I ran my first half marathon after training for just one month. Here’s why you shouldn’t

The idea of running a half-marathon had been swimming around in my head ever since I completed my first 10-km run in January 2015. I clocked 76 minutes to run 10 km – nowhere near an impressive timing considering the guy who won that race had finished in an absurd 33 minutes or so. But it was an achievement for me, nonetheless, considering I had never run more than five kilometres in my life before that.

A half marathon was still a long way off at that point. I knew that I had to first finish a 10-km run in 60 minutes or less to even think about running 21.097 km. Later that year, in December 2015, I participated in a couple more 10-km runs in Mumbai, but did not manage to better my timing. It wasn’t surprising since I had not trained for them for more than a month prior to the race. Even for a 10-km run, you need to train for at least two months to be able to do decently well. But in spite of my below-average performance, I decided to make it a New Year’s resolution to participate in a half marathon in the next running season, which meant I had about a year to prepare for it.

The preparation (or lack of)

2016 was a busy year for me, both professionally and personally – I was getting married in December. I took some time out to run whenever possible and had some weeks where I exercised at least thrice, but those were few and far between. In August, I came across a post on Facebook where an NGO was offering some charity bibs for the Mumbai Half Marathon on January 15, 2017. What I had to do was pay a flat sum of Rs 17,000 upfront to the charity and then raise that money myself by promoting it. I was never going to qualify for the Mumbai Marathon myself, with my 76-minute 10ks. So, this was the only way I could do it. It was a risk, considering I had six months to train for it, which is not a lot, and there was no guarantee I would raise the complete sum of my donation. But I decided to bite the bullet, telling myself that it would be a good challenge and motivation to run. Plus, I was doing it for a good cause.

I found myself a beginners’ half-marathon training plan online, which was for 20 weeks – perfect for me. I was really motivated and told all my friends and family about it, and they gladly helped me kickstart my fundraising. However, my 20-week training schedule went for a toss after just a fortnight. In mid-October, I went to Thailand with my friends for my bachelor trip. On a quiet beach in Phuket, I vowed to myself that I would restart my training in full vigour once I return home. Six months were now down to three, but better late than never, I thought. As Diwali came and went, I managed to raise nearly half of the Rs 17,000. I also bought myself a book called Run Your Butt Off!, which taught me to set myself weekly running targets. I was back on track…sort of.

Back to square one

However, by the middle of November, I was back to square one again as wedding preparations kicked in. By the end of the month, I was off for a three-week wedding-cum-honeymoon break. When I was back in mid-December, I had just about a month left for the marathon. It was too late to do anything, but I still restarted my running. In the last two weeks before the race, I ran for five kilometres and clocked 10,000 steps almost every weekday, with some help from a daily step-goal challenge between friends. If this was a 5-km run, I would ace it. If it was a 10-km run, I would probably do the same as I had done three times earlier. But this was 21 km and I was nowhere near prepared.

As D-day arrived, my goal was to just finish the race. I had just over three hours to do it. As I left home at an unearthly hour to make it in time for the 5.40 am start, I considered leaving my cell phone behind, lest I got tempted to book an Uber after five kilometres to take me home. In the taxi to the race venue, my best friend, who had run at least a dozen half marathons and had a personal best timing of somewhere around one hour and 45 minutes, sensed my nervousness and told me to take it easy. “I’m sure you’ll complete it,” he said. “I’ve seen people who were lesser prepared than you who have completed it.” That gave me some confidence.

I had already walked more than three kilometres that morning to reach my section of the crowd behind the starting line. There were at least 15,000 participants and I was right at the back along with other first-timers and corporate-sponsored runners. I saw the official pacers with 2h30, 2h40, 2h50 and 3h flags attached to their backs. If I could do 10 km in 76 minutes, or 1h16, I should be able to do 21 km in 2h40, theoretically. Even if I had to factor in fatigue, I thought I would definitely beat that old man who was the 3h pacer.

