The Short Version
After Covid-19 lockdowns and eating porridge every morning my weight ballooned to 138kg. I needed to do something. I ate healthier, I started cycling again, and then I took up running. A bloke on Twitter called Bogues got me onto Zone 2 training. Then I entered a few races including the Virtual City2Surf with Melina, Hawks Nest Sprint Triathlon with Neil and Jenn and the SMH Half Marathon. Now I’m a few days away from toeing the line for my first marathon on the Gold Coast.
The Long Version
In the last few months I’ve joked on Bats and Balls Podcast that the show has become more about sim racing and running than about NRL, AFL, and other sports. In part that’s because our lives have drifted that way. I can’t speak for The Producer and the fun he’s having playing GT7 but I can speak to the influence running and fitness in general have had on my life in the last year.
Since my teenage years I was always heavy. But as a teenager I was super fit. I left school at 100kg playing hours of basketball every day. I could dunk in Year 12. The following year I was in the Army and during Infantry School I ran an 18:30 5k at 105kg. That was probably the fittest I’ve ever been. I only did one year full time Army. Since then my weight has fluctuated even though I have consistently played sport. Basketball, cricket, soccer, I even played two seasons of Aussie Rules. More recently I have played Masters of Rugby League and I still play Basketball. But throughout that I also ate and drank a lot. And playing park level sport doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stay in peak physical fitness to be competitive.
Fast forward to 2021. Like half the population I’d spent my disposable income on a new bike because what else could we do with it? But after lockdowns and eating porridge for breakfast every morning, the bike was gathering dust in the garage after a few rides here and there.
3 April 2021
I stepped on the scales and it read 138.15kg. I’d been heavier. At one point I had blown out to 143kg before a concerted effort on the Man Shakes brought me back into line. But this time I drew the line at 138. I was feeling lethargic and just generally in a bad way physically and mentally.
The next day was Easter Sunday and I took the kids to Wylde MTB Park. Just played around on the pump track but it felt good to get the legs moving again after so long. The day after I went with Brendan and Erik to the Easter Monday game between Parramatta and Wests Tigers. Two days into this latest health kick I was keen to make a change. We parked for free far from Stadium Australia and I made the boys walk there with me. Then instead of the standard pie and sauce I had a Vegan Rainbow Bowl. Blody tasty stuff. I was away. But the exercise didn’t come quite as quick as the dietary changes.
I adjusted what I ate. Mostly just reduced carb intake and ate way less take away. It wasn’t a full on vegan diet or keto. I just ate less pizza and sandwiches. Dinner was often chicken breast cooked in the air fryer with broccoli and brussels sprouts. I often had Man Shake for breakfast. But none of this was hard and fast. Mostly I just made sure there were more vegetables than before. I stopped having porridge for breakfast every morning and started eating more eggs.
I began cycling again. My first ride was a 25km spin down to the M7 cycleway. That was about my limit. I noted on my Strava that I listened to Episodes 7 & 8 of FitBet Pod. It was around this time that I decided to only listen to FitBet on the bike. So every hour of cycling was equal to one hour of FitBet. And I wouldn’t let myself listen to the pod off the bike. The podcast had been going since 2018 as a $1000 bet between comedians Dilruk Jayasinha and Ben Lomas to see who could get under 100kg first. I found a lot of similarities between their stories and mine. And it was a big part of the motivation to keep going. There was a huge back catalogue so I had plenty of episodes to catch up on.
By July I had dropped around 15kg. The knees didn’t hurt as much after basketball. So I started running. My Strava calendar in July 2021 is balanced between cycling longer distances and short runs out to about 6km. I found an out and back 5km course which I used as my benchmark. 17 July 2021 – 31:39, 23 July 2021 – 32:10, 24 July 2021 – 30:54. It was around this time I posted something on Twitter and started DMing Bogues. He introduced me to the concept of Zone 2 training. I’d understood the idea of fat burning zone as exercise related to weight loss. The idea that a long fast walk was better than running fast for fat burning. But I’d never considered it for training. My first Zone 2 test resulted in 6.5km in 1 hour at 9:16/km. Turns out my HR was a little low averaging 124bpm. I started researching HR zones. That sent me down a YouTube wormhole I still haven’t emerged from. I think my ideal Zone 2 heart rate is in the range of 137-142bpm. Now I’m completely on board with training slow to run fast. If any of this sounds like something you want to try check out Phil Maffetone and give the Extramilest podcast a listen. They’re good starting points.
Then in August our suburb was locked down to exercise only 5km from home. No more long bike rides. And running in Zone 2 took on more importance. Bogues introduced me to the 2 Zoners. Just a motivational group of blokes who like to run and support each other. The Zone 2 runs continued and it was amazing how quickly my pace improved while running at the same heart rate. Not that pace matters that much when on an easy run. But I’m down around 6:25/km on my easy runs.
18 October 2021 – Virtual City2Surf
The first time I really had a chance to test out my training. The City2Surf was not run on course because of Covid-19 concerns. But you could still run a virtual race as a lot of other large runs around the world had done. Melina entered and I walked the entire course with her. She was battling to finish and I motivated her to the point of exhaustion but I was so proud when she completed the 14km walk. A few days later I ran my virtual race over the same course. I paced the race really well. Comfortably running the first 8km before slowly ramping up the pace over the final 6km. Finished the 14km in a time of 1:30:27 to earn my Virtual City2Surf finishers medal.
All of this exercise had me in a really good place mentally as well. I was so motivated that I earned a promotion at work. My first promotion in 22 years. By Boxing Day 2021 my 5km time was down to 27:33. I sold off all of my homebrew gear because I really don’t drink that much these days. That was a hobby I poured my heart into for a long time. I won awards at the national competition. But I just didn’t feel motivated to brew anymore. So I moved all my gear on to brewers still keen on the process. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a bath beer every now and then. But I drink way less than I used to. And that is a healthy thing.
