On the first day of October I forgot to record my day’s training on my training log. And then I forgot the next day. And the day after. By the start of the following week I couldn’t remember exactly which runs I had done when, and how far I had gone on each occasion. I then realised: it doesn’t matter.
Several years ago, in the post-log book and pre-Strava era, I decided to start keeping an online record of all my training as a means of maintaining motivation and of being accountable to other interested parties. If they could see what I was doing, I thought, it would keep me on track and putting in the hard work. I also believed that, added to over the course of several years, it would become a useful document that I could refer back to and learn from. I would know exactly what types of sessions preceded successful races and what kind of training I should avoid in order to prevent injury. This seemed like a wonderful idea but it contained one flaw: I never did any of this. I kept habitually adding to it but never using it. Yes, I reflected, via my weekly posts, on the training I had been doing, but my training log largely existed for no other reason than the fact that I didn’t want to break the habit.
The habit is well and truly broken now. Coupled with my lack of motivation to update my log, I have also got out of the habit of wearing a watch for most of my runs, so even if I wanted to piece the jigsaw together again I wouldn’t be able to. The era of the training log is over. I have noticed small and unexpected changes as a result of this. For a start I genuinely don’t care how far I run on any given run. Additionally, I have stopped paying attention to my weekly mileage, something I could have told you to a fairly good degree of accuracy for any of the previous 400 weeks of my life. No longer do I add an extra loop to my run to make the distance round down to 12km rather than 11km. No longer do I set a target volume for my weekend’s training to hit certain weekly mileage targets. And most importantly of all, I am going easy on my easy runs. With no watch to tell me my average pace, I no longer seek to increase the effort to bring the average pace under a certain abritrary number. Typing this, I know how ridiculous this all sounds, but I am not the only one. Many people I know and train with are guitly of all of this and more, and none of it enhances your training.
But what does enhance your training? High mileage, tempo runs, interval sessions, strength and conditioning sessions, speed work, sleep, good diet, recovery runs, stretching, long runs, rest days…
The list goes on and I do everything on it. There might not be any evidence of it any more but the best evidence surely comes in the form of results in races, and these will continue to improve if I focus on doing the right things rather than documenting them. It’s liberating.
On Saturday my club won the Midland 6 Stage Road Relays for the first time in a decade with a dominant victory over all our local rivals. No one got within a minute and fifty seconds of our time and our athletes occupied the top three slots in the list of fastest legs for the day. We led from the very first leg. It was a crushing win.
And I wasn’t part of it.
Despite my best efforts in training and our unoffical trial race at the parkrun the week before, I didn’t get selected for the A team. As the seventh best runner on paper there was no room for me in a team of six. It was a bittersweet victory for me; I was absolutely thrilled that my friends and training partners were rewarded for their hard work and had the chance to taste success, but at the same time I was frustrated at myself for not being among them.
I need to remember that this is the exact reason I moved club last year, though. I wanted more competition and I wanted to be surrounded by other athletes who were going to drag me along with them. Sometimes that means being picked for the B team. Now I need to use this as motivation to improve. Next time the road relays come around I want the gold medal hanging round my neck.
Monday: AM 9km easy / PM 11km easy (20)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM 9km easy (18)
Wednesday: rest (0)
Thursday: 10km easy (10)
Friday: 8km easy (8)
Saturday: Midland 6 Stage, 8th on leg 1 in 18:30 (14)
Why, one might ask, is this a noteworthy or remarkable occurence? After all, I have not broken 15 minutes countless times. I am an expert at not breaking 15 minutes. I am reliable and dependable and if you ever need someone to not break 15 minutes, I’m your man. My failures at breaking the barrier outweigh, by some margin, the number of times (one) that I have.
Yet despite my impressive aptitude for failing to get round twelve-and-a-half laps in under a quarter of an hour, I was very pleased with yesterday’s run. In fact, my near miss was almost as satisfying as the time I actually did it. It confirmed my belief that I have taken another step forward this season. Backing up a PB with another time in the same ballpark is reassuring and shows that you are on a new level; it shows that the performance was no fluke.