Waiting for the start
Waiting for the start

The first half

I decided not to follow any of the pacers as I had been advised to run at my own pace and not get influenced by others around me. As the race began, I jogged along at my own leisurely pace, watching the more enthusiastic and prepared runners brush past me. I had a four-hour-long playlist on my phone for company. Let’s do this!

As I ran past the one-km marker, my legs had already begun to ache, but I pushed on. I had set myself a target of running non-stop for at least 20 minutes to start the race before taking a breather. I pushed myself and managed 25 minutes, by when I had knocked off three kilometres. After that, I set myself a target to run for eight minutes and walk for two, and repeat. I managed it twice, before my legs forced me to revise it to six+two. By the time I finished six kilometres, 50 minutes had passed.

The first 10 km of the Mumbai half marathon are all on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the Worli sea-face. I expected a lot of sea breeze to slap my face and keep the sweat away, but I got no such assistance. I was anyway disappointed that the pleasant winter chill that had set in Mumbai over the last two weeks had suddenly disappeared, conveniently, the night before the race. So, when I crossed the starting line again, which marked the end of the first 10 km of the race, I was hot and exhausted. This was also when the 3h pacer – that old man who I was so sure I would beat – merrily passed me by, even exchanging a few high-fives with some of the full-marathoners who were running in the opposite direction on the other side of the road divider. I almost called an Uber.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPX9Vy1gdPC/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=7

The second half

The last half of the race saw me walk most of the way, as each part of my lower body slowly gave in one-by-one. By the 11-km mark, my calves had given in and didn’t allow me to run more than 500 metres. By the time I reached the Haji Ali junction, around 13 km in, my quadriceps had given in, further reducing my running distance to 200 metres. By the time I reached Girgaum Chowpatti, the 16 km mark, my toes started cramping up if I ran even 50 metres. By the time I reached Marine Drive, for the last three kilometres of the race, my hamstrings had given in and I was near crawling.

But I did not stop. Not once. Along the way, I saw many co-participants stop by the side of the road to stretch their legs and arms. I knew that if I did that, I would want to do it more and more. The only place where I stopped momentarily was on Peddar Road, an uphill stretch of about two kilometres, where some race volunteers were giving runners ice packs to apply on their legs. That was bliss.

As I reached the milestone that said I had only the last 200 metres to go, I pushed my body into finishing with a run. It was the most painful 200 metres I had ever run, with every muscle in my legs almost non-existent, but I managed to do it without a break and without collapsing. I had done it. Almost three-and-a-half hours in, but I had done it. Twenty-one kilometres running, jogging, walking, almost crawling, but without stopping. I had kept my New Year’s resolution, even if it was only just.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPZ37owh0Uz/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=7

Do not try this at home

However, even though this was an achievement for me, I would not recommend the way I did it to anyone. The fact is: I was severely under-prepared. I took nearly three-and-a-half hours to finish. The winner took just over an hour. That’s not to say I was targeting to win, but it’s still a difference of two-and-a-half hours. The last 10 km of my half marathon were not fun. I saw ambulances rush past me at least five times. Later, I saw pictures on social media of people being stretchered off after fainting. It could so easily have been me.

My advice: Do not enrol for a half marathon until you can clock 10 km in 60 minutes or less. That’s my New Year’s resolution for this year. And even if you do enrol, please do not leave yourself with just one month to prepare for it. Give it at least six months, proper, if not more. Otherwise, you will not enjoy the experience, which is the whole point behind taking up running in the first place.

5 Pro Tips on Moving Up to Ultras

Ultrarunner/ski mountaineer Meredith Edwards knows a thing or two about going long distances in the mountains. The 32-year-old from Wilson, Wyo., finished second at the 2016 TDS, a 119-kilometer trail race through the heart of the Alps in parts of Italy, Switzerland and France. In 2015, she finished eighth in the 101K CCC race held on similar trails. This year she has her sights set on the 170K Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc on Sept. 1-2. Here are Edwards’ tips on how to successfully jump into ultrarunning.