March 19 2022 – Hawks Nest Triathlon.
Training progressed well and my mate Neil asked if I wanted to enter a triathlon. I’d never done one before but I entered the Sprint distance with Neil. Jenn her sister Booz and some trail running mates also entered. Jenn’s accomplishments in running over the years have been inspiring. Our suburb was out of extreme lockdowns so I could ride longer distances. I bought a used road bike off Facebook Marketplace which meant I didn’t have to ride my mountain bike with road tyres anymore. Compared to the tank of a MTB my used road bike was a sports car. Not quite the Ferrari of an Ironman bike. But a quick coupe at least. I even managed to get a couple of swims in. Though I didn’t do nearly enough swimming training. Hawks Nest Triathlon was a fun weekend in March. I stayed in the camper trailer next door to the transition area. As our Sprint distance race was the last of the day, we watched a few of the other races and soaked up the atmosphere. While I’ve swum all my life and could bob around in the surf all day I’ve never tried to swim out past the breakers. One of the turning buoys was right where the waves were forming and it took me three attempts to get around it. Then I was disorientated and wound up about 10m further out to sea than the rest of the competitors swimming in single file towards the next buoy. Eventually we turned and made it back to shore. Lungs were burning from the effort of the swim and I knew I had to settle it down a bit. I took my time in transition before heading out on the 20km bike ride. Neil was comfortably in front of me. I never expected to beat him but I did attempt to catch him or at least shorten the gap. All of that pushing on the bike had my calves pinging in the last 2km of the ride. By the 5km run I couldn’t stretch out and run at all. I basically ran the whole leg with my calves threatening to cramp at every step. But I did finish in a time of 1:42:25 with a 5km run time of 31:55. For the record, Neil finished it in 1:26:59.
May 15 2022 – SMH Half Marathon
Around the time I got talking to Bogues my ultimate goal was to run a full marathon. I think that was the basis of my first message to him. How to train for one. But one of the most significant events for me was racing the SMH Half Marathon around the streets of Sydney. I’d stretched my long runs out past 21.1km already. But I’d never run one at race pace. Always in easy training pace. The best part about racing the SMH Half was putting all the training and theory into practice in a race situation. The best lesson was race day preparation. Two weeks out from the SMH Half I ran a long run under fatigue. I was completely spent by the end of it. I had worked overnight shift and run 8km the day before. The following week I did the same run fully rested, nourished from a decent meal the day before and well hydrated. I also had my new hydration vest purchased to make long runs easier. That run was extremely confidence building with a strong last 5km just to test the legs out. I went into the SMH Half Marathon full of confidence. I set my Garmin Pace Pro strategy on my watch and ran close to my goal time of 2:10. I didn’t expect the course to be quite so hilly and that ended up slowing me down a fair bit. Looking at the results I did pace the race really well though. First half 1:06:53, Second half 1:10:17 for an overall time of 2:17:11. Of note my positions for each split: First half 5557, Second half 4686. That meant my pacing strategy worked and I could trust my training as long as I attempted an achievable pace.
Gold Coast Marathon
All of that has led to this next chapter. I don’t say final chapter because this fitness caper has become a lifestyle rather than training for one specific goal. My training is going well. A mate once told me that if you can get a training run out to 32km then the adrenalin and crowd will get you to the finish line of a full marathon. I managed to complete 5 laps of the Nepean river walk a few weeks ago thrown in with some car key issues which had my alarm going off every lap when I went for my hydration. But I did it. And the last kilometre was the fastest of the run. So my fitness is where I need it to be to finish a marathon. Last weekend I had one last confidence building run where I ran my virtual City2Surf course of 14km attempting to maintain race pace without looking at my watch. Each km lap when the watch buzzed I checked to see how the pace was compared to my goal pace of 6:15/km. I pretty much nailed it for a large chunk of the run. And then I finished off with a quick last 2km home and the legs had plenty left in them. Finished the course in 1:25:12 or 5 minutes faster than the Virtual City2Surf in October 2021. And that was at marathon pace, not racing for a fast 14km. After the SMH Half I’ve decided a confidence builder the weekend before the race is my way to go.
Weather forecast is for rain and a sourtherly wind. Which means the first 16km into a headwind, followed by 21km tailwind and a final 5km push into the breeze to finish it off. I love training out and back with a headwind first followed by a tailwind. One of my favourite training runs was a long run down along Botany Bay to Georges River into the headwind with a tailwind home. I’ve downloaded the course for Gold Coast Marathon to my watch and set the Pace Pro Strategy for 4:25:00 or around 6:13/km pace. I am confident I can run the time after all my training. But I won’t be afraid of slowing down if my body isn’t feeling that pace. I’ve done the work, now it’s time to put it into practice.
You may have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned weight for most of this post. That’s because weight hasn’t really factored into my thinking since I started getting fitter. For what it’s worth I’m sitting around 110-112kg most of the time. I feel ridiculously healthy though. If I could drop a few more kilograms that might make me faster on the bike so it’s not undesirable. But weight really hasn’t been my focus for a long time. My body is definitely carrying less fat. My legs are a lot stronger. And I think more important than all of that, I’m in a really good headspace. I have a positive outlook on most things these days. Though the Parramatta Eels, GWS Giants and New York Knicks test me on a weekly basis.
If you’ve got anything out of this please consider donating to my Gold Coast Marathon donation page. I’m raising money for PanKind – The Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. We lost Mum 8 years ago to Pancreatic Cancer. So it’s a charity that is close to my heart.
Maybe try an ultra in the bush. Almost certainly another triathlon to slay the demons of the surf. And then, who knows?