touching the 4000km lifetime mark in a couple of days. That means I have run as much as the distance from the top to the bottom of India, or from coast to coast in the US.

That’s a nice thought which will keep me going for a while.

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