RELATED: Overcoming the Myths of Ultrarunning

1. Start slow.

“Run 50Ks,” says Edwards, who laments that too many people pick a 50-miler, 100K or even a 100-miler for their first foray into ultrarunning. Take time to build a base over 6 to 8 months, focusing on gradually increasing your weekly long runs runs to 3 to 6 hours in length and on trails, if possible. “I think it’s smart to start slow,” she says, “to build a solid foundation.”

2. Learn to recover.

“If you can’t recover just as hard as you put the effort in, you’re screwed,” says Edwards, who explains the importance of running fast on the days you need to run fast, and on the days that you’re just out putting in mileage, to run a relaxed effort. Edwards says she often runs with heart rate as her gauge, and warns that runners who think they need to be running fast all the time might see success for a month, but often burn out.

3. Get Stronger.

Edwards, who’s proud to say she can deadlift twice her bodyweight and do five conventional weighted pull-ups (with 15 pounds in tow), is a huge proponent of strength training—and full-body movements in particular. The most important thing is building functional strength—by strengthening the muscle groups related to your running motion. “My strength coach always says, ‘Strength equals speed over time.’ You need to be strong to run fast over distance.” Edwards credits her strength training for helping her stay injury-free.

4. Eat. A lot.

Edward’s regular diet is what she calls “as clean as possible,” in other words, free of processed foods. The trend is to reduce carbs and focus more on protein and fat, but she recommends doing what works for you. “When I want bread, I’ll buy a baguette. I don’t limit what I eat.” During ultras, she relies on gels, chews, waffles and soup. And she explains how she and ultrarunner friend Jim Walmsley joke that “ultrarunning is an eating contest. I eat every 30 minutes during a race.” As an added tip, train with whatever fuel you’re going to race with, and if your system doesn’t agree with it, change things up and try again.

5. Break up the week.

Edwards believes in a structured week . She typically fits a track workout, two weight training workouts, two high-mileage days and some recovery runs all into a typical week of training during ultrarunning season. On Mondays, when she does up to 12 miles of speed work on the track, she hits the gym afterward (so the running workout was the emphasis of her week). She returns to the gym on Wednesdays, sometimes before a running effort, like hill repeats on trail. Tuesdays and Thursdays are recovery runs. Fridays and Saturdays are long runs (back-to-back high mileage). Sundays are days off. The formula has worked for her. “I’m at a point where I’m making gains, and not lifting to repair injuries,” she says. “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, and the fastest I’ve ever been. It’s all kind of come together.”

Read more at http://running.competitor.com/2017/01/trail-running/5-pro-tips-moving-ultras_161120#MLgEIwexiKs7Ih3R.99

 

By Lisa Jhung, Published Jan. 19, 2017,

Fourteen of Australia’s best places to run

Running is a beautiful and highly personal experience, but let’s face it, most of us would prefer to pound out the kilometers on a scenic coastal path or winding bush track than a city street or industrial estate.

If you’ve ever wanted to expand your running horizons, here are 14 amazing runs around Australia sourced from personal experience, that of fellow runners, race directors and the ever-useful Cool Running forums.

There’s a combination of road and trail runs, the latter often the most scenic and sometimes technically challenging. If you want to impress an overseas visitor, or you’re heading interstate for a holiday and want to build some good runs into your itinerary, read on.

Remember if you take to the trails, dress appropriately for weather changes, especially in winter, take your own hydration source and some back-up nutrition.

Just as importantly, purchase running shoes from a retailer such as The Athlete’s Foot that will keep your goals and running style in mind when determining the best fit, brand and style.

Queensland

Mount Coot-tha.Mt Coot-tha

Just 5km from the Brisbane CBD, Mt Coot-tha has 18.5 kilometres of tracks ideal for running. Start from either JC Slaughter Falls or Simpson Falls picnic areas. The river city is also well endowed with shared bike paths so if you’re staying in the CBD, it’s easy to drop onto a path for a scenic river run away from traffic.

