We did one of the hardest and longest sessions we have done for a while, 10 reps of 1km with 60-90 seconds recovery, with the last 30 seconds of each up a steep incline. I was hanging on to the back of the group from very early on, struggling to ever get my legs moving the way I wanted them to. After the session my body temperature dropped rapidly in the cold and I struggled to get to sleep that evening despite the fatigue. I didn’t dwell too much on it. Bad sessions happen sometimes. So do good ones. It doesn’t matter.
On Wednesday I dragged myself round the evening run, a run I almost certainly would have cut short had I not been with others. The following day I started to feel unusual aches in my legs as well as all the signs of a cold coming on. The plan was to run home from work where I needed to stay late. Instead I got the bus to the train station and abandoned the run altogether. In years gone by I would have pressed on anyway and stuck rigidly to the plan. I’d have banked the mileage and felt satisfied at having had the toughness to get the job done. And then got ill for a week.
So why do I act differently now? Why the sudden ability to put things in perpective and to make good decisions? Well, I don’t think this is anything to do with being older, wiser or more mature (of the three I am only the former). I think it’s easy to do the right thing when you are running well. With good results comes confidence, and with confidence comes the ability to err on the side of doing less rather than more. It is very easy to tell yourself you are already doing enough when the results are there for you to see. It is easy not to let a bad session affect you mentally when you know that you have done some of the best sessions of your life in recent weeks.
Today I ran 30:44 for 10km. I went in thinking I might sneak in the low 31s if everything fell into place, so was very surpised with how well I performed. Although the time owes a huge amount to the work I have been putting in over recent months, it also owes to better decision making and a tougher mind. Despite still feeling slightly under the weather yesterday I was able to convince myself that this would have no bearing on how I would perform today. I missed a couple of runs this week because I was more focused on what was important, which was the race this weekend rather than the weekly mileage total.
Things will not always be like this though. I will have times in the future when running is not going well and it is at these times that I need to have the confidence and strength of mind to keep doing what is right.
I’m a late convert to cross country, a born-again cross-tian if you will. I didn’t always love it but turned up and got it done in the knowledge that I was helping my team and with the awareness that it was probably doing me some good, if nothing else.
This started to change about three years ago and now cross country is my sole focus during the winter months. Rather than having goals centred around times in road races I strive to achieve certain positions in cross country races, where time is irrelevant and head to head racing is everything. For a few years now, my goal has been the same: top ten in a Birmingham League race. The Birmingham League is arguably the strongest and most competitive regional cross country league in the UK as, despite what the name suggests, it encompasses a wide geographical area including Birmingham and the surrounding counties. The strength of the league also owes to the fact that two of the top sporting universities, Birmingham and Loughborough, compete in it.
I remember my first top hundred placing ten years ago and shortly after, my first top fifty and then top thirty. Progress is not linear though; each ten gets progressively harder to crack, and for two years my PB (personal bests are places in cross country, not times) has been stuck at 12. Today I finally did it with a strong run on a very wet and muddy course in Coventry’s Coundon Park, a course I have raced on many times before.
It nearly didn’t happen. On Thursday afternoon I switched my phone on after work to find a series of messages about the cancellation of Saturday’s fixture, due to take place in Great Malvern. The land owner had withdrawn permission for the race to take place due to poor weather and the race, it seemed, was off. I was very disappointed, having worked towards being in good shape and well rested for this race for weeks. Fortunately, by the following day the league had managed to persuade one of the other divisions to host our race on the course they were using anyway, and the race was back on.
I ran the race the way I usually try an run a cross country race, starting way back and picking people off in the second half. By the end of the first of the three laps I could count the number of people ahead of me. Seventeen, then fourteen and then eleven. I knew I’d get in the top ten with a strong final lap. I made up ground on the firmer sections of the course and tried to hold my position on the muddier sections. In the final kilometre I was as high as eighth and had a good battle with two other athletes, one of whom held me off in the final hundred to claim the ‘last guy with single digit position’ prize. Nonetheless I was absolutely delighted. This was the best performance I have had in cross country and only serves to motivate me further. This should give me belief and confidence going into the next race, safe in the knowledge that the higher places are something I can achieve.
