Building the House
I’m taking a day off running today. Just as well really; It’s raining outside and I’m tired. In fact, I’m planning to take the whole week off running. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a full week off running, not even when I’ve been injured, so this is a new experience for me.
The reason? Well, I ran the London Marathon on Sunday and this time round I am trying to give myself a proper recovery before starting my next training block. That means one week off, a second week of easy jogging and then at least 4 weeks of slowly building up the mileage with easy runs and a couple of controlled tempo efforts to strengthen my body before hitting the hard stuff again. The oft-quoted cliché amongst runners is that ‘you’ve got to build your house before you can live in it.’ I’m sure there are many more like this. The idea is that you can’t try and attempt tough sessions without building up to them. The body needs to be ready for hard training, so building your base is extremely important. Arthur Lydiard famously insisted on a prolonged period of aerobic conditioning as preparation for his athletes; even his middle distance athletes were logging triple figure mileage during their base period. And with great success. Without this base, you cannot manage the hard runs that make you a faster runner, nor do you have the strength to recover from them quickly. Now, I’m not saying my training is perfect (far from it), but my training logs from the last few years are littered with examples of trying sessions I’m not ready for or will not benefit from.
I had this conversation with Mark, one of my training partners, when we were down in London at the weekend. We had spent the evening chatting to other runners about training, racing and injury and the two of us were unanimous in our belief that a large number of the problems our fellow runners faced were due to racing when not ready or attempting overly challenging sessions for their condition. They had tried to live in their house before it was fully built. It’s hard. Everyone likes instant gratification, and it is difficult to adopt a patient approach when training. Your instinct is to rush, to push yourself too early on, and to seek assurances that you are training well with day-on-day gains in fitness. I should know; I’m as guilty of this as any other runner.
Mark also pointed out the fact that as well as the base you build in each training cycle, all your training contributes to your ‘lifetime base.’ In no distance does this theory hold truer than in the marathon. The 2:38 I clocked on Sunday was a decent enough time, but the suspicion lingers in my mind that it still isn’t quite in line with my times for the shorter distances. I’ll get there though. The strength gained with years and years of running doesn’t just disappear. I like to think of my running ‘career’ as a mountain with several smaller peaks on the way up. Whilst you need to come down off each peak, you find that when you start to climb again you are slightly higher up then you were the last time round. If I keep going, I’m sure my times over longer distances will come down even further.
No humour this time round, no tales of determination and suffering, just some thoughts that are going through my mind as I take some much needed downtime.