Noose Heads.Noosa National Park

Start from Main Beach on Hastings Street and follow the timber boardwalk to the entrance to the National Park and then onwards via the coastal Tanglewood track out to Hells Gates and back via the inland bush track for a total run of about 10km. For a longer run continue on to Alexandria Bay.

NSW

Manly Cove.Spit to Manly

In Sydney, the Spit to Manly 10km run starts at the Spit Bridge in Mosman’s Middle Harbour and ends at Manly Cove. It’s a combination of track and road plus a bit of beach, easy to follow and with views all the way. Take your camera and finish in Manly for breakfast/lunch.

Oaks Fire Trail.Blue Mountains

Park at Glenbrook, catch the train to Woodford and then run the Oaks Fire Trail back down. It’s 25km, with the final 11km downhill to Euroka camping ground, which is about 5km from Glenbrook station.

Centennial ParkCentennial Park, Paddington

You can do the 3.6km internal loop that follows the road and runs parallel with the horse-riding track, or follow the park perimeter for a quieter, more peaceful run through a variety of vegetation and wetlands.

Royal National ParkRoyal National Park

The Royal in Sydney’s south is a trail fiend’s paradise, and the jewel in the running crown is the 26km Coast Track that stretches from the village of Bundeena in the north to Otford in the south. You can do the whole thing in one hit but, be warned, there are some significant climbs that will test the fittest. Alternatively, break it up into sections and enjoy the mix of cliff tops, beaches, open grasslands and forest. Carry your own water and food.

Victoria

tmm, may, 2013, fitness, pic by daniel mahon
The Tan, South YarraThe Tan

In Melbourne, the 3.8km Tan track is mostly forgiving packed dirt, predominantly flat and starts near the Swan Street Bridge. It follows a scenic route along the Yarra River, and skirts the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Kings Domain with options to divert and add some distance. It’s close to CBD hotels without hitting much traffic.

Mount Oberon.Wilsons Promontory

The Prom National Park’s Mount Oberon summit track is a 6.8km return route with a mixture of some steep sections and steps. The summit view is of the southernmost point of Australia’s mainland. Start from Telegraph Saddle car park.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Kings Park.Kings Park

The Perth CBD landmark has myriad trails, not to mention Jacob’s Ladder – 250 steps of fun climbing, rewarded with great views and a sense of being well away from the city when in fact you’re not.

Lake MongerLake Monger Reserve

Has a 10.4km flat track through picturesque wetlands. It’s less than 5km from Perth with ample parking.

South Australia

Glenelg beach pier.Glenelg

On the coast just 11km from the Adelaide CBD. Catch a tram there and run the 8km loop, following the coast path from Glenelg Pier to Brighton Beach. Plenty of good cafes and diversionary options along the way.

Tasmania

Mount Wellington.Mount Wellington

The mountain behind Hobart has many running tracks easily reachable by car from the CBD. You can follow the road for 22km to the summit, or take the many fire trails or walking tracks. Try the 7km Springs to Lenah Valley route.

Northern Territory

Mindil Beach, Darwin.Darwin

The Esplanade at dusk offers spectacular sunset views, and on to Mindil Beach to a bike track that follows the coast to the East Point Reserve, about 10km from the city.

ACT

Lake Burley Griffin.

Lake Burley Griffin

The perimeter shoreline is 40km, but the run around it can be abbreviated or easily added to. It’s an all-bitumen shared pathway, nearly all flat, and passes by national institutions such as the High Court and the National Portrait Gallery.

The article is sponsored by The Athlete’s Foot, now stocking the New Balance 1260v5.

Pip Coates|Jul 9 2015

Inspiring! This Marathoner wants you to break free

Partially paralysed, but with unbreakable will power and determination, Nihad Panju has beaten the odds to become a fitness freak and is all set to run his 4th Mumbai Marathon on Sunday.