I also feel that yesterday’s run was intrinsically better than my 14:59. It rained constantly throughout my race and the track was soaked. I went for it, stringing together a succession of 70-second laps in the middle of the race in the knowledge I had nothing to lose, and paid for it later on when I got dropped from the lead group I had fought hard to get on to. Despite this, I had decent strength and didn’t completely blow up having gone off at 14:45 pace. I learned that I am not yet in that kind of shape but also learned that I’m really not too far away. With even pacing I would have run a personal best but wouldn’t have learned anything about where my limit is.
Last night’s race has made me excited and hungry for next season, and in the shorter term, motivated for the cross country races that winter brings. But first a break…
Monday: 10km easy (10)
Tuesday: AM 8km easy / PM 13km moderate, weights (21)
Wednesday: 10km easy (10)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM 12*100 on grass (20)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: AM 6km easy / PM BMC Gold Standard B race – Milton Keynes, 6th in 15:00.71 (17)
Whilst the act of cleaning my stinking shoes after a race is nothing new, the sight of my spikes drying in the hot August air seemed symbolic of a seaon passed and prompted reflection on what I had achieved and how this compares to my expectations for the season. Strictly speaking the season is not yet over; I’m going to have one last go at my 5000m PB later this week before putting my feet up for a week or two, but with leagues and championships done and dusted and their results consigned to the history books (Power of 10) it is fair to say that the track season is complete.
First of all, this season has definitely been a success. As well as running personal bests for 1500m, mile, 3000m and both steeplechase distances I achieved a long standing ambition to break 15 minutes for 5000m in a race that was by far the most satisfying of my track season. I’ve been in this sport for a decade now but continue to learn new things about myself. One is that I can still get a huge buzz from the simple act of having run faster than ever before. The thrill of running a personal best, in particular one that represents the conquest of a significant barrier, never goes away. The race played out exactly as I imagined it would when I had tried to envisage breaking 15; the conditions were good, the field was strong, I cut it about as fine as I possibly could and most of all it was bloody hard work.
Another thought that occured to me is that at 31 years old and with about as many miles on the clock as a second hand car I am still getting better. My surprise at this fact has nothing to do with me believing I am old and that my body should be weakening at this age, far from it, but more to do with the observation that it is normal for athletes in all disciplines to have a down year or a period of taking a step backwards before advancing. Every year since I started I have improved in some way or other, whether this be measured in the hard currency of PBs, by consistency of performances, or by my positions in events.
My final observation is that I need to take care of myself if I want to stay in this sport for another decade. My left calf has been a constant source of trouble since I tore it last year and hard racing on the track only tends to make the problem worse. The process of managing this starts with a break next week after my last race, and in the longer term doing more work over the winter to strengthen my calf. I have also picked up a fair few bumps and bruises this season, almost all of which were acquired by competing in or training for steeplechase. It is a tough event and requires good technique, high levels of fitness and plenty of concentration. I’m just lucky that none of these falls resulted in anything more serious. I will not be complacent about such a demanding event in future.
Time to take the spikes off the balcony and store them somewhere safe until next May.
Last week I took 5 seconds off my personal best for 3000m but felt like I could have gone quicker. Under instructions from my coach not to throw away time in the first few laps of a race, I went out hard and hung on; my splits were 2:51, 2:54 and 2:57. Although this probably isn’t the optimal way of doing it I was pleased to have held on well after starting quickly. Having strength is reassuring given that my final two races of the season are a steeplechase and a 5000m. Despite leaving the race feeling like I could have knocked a few seconds off with better pacing, my overwhelming feeling was one of confidence in my fitness.
Monday: 10km easy (10)
Tuesday: AM 6km easy / PM Stretford Open 3000 – 15th in 8:42.21 (15)
Wednesday: AM 11km easy / PM 9km easy (20)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM drills and hurdles, grass session – mile, 2 miles, 2 miles off 3:00,5:00 – 5:01,10:11,10:11 (28)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: grass session – 10*60s hill reps, 4:00 tempo (14)