The National Cross Country Relays is usually the main curtain-raiser for the English cross country season. A relay consisting of four legs of 5km each, it takes place in the first weekend of November every year and is always a good opportunity to brush down your spikes and remind yourself what pain feels like. Fortunately, with the legs being just half the distance that would be covered at league or county level, it is over quickly but it is long enough to give you a chance to test yourself on the mud. The relay format also adds a team element to the racing and means that you are rarely running in a group or with anyone running the same pace as you.
I took part today, as I did on the same weekend last year, and was faced with a very different course. Last year I wore my 6mm spikes on a hard and fast course that was essentially a series of dirt tracks and firm grassy sections. Today I wore my 12s on a course that was boggy and loose underfoot and sapped energy from you with every stride. My time from last year would have been one of the quickest of the day today, such was the difference in times. I was about 55 seconds down on last year despite running what felt like a good leg. I started in 26th and, reeling people in one by one, I passed nine runners whilst only getting caught by two, giving us a net gain of seven places. I didn’t know this, of course, as in reality I was passing significantly more runners than this. The two-lap nature of each leg means that you are often lapping people, particularly on your second lap. It felt good to be the chaser rather than the one being chased.
Next week the season starts properly with the first league fixture of the season. We won the league last year and I want to play my part in helping the team repeat the feat this winter.
I take a rest day every week and have the piss taken out of me by my training group for it on a regular basis. One of the guys I train with recently ended a 10-month streak of running on consecutive days and another recently hit 6 months. I rarely exceed 6 days.
When one of them put it to me recently that I am missing out on 52 days of training every year I retorted by telling him he was missing out on 52 days of recovery. I really do believe this. A guaranteed day off every week ensures that I stay fresh mentally as I am never far from the next break, as well as giving the obvious benefits of proper physical recovery. I’m not running tomorrow morning and am happy with that.
Monday: AM 14km easy / PM 11km easy (25)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM grass session 2*10*400 off 30s (25)
Wednesday: 17km easy (17)
Thursday: AM 8km easy / PM track session – 4 sets of (600 with barriers in lane 2 / 400 flat) – 1:48, 67, 1:47, 68, 1:48, 67, 1:50, 65 (20)
Friday: 15km easy (15)
Saturday: AM parkrun in 15:55, grass session 2*2:00 off 2:00, 6*1:00 off 1:00 / PM 8km easy (24)
After my morning run I settled down in front of the TV to watch the coverage of the London Marathon. Taking place on a unseasonably warm day, it provided plenty of entertainment. If you are a massive sadist who likes to watch people suffer, that is. Fortunately I am so had a great time.
Neither the men nor the women set off at a pace appropriate for the conditions and as a result there were some ugly scenes towards the end as titans of the sport crawled home like the charity runners several miles back down the road. Watching Mary Keitany, normally such a graceful and elegant runner, shuffle the last mile, cooked from having gone out inside world record pace on a hot day, was excruciating.
The men’s race was no different, and in the opening miles the men resembled a group of 9 year old boys throwing rocks at each other to see who would get hit by the fewest. Mo Farah managed to dodge several of them but still grimaced his way to a 4 minute positive split.
It wasn’t just the elites. My friend Dan, in a message afterwards, said “I can remember nothing from the last 12km and woke up under a pile of ice in the medical tent.” Sounds like fun.
I’m sure running a good marathon is a hugely satisfying experience but it seems to go wrong more often than it goes right. This must be hard to take in an event you only get a couple of chances at every year and that requires several months of dedicated training. I’m sticking with steeplechase.
Monday: AM 8km easy / PM 12km easy (20)
Tuesday: 16km easy (16)
Wednesday: 16km easy (16)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM 13km moderate, weights (23)