The 26 year old tells Rediff.com‘s Norma Godinho he wants to inspire people to believe in themselves and pursue their passions.

Nihad Panju at the 2016 Mumbai Marathon IMAGE: Nihad Panju at the 2016 Mumbai Marathon. Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju/Facebook

If thought about deeply, a lot of parallels can be drawn between living our lives and running a marathon.

As we grind our way through the journey of life we set ourselves a few goals to attain, and in our attempt to reach those targets we often stumble upon small and big challenges en route — we recognise them, work on them and then fight them.

Running a marathon is based on more or less the same basics — knowing your target, preparing for the run in earnest, setting the pace and completing the race no matter the weather, the track.

It’s the simple principle of mind over matter.

That is the very principle on which Mumbai lad Nihad Panju has based his life — and it is no ordinary life.

This is an extraordinary story of a young man who was left partially paralysed at just 5 months of age, but has not allowed that to hinder his progress in carving a well-rounded personality.

Nihad, who will be running his 4th Half Marathon at the Mumbai Marathon on Sunday, hopes to better his timing — he completed the run in 3 hours, 25 minutes last year.

An ever-smiling face and optimistic in his approach, Nihad reveals how his Marathon journey started: “In 2011, a group from the gym (at the Cricket Club of India where he trains) were training for the 2012 Mumbai Marathon. I was motivated on seeing their dedication. My gym trainer Rustom Warden seeded the idea of long distance running and I decided to give it a shot. His inputs helped and motivated me and I trained for the Half Marathon in the general category.”

Nihad’s story then veers to the part we are more or less aware of regarding society’s treatment of people with disabilities.

“Except for family and friends, most people were discouraging. But determination kept me focussed on my target and I completed the Standard Chartered Mumbai Half Marathon not only in 2012, but also in 2013 and 2016,” the articulate lad says with a hint of pride in his voice.

But getting to this juncture in life, decorated with success and laughter, was not the smoothest ride for the Panjus.

Misfortune struck the family when at 5 months of age, Nihad was diagnosed with TB Meningitis. He had to go through surgery that left him with left-sided Hemiplegia (partial paralysis).

Nihad Panju IMAGE: At the end of four-and-a-half years of following a programme by The Institute for The Achievement of Human Potential, Nihad became ‘physically fit, physiologically stronger than many and intellectually at level with my peers.’ Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju/Facebook

Nihad’s parents held on to every thread of hope they could and tried every form of conventional/unconventional therapy they heard of, with little or no success.

The Universe Maker then finally smiled on the Panjus when at age 10 Nihad started a programme prescribed by the Philadelphia-based Institute for The Achievement of Human Potential for which he had to be pulled out of school (till the 3rd standard he studied in St Mary’s ICSE, Mazgaon, south Mumbai).

It was a holistic programme covering physical, physiological, nutritional and intellectual aspects which involved diet and respiration.

He was on the programme from age 10 to 14 years and had to be home schooled. Nihad’s mother worked with him on the programme 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week and was permitted no holidays. Those were lonely, painful days of hard work.

But they received solace as Nihad’s health gradually progressed.

“The programme made a huge difference to my condition and at the end of four-and-a-half years I was physically fit, physiologically stronger than many and intellectually at level with my peers,” explains Nihad.

The programme worked wonders such that, at that point he was confident enough to go back to school — he attended the Mercedes Benz International School, Pune, for two years and then completed his IGCSE through the British Council, Bombay and Symbiosis International School, Pune.

Determined to stand on his feet, at age 18, Nihad gained admission to the Raffles Design Institute, Singapore where he lived by himself.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Interactive Multimedia Design and went on to complete a 3-year course at the Raffles campus in Mumbai and then worked in the fields of branding and design.

Nihad, who now assists his father in running a consulting practice, says he owes a lot to the programme, where he also learnt the importance of physical fitness.

