A couch patato's running journey pt.1: from zero TO V2O

How AI will help me form a new habit and reach my goals of running 10 miles

Recently, I was thrilled to receive a stunning running t-shirt from Raccoons. As jolly as I was, there was but a mere condition bound to accepting this gift: actually wearing it once in a while and going for a run with it. I, a slightly overweight individual with the bodily reliability of Elijah Price in Unbreakable, was filled with overwhelming anxiety about completing this given task. I have tried running a couple of times with a running plan like "start to run". But each time, my body quickly couldn't handle not being in a stationary motion for once. This led to me giving up and returning to spending my free time hanging on the couch again.

However, after watching the video "Change Your Life – One Tiny Step at a Time" from kurzgesagt, I felt inspired, and I was filled with hope to successfully be able to run again and not die in the process. "If I could just use a smarter running plan, some sort of app that would be using my metrics and my preferences and build a plan accordingly," I thought. And it turned out that such an app already existed. Hooray! The app is called TrainAsONE and works best when using a smartwatch that records your heart rate and tracks the completed distance with a GPS. After each run, the app analyses all the data and adjusts the plan if necessary.

The goal is to participate and complete the AG Antwerp 10 Miles on the 24th of April, and here is my journey thus far.

The journey

18th of June. Downloaded the app. The UI is pretty straightforward. The charts page seems rather complicated, but I'm sure it will get pretty self-explanatory. I just discovered my current smart band, the 'Xiaomi MI Smart Band 5' is not compatible with the app, so I'm ordering another one. My new one will be the 'Amazfit Band 5' and will arrive on Monday the 20th of June - the first day the app says I'll have to run. There is almost no difference between both bands, but this one should work if I connect the new software with Strava and connect Strava with the TrainAsONE app.

running app
TrainAsONE App

20th of June. I got an email about the delivery of my new device, which will be delayed by one day. Guess I'll stay united with the couch for today.

21st of June. My new smart band has arrived, so I'm ready for my first run! The app says I'm going to have to make a perceived effort run today with the following steps:

  1. Stand still (and relax) for 2 minutes
  2. Run at your very easy warm-up pace for 5 minutes
  3. Run at your natural, easy pace for 26 minutes
  4. Stand still (and relax) for 2 minutes

I thought running 31 minutes in total would be totally undoable, but as it turned out, I managed to do it quite well! However, I'm exhausted now.

22nd of June. My body is in shambles. I guess I'll skip running and take a couch day today.

4th of July. My first two weeks of running have gone great so far! I feel like the program is very realistic in what my body can handle and doesn't push me too hard for now. Typically, I would've been injured by now, but I still feel very A-OK. So I got an email from Cronos today asking if I wanted to participate in the Leuven Night Run on the 27th of August. "Sure, why not," I thought to myself. This could prepare me for my 10 miles goal and help me understand what to expect from such a running event.

5th of July. Oh boy, oh boy. So, I just finished the 3.2km assessment, and I must say I was so, so not ready for this. The 3.2km has the following steps:

  1. Walk/slow run for 5 minutes, 10 seconds.
  2. Easy run for 6 minutes, 10 seconds.
  3. Run for 2 minutes, no faster than 08:42 /km.
  4. Run in as QUICK a time as you can (3.2 km).
  5. Start from a slow walking pace and increase speed gradually for 1 minute
  6. Easy run for 6 minutes, 10 seconds.

3.2 km is longer than I anticipated, mainly because I don't have any idea where my limits are at the moment. Luckily I survived. Barely.

after running
Almost dying after the run assessment

6th of July. I noticed the run from yesterday not only crushed my soul but my feet as well. I've got a pretty big blister on both sides of the soles of my feet. Maybe these 15-year-old running shoes are not doing the trick anymore. I'm afraid the following days are going to be less pleasant.

9th of July. I went to Runners' lab today to see if I needed new shoes. The friendly lady helping me told me that my current shoes looked like relics from an ancient civilization. They apparently belonged in a museum and definitely not on my feet. So, into the Prolab I went. This is a nifty piece of technology where they analyze your running technique with all sorts of cameras and pressure plates. This way, they could determine which running shoes were the best fit for me. I felt like shopping for a new wand at Ollivanders, and after trying on the Asics GT-4000 3 M, I witnessed a profoundly primal, indescribable connection. It was like I didn't choose the shoes, but the shoes chose me.

Also, I just received my eco cheques, so I decided to spend them on a better running watch. The Amazfit smart band didn't provide the best experience after all. The main issue was that I couldn't upload any workouts to the device. Also, I couldn't keep track of my pace, and the display was horrendous in direct sunlight. So I settled on a Garmin Forerunner® 245 Music, which has been a delightful experience thus far.

runners' lab
Testing new shoes at Runners’ Lab

12th of July. I finally earned the respect of my people. I just became a legend as we speak well, according to Strava. I received a notification: "You became the Local Legend of Volkstuin Boeckenberg kleine ronde". That means I've put in the most efforts in this segment in the last 90 days. I'm secretly hoping they will put a statue of me there now.

19th of July. I'm on holiday in Spain now. As much as I'm enjoying it here, there is a heat wave going on in the west of Europe. It's challenging to pick a good moment to go for a run here. As it's way too hot during the day to work out outside, I decided to try running early in the morning on an empty stomach. These were the workouts steps:

  1. Walk/slow run for 5 minutes at 09:08 /km
  2. Easy run for 51 minutes at 08:20 /km.

I thought this would be a relatively easy run, but it was a horrible experience. Around the 40-minute mark, my body just gave up. The heat and lack of shadow caused me to feel very dizzy, and the lack of nutrients in my body made me nauseous. So, unfortunately, I was forced to take a break and walk for 10 minutes. I think I will skip my runs for the rest of the holiday.

running program
The training app

Conclusion after my first month

My journey has been an enjoyable experience so far. By using AI to help me reach my goal of running 10 miles, I think I have accomplished much more by now than I could've done on my own. By bypassing the heavy lifting of doing all sorts of calculations about my metrics and running data for a personalized workout schedule, I think it makes it much easier to stick to the routine and develop a healthy habit. If I needed to do this all by myself, I'm fairly sure I would've either given up by now or had some injury.

I do, however, still need to focus on losing some weight as well. By losing some kilos, I will put a lot less stress on my joints and thus drastically reduce the chance of getting injured. This is a genuine concern for now, especially now that the distances of my runs are starting to increase. Maybe I can find another AI solution to this and share my experiences in the second part of the couch potato's journey. Until then!

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