The complex science of numerical motivation (or, how I use my Nike+ Fuelband)

I know I’ve said it before – I’m highly motivated by numbers.  That’s why I feel off when I forget to pack my GPS watch for a Thursday Run Club.  When I wanted to totally overhaul my life and really up my active time it only made sense to try and find a numerical way to do it.  Enter, the Nike+ Fuelband.  A lot has been said about this black-strip-of-a-bracelet.  At it’s heart, it’s an accelerometer that counts your steps, calories (based on the weight you input) and calculates your daily fuel.  I still don’t quite understand how fuel is calculated.  I never really looked into it.  What I do know is that a day of very little activity and lots of sitting on the couch will net me around 2,500 points, compared to a day of running, walking, skipping, playing with my daughter at the park which could net me anywhere from 4,000 to 6,500 and sometimes even into the high 6,000s or 7,000s!  Long run days obviously equal more fuel and rest days equal less fuel.  So, how does one go about setting a daily goal with the variability of training?  Easy!  I’ll give you the secret formula!

The daily goal is set all the time at 3,500.  That means on a rest day I try not to get too much over that mark.  After all, I’m meant to be resting.

On days when I run I add 150 points per kilometre to the base, unchanging 3,500 goal.  That means that today (for example) I ran 10k, so 3,500 + (10×150) = 5,000 points.

On days when I don’t run, that also aren’t designated rest days (cross-training days, for example) the amount I will add to the base goal varies.  Unlike some people, I don’t ever take the Fuelband off my wrist (to tie it to my shoe, for instance) so if I spend a lot of time on the exercise bike then the numbers are obviously not going to show.  On those days, generally, I aim for 4,000 and just try and push as far as I can go (which is the same for running days – the goal might have been 5,000 today but it’s 9:15 and I’m sitting on a near-PB of 7,220).

I find that being really clear about how the goal changes in relation to the runs makes me less likely to sit on the couch all day thinking ‘oh well, I’ll pop out for a cheeky 5km later.’

I think I would feel totally lost without the Fuelband now, and I certainly wouldn’t be as active as I am.  Even making simple choices like walking the 20 minutes to the supermarket rather than catching the bus – all those bits of incidental exercise that don’t do much on their own but together, and in conjunction with thoughtful and structured training, add up.

So, if you’re thinking of delving into the world of the numerical-motivation-monitor, feel free to nab my daily-goal-plan.

Happy Running.  And walking, jumping, playing, skipping, and general sillyness.  It all counts.


Getting to the 21.1km (or, if you like, the 13.1m)

Here is the ten week half-marathon training plan that I am following in the lead up to the Nike+ Run to the Beat half in London on October 28th.  It’s adapted from the 1.50+ ten week plan from Runner’s World UK.


Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4


6km slow 5km slow 7km 5km, timed


5km easy 5km, with a few 50m bursts 5km easy 10km slow


7km easy 7km, with a few 100m bursts 5km, timed, plus 1.5km jog 12km slow


7km easy 7km, inc several 30-sec bursts 7km 13km slow


7km easy, off-road if possible 8.5km of fast-and-slow, with bursts up the hills (but not down them) 7km easy, off-road if possible 16km steady


6km easy on soft ground 2km jog, then 2 x 5 mins fast, with 5-min slow jog recovery 7km easy on grass 16km slow


7km easy, off-road if possible 5km, inc a few short bursts 5km on grass Warm up, then 10K race, then 10 mins walking or jogging


9km easy, off-road 2km jog, then 2 x 7-8 mins fast, with 5-min jog recovery 7km on grass, inc several short bursts 20km, as slow as you like


7km easy, on soft ground 2km jog, then 2 x 5 mins fast, with 5-min slow jog recovery between 7km easy on grass 15km slow


5km easy, off-road 2km jog, then 2km at race speed, then 2km jog 3km jog Race day

The biggest difference you’ll see is that my plan is in kilometres while the RW plan is in miles.  As such, some runs are slightly longer and some are slightly shorter but weekly mileage is pretty much the same.

The gear.

One of the truly great things about being a runner is the freedom. Emphasis on free. You really don’t need to spend a lot of money to start (or continue!) but I challenge you to find a runner who is not obsessed with their kit. I am. Mr. Neon is too. So, instead of the more traditional first post introduction I am going to give you a run down of some of the gear I use on a day to day basis.

First, without doubt the most important thing a runner has is what they put, or don’t put, on their feet. I have three pairs of trainers that I run with:

Yes, that’s three pairs of trainers. The first pair, the ones that I run in the most, are Nike Structure 15s:

I overpronate and the support that these have make them a great all around shoe for me. From long slow runs to painful hill sessions, they are great. It goes without saying (though I am obviously going to say it anyway) that the other two pairs do not get as much run-time as these. I’ll start with the pretty awesome Nike Lunarglide 4s:

Any runners who use Nike+ might remember a few months ago Nike UK put on a night time run from Covent Garden to celebrate the (then) impending release of this shoe. Sixty runners were invited down and each were given a pair of these shoes pre-release to complete the 5km run. Well, I was lucky enough to be one of those sixty runners. The Lunarglides are super-light, very bouncy and have a great response. As such, I am most likely to wear them on long runs, and all of my more recent 10km plus runs have happened in these shoes. The last pair are the Nike Free Run 3s (with a 5.0 sole, meaning they have a 50% ‘barefoot feel’):

I’ve had these shoes the shortest amount of time, but I absolutely adore them.  In fact, I think my next trainer purchase will be a pairof these with a 3.0 (70% barefoot feel) sole. I am still getting used to them, which for ‘normal’ trainers would be a death-sentence, but they are my first foray into minimalist running shoes, so I am taking it slow. These are, as I’m sure you can imagine, super light. As such, they are great for shorter, tempo and faster runs.

The next thing that runners will obviously look at is a way to track their runs.  A lot of runners seem to be highly motivated by numbers and I am certainly one of those.  I mean, look at my post-run wrist:

The big watch is the Nike+ Sportwatch.  I have the regular version (though, I would dearly love to buy the new limited edition white version).  I know a lot of people have whinged and moaned about this watch, but I really like it.  It does what I need it to do and I personally have never had problems.  The little band is a Nike+ FuelBand.  It’s not a strictly running thing – I wear it all day and, again using the motivation-by-numbers, use it to push myself further.  And sometimes, I use it to make sure I’m resting when my training says I should be resting.  I will most likely say a lot more about these two bits of kit in coming posts.  I’m sure you’ve guessed that I use Nike+, and if you do to you can friend me either though my profile or by searching elliemackin.

The only other major bit of kit that I use is the newest thing I have.  In fact, it is literally only days old (to me, though I bought it second-hand):

It’s the Maclaren Mac3 running pram.  I’ve taken it out on two serious runs (and one getting used to it/being very excited about it run) and so far I think it’s going really well.  It’s allowing me to run during the day, which I prefer.  The biggest issue I’m having, surprisingly, is adjusting my pace expectation.  Suddenly a run that’s written down as slow becomes 15 seconds per kilometre slower.  I’m not worried about the pace, I’m more worried about pushing myself too hard on the runs that are meant to be the easier ones.  I’m sure it will all come together soon enough.

There is more – a lot more – to say.  About everything, not just kit.  But, for now, this is the first in a series of introductory posts.  The next step, I think, will be a run-down of my short and long term running goals so you can see where I’m at as a runner.

But, until then: happy running!