Not letting his condition get in his way, Nihad pushed himself to better his fitness and worked with his trainer Rustom Warden at the gym.

Nihad’s regular visits to the gym resulted in a budding friendship with Rustom, under whose guidance he blossomed into a fitness freak.

IMAGE: Nihad Panju, right, and his gym instructor Rustom Warden train at the CCI in Mumbai. Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad PanjuNihad Panju (right) and his gym instructor Rustom Warden train at the CCI Grounds in MumbaiIMAGE: At the end of four-and-a-half years of following a programme by The Institute for The Achievement of Human Potential, Nihad became ‘physically fit, physiologically stronger than many and intellectually at level with my peers.’ Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju/Facebook

And Rustom swears by his ward’s grit.

“He has got more confident in the last 7 years. His will power is great. To complete an 18 km run sometimes takes 3 hours. You have to understand that anyone with a brain injury has poor pulmonary function. His breathing is affected substantially, his breathing at rest is like when one is sprinting so you can imagine how it is when he is actually running, that is the determination he has.”

“Everyday is different for him. Running till he’s exhausted. He wants to overexert and I have to keep him on a leash. This is his 7th half marathon (January 2017). It’s phenomenal,” Rustom says in awe.

No physical limitation could stop Nihad from trying a hand at other sports — golf, table tennis and lawn tennis were other sports he dabbled in.

Nihad’s exceptional drive is measured by the pains he had to undergo to become an athlete.

He has had a few accidents in the gym, but his family trusts Rustom.

“I have used Nihad as a guinea pig, experimenting with different methods and techniques. Because of the misalignment in his body I had to try something different. I had to focus on exercises to improve and strengthen his hand, elbow, legs, fingers; often experimenting with various forms of intervention. I had to keep in mind that Nihad uses the right side of his body optimally,” says Rustom.

The gym sessions were good, but Nihad’s potential as a distance runner came to fore when he decided to join the gym members’ running group.

“We planned a 7 km run and I did not expect Nihad to complete it. People around Nihad said he would not be able to do it and that was all he needed to psyche him up,” recalls Rustom.

“Most of the time we go running together and I remember this one time at the Singapore Half Marathon, Nihad was cramping from the 16th kilometre. But I was amazed from where Nihad got this sudden burst of energy and completed the marathon,” the 36-year-old trainer recalls.

Detailing the routines that involve Nihad’s training, Rustom says his will power is infectious and nothing is impossible for Nihad, who has a varied programme every day.

Nihad says he runs 'because it gives me joy and a sense of achievement having beaten stiff odds. I have a passion for running and encouraging others to remain healthy' IMAGE: Nihad says he runs ‘because it gives me joy and a sense of achievement having beaten stiff odds. I have a passion for running and encouraging others to remain healthy.’ Photograph: Kind courtesy Nihad Panju

“He trains and runs so much, some days it takes time for his legs to go back to normal. Boot camps, lunges, push ups, free hand exercises, core exercise, even the plank on one hand, crunches with one hand below his back, squats, squat jumps are things he does without a trouble,” says Rustom.

Wanting to make his life an example unto others, Nihad has run the Standard Chartered Mumbai Half Marathon in 2012, 13, 16, the Auroville (10 kms) Trail Marathon in 2012, the Poona Half marathon in 2013, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Dream Run in 2015, the Standard Chartered Half Marathon Singapore in 2015 and the 10km Adventure Beyond Barriers Run in 2016. Pune Running Beyond Myself – Adventures beyond Barriers – 2016.

An inductee into the Nike Runners Club, he has also run for Cancer Awareness — the Terry Fox Run in 2012 and 2016 in Bombay, The St Jude India Child Care Centre Footsteps 4 Good 2016.

With the physical and other obstacles he has breached, Nihad says, “I run because it gives me joy and a sense of achievement having beaten stiff odds. I have a passion for running and encouraging others to remain healthy.”

