I’ve fallen into the clutches of a challenge again!
You’d have thought by this stage in my life that I’d have outgrown the whole “I dare you” thing. And in truth, I have. I’m doing it because at some level it works for me. That is to say that at some level, I want to do it. That raises the uncomfortable realisation that what happens next is nobody’s fault but my own and the question “what is wrong with you?”
The challenge is simple enough. From 10th November to Christmas Eve (44 days) you have to complete 30 Half-marathons (21,097m) on the indoor rower or Skierg. Simple, not easy.
Fear not gentle reader, this isn’t interfering with the latest 100 day burpee ladder (last day 9th December). Granted I don’t think anybody has ever climbed off a rower and thought “Yeah, I know what would be belting right about now. 80 burpees.” Even if they’ve done said Half-marathon as slowly as I have.
I was supposed to be in the home run towards a strongman competition in December too. My back and hips went a little bit squiffy at the beginning of November. The burpees? I still got them done. I won’t lie, they hurt but pretty much just compulsive behaviour. Obviously, with an iffy lower back the sensible thing to do is to chuck yourself into an activity which has a bad reputation for impact on the spine [Incidentally, while it has the potential to, I think that it is no more guaranteed than squatting/knees and deaflifts/back - yep, you’re exposed to circumstances but it is what you do in them which is the difference that makes a difference].
And that was one of the arguments that I tried to run with myself when I was trying to head off this nonsense at the pass. It went something like this:-
Are we going to…
Stop right there. I know what you’re going to say.
Yeah, but to be honest, it would be kind of cool to say you’ve done it.
OK it might be, but you know you’re not an endurance person.
I know but you could build endurance through the challenge.
Truuue but my PB is 1hr27 odd. Where am I going to find more than 1hr30 per night?
And I went round and round on this and broadly decided that, in conjunction with the burpees and the lifting, it would be really self-indulgent to throw myself into this.
Now, I may have mentioned before that my wife is awesome. We were out in the car when I mentioned this special kind of lunacy and how I’d ruled it out. She didn’t reach straight for the streamers and bunting but rather started talking about how it might work.
So, there I was. Green light of support. So I mapped it out. 3 days on, 1 day off and some minor movements to allow for events I knew I had coming. Did I think I’d crack 30? Not at all. This isn’t modesty, false or otherwise. The simple fact is that with only 7 lifetime Half-marathons under my belt (and the first of those took over two hours!) I have absolutely no right to expect that I can do this. History not enough for you? How about a glance at the more recent form guide? Well, since the start of the C2 year (1st May) I had rowed a colossal 307,698m. (Not exactly flying given that the Crazy Bear total is 632,910m). Of that time, there were only two weeks where my total surpassed a solitary HM.
But, while those are the ingredients for a short recipe, the good news is that I stand to gain so much more from trying this. And, low expectations make for low performance but I am motivated to see what happens. And on that basis each new HM is going to be an achievement.
Time has flown since I started writing this in my journal. I’m now 20 Half-marathons to the good in this lunacy. Touch wood, I am feeling, for the most part, pretty good on it. The downside is that some “gastric distress” put paid to my entry to Nailsworth’s Winter Strongest. I’m gutted that I didn’t have the stomach for it[!] - while I’m not an overtly confident individual, the squat event had my name written all over it. more than that, I let down a team-mate and brother in iron and missed, by all accounts, another very well organised and tightly contested day. [As an aside, if you’re in Gloucestershire and looking for training advice, look up Liam and Doug at www.nailsworthstrengthandfitness.co.uk Nice set-up and two experienced guys with a breadth of experience of clients and circumstance; more than that, they’re great blokes too]
Let’s return to the challenge. The first one took me 1hr 39min 23sec and was pretty horrible. The second night was worse, I ached and was stiffer than I believed was reasonable given the lack of pace of the first. The most striking thing about it though was the almost tear-inducing boredom. 1hr 43 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back! Although it did seem so much longer than that, so maybe I should be grateful! At any point, during or after, I could quite happily have climbed off, folded up the erg, walked away and returned to my life. But, for a serial underachiever I really don’t like to take a fall! I’ve never been dominant; neither the strongest, nor the fastest, nor the fittest in any endeavour but I have always tried to make sure that my opponent has to work if he is going to defeat me. It’s a form of self-flagellation really! All of which is a long way of saying that clearly I returned for number 3!
I took this one as an interval session, alternating fast(er) and slow(er) kilometre stretches. I had to do something to make it much more me, and the degree of palatability suggests that this worked for me. And turning in a time three minutes faster than day 1 and seven minutes faster than day 2 was quite pleasing.
And then I had a day off rowing. One of the great unknowns in this venture was going to be how my body responded to the repeated efforts. One way of combatting that was not to try to hammer it as hard as I could. To be honest, I can only see that going badly as I burn out too early
(Austin Powers: Goldmember - probably not really suitable for work or impressionable children. This will take you to the relevant part)
and while I swear that never happens, it is a danger in both the individual runs and the overall challenge. And so, I’ve been conservative, for the most part just aiming to slowly nudge a bit more pace on the day before while keeping the heart rate under control - trying for a slightly faster finish.
After a run of six interval sessions I swapped back to the steady state, or at least as steady as somebody like me will be. I have mostly seen progress but have had a couple of disappointing rows. One of those was row 15. The halfway mark. It wasn’t one of the harder rows. In fact, it was frustrating because I picked the wrong row to pace against and consequently missed what I felt was achievable for the night. It hit me afterwards that the fact that I was disappointed with a 1hr 28 row told me how far I had come in the first couple of weeks! On that note, I have achieved a new PB twice so far.
I saw one of the lads from the rugby club I used to coach the other day. He asked me if there is ever a time where I go more than a couple of months without being involved in some sort of challenge. Oh how we laughed!
The truth I’ve come to realise is that I need the structure. Goals in the way that most people know them, don’t do it for me. I have a problem with stage 1 - the identification of something that I want in order to work for it. With one or two exceptions, I always have. I picked up the nickname “Tank” when I was mucking around with MMA. The belly and beard helped with the comparison but also the affinity for just sliding off the (in his case bar-) stool to compete, and compete hard without doing much of the due diligence before. I am too easily distracted if left to my own devices. The beauty of the challenge approach is that, to a large extent, it lends itself to a process focus. Burpee ladder? It’s not 100 days or 5,050 burpees - although, of course, it is. It’s actually a binary thing - “today’s burpees - Yes or No?” Two “No”s in a row and you’re done. The Crazy Bear is a little more free form but with 30 sessions and 44 days, it breaks down quite nicely.
I would start thinking about what happens next, I mean, there’s only 10 more to go. Well, I have caught myself thinking about it, especially with the disappointment of the missed event today. But, even then, it is not hard to bring myself back to the here and now - I have another HM tomorrow after all.
Until next time.