Training for the Mumbai Marathon, Nihad runs 10 to 12 km once a week and shorter runs in between. His other methods of preparation includes cross training that involves an outdoor workout thrice a week and core/freehand exercises workouts at the gym twice a week.

Using his love for sport and running as a medium to inspire others, he has started a project called Run Strong which is in its infancy.

Nihad has a simple message, “There are so many people who do not know their potential and limit themselves because of externally imposed limitations. If I can do it, anyone can. Believe in yourself. Everybody is good at something and needs to find his/her own passion. Find, follow and focus on your passion.”

Summing up Nihad’s life and their relationship as a trinity of “God, me and him” working together, Rustom says, “Had Nihad been injury free, no misalignment of his body or had more time to practice, he would easily do the full marathon.”

 

Norma Godinho / Rediff.com

Making a game out of running

Let’s talk running. Wait, please come back. This time three years ago I bought a nice polyester T-shirt, laced up a crusty pair of trainers, started with tiny little five-minute jogs and worked up to 5K, 10K, half marathons and then the full marathon. The latter saw three of my toenails fall off and at one point was so painful it introduced me to the rare phenomenon of crying whilst moving.

I am 30, which if my friends group is anything to go by, seems to be the exact point in life us SEGA-addled kids collectively decide they definitely, absolutely must go and sign up to the London Marathon, a goal which proved even more motivating to my health than recalling the YouTube comments during my tenure as the fat one off GameSpot.

‘Reminds you of that fat kid at school whose face you just want to punch’ – Anonymous Internet Commenter, 2013.

Maybe the kids who grew up with the PlayStation 2 will have a completely different generational reaction, but it doesn’t surprise me that someone who spent childhood guiding a hedgehog around the world now seeks a similar sense of onward progression, although it’s a crying shame Hyde Park doesn’t have a loop-the-loop in sight. But I’ve found the objective-based structures of gaming in general translate particularly well to training for those famous distances – just a a few more speedwork sessions and you’ll level up dexterity!

It’s no surprise to see various developers seeking to harness all this in, you know, actual games. The most famous example here, outside of overly keen Pokemon Go players, is probably Zombies, Run!, essentially an audiobook metered out as you log mileage. There are more than a few hokey touches here, but it’s a very likable story – and you’ve got to hand it to them for the amount of ways they narratively justify the need for you, the mute protagonist known as Runner 5, to run.

On the other end of my scale: Burn your fat with me!!, a slightly creepy ‘moe’ anime partner who slowly becomes more enamored with you as you get better at sit-ups. I can’t tell you if the story ends with actual love, because I only bought the first chunk of the game while riding the night bus home after a heavy night and refuse to buy subsequent chapters because it’s rubbish. Still, I hope there’s at least one person out there who’s carved out a set of Cristiano Ronaldo abs off the back of it.

Most recent to the plate is Run an Empire, which just opened a second round of crowdfunding and is looking to launch globally in 2017. Perfectly placed for the onslaught of boxfresh trainers about to grace pavements in January, here you’ll be turning in mileage to ‘own’ real-world areas, which is sadly the closest most of us will get to the property ladder these days.

Regardless of which running game you pick up, you tend to end up in a similar place. My main haunt these days – and you’ll become intimately familiar with your nearest park when you pick up running – is Tooting Bec Commons. This little patch of ragged greenery in southwest London is poorly lit, cold and unwelcoming in the winter. In the summer it’s rammed full of roaming picnickers and mothers who treat their baby-stuffed prams with reckless disregard. This is my land and I, sadly, am its king.

It’s easy to see the potential appeal: Strava’s high-score leaderboards have been encouraging middle-aged cyclists to splat into the back of lorries for years now, so applying a similar idea (running loops both quickly and regularly) to an app makes sense. As someone who easily falls down the breadcrumb progression trail of virtually any multiplayer shooter, take it from me when I say it’s all too easy to gobble up this all-you-can-eat buffet of perceived progression. Give me a whiff of a shiny bauble on a virtual trophy cabinet and I’ll stay up until 3am repeating the same task endlessly for it.

Yet I find it hard to get attached here. The idea might be to gamify running, but running is surely gamified enough. Case in point: 23:47. 47:19. 1:50:54, 4:50:18. These numbers, my current personal bests for the 5k, 10k, half and full marathons, scroll through my memory like high scores from a 90s arcade cabinet. They’ve become my personal mental screensaver. Bettering them fuels the lacing up of trainers on a cold winter morning or bracing myself for a baking hot lunchtime lap in summer.

47:19 and 55:08. We both felt like champions.

Your numbers might be a lot better; if you’ve never run a day in your life you might think they’re quite impressive. Like many things I’ve discovered about adult life, it’s a case of perspective. What’s important is that they’re my times, and each one is the product of a lot of work. Beating those numbers, or just maintaining them, has become the game.

Some of my niggles with Run an Empire are similarly fundamental. It basically demands you run in a circular loop, for instance, and restricts you to an hour of running at a time, hindering any acknowledgement of progressing in distance training – I wanted to use the app to train for a half-marathon but couldn’t. Neither of these are a big deal until they are. I could natter on about other, basic technical failings, like the various instances it’s deleted my run because it suspects I’m cheating (which I take as a compliment), or the lack of integration with Strava and Runkeeper – the totemic holy grails of the hobby – but I’d forgive a lot of that if I was more hooked by the premise.

Run an Empire doesn’t complement the hobby of running, then, but running doesn’t particularly enhance the mechanics behind Run an Empire’s feudalistic ambition either – there’s no real sense of the ownership you’d get with, say, a game of Civilization or Clash of Clans. You’d be better off separating your two hobbies, darting around the park and then coming back to give Gandhi a good kicking.

My main problem with these games is that they make you go walking, running, cycling etc. on their terms, but to me running at least has never worked that way. A lot of people tend to waffle on about a jog like it’s some kind of meditative act, which is partially true; other common states are pain, hunger, and the frustration of really needing to poop when you’re thirty minutes away from the nearest toilet. When I’m stuck up against a mental wall, which is something generally triggered by exertion, boredom or repetition, I have to retreat deep into my head instead of my phone.

When I think about Pokemon Go, it felt like such a summery success (and no, I don’t play it any more either) because it helped people get outside and see more of the area around them, a canny little pairing of walking and the game’s mechanics. Running moves in broader strokes – you tend to appreciate the breadth of the park rather than the stories behind its benches, and I don’t get much extra from viewing it all in, say, hexagonal squares over a street map. I’ve yet to find a running game which fuses itself with the rituals and the habits it’s trying to supplement, but it probably says something about me that I keep looking.

The other main argument behind most running apps is that they help promote a social scene – leaderboards, friendly competition, camaraderie and so forth. I can see that: running is as social or antisocial as you need it to be. I always do my long runs solo, but over the past couple of months I’ve been running in the evenings with one of my best friends – we’ve been training to get our 5K times back under 30 minutes after, in my instance, months of inactivity and alcoholic excess. We jog around St James’ Park and catch up, talking about everything going on in our lives and slowly appreciating the week-by-week improvement, that gradual, unfolding realization that the laps of the park are coming in faster and faster. But that’s not something I’ve ever been able to find in a leaderboard, and when it comes to times, well, that’s what the races are for.

It’s hard for me imagine a world where any of these running apps are the answer to why somebody is running. Running is an awful, grueling slog the narrative of our society unfairly romanticizes, but also a wonderful act which helps suppress the gremlins roaming around my mind telling me I’ll never be able to do, well, anything. Running has helped turned the world into an adventure playground, my personal Green Hill Zone asking to be looped, climbed and leapt through, and that’s far more interesting to me than being the ruler of any transient hexagonal kingdom.