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)
I feel like I’m getting fitter. These days any increases in fitness are small and incremental, but are very satisfying all the same.
On Tuesday I ran a 4:30 mile with a cold. Whilst this is ill-advised and not something I want to try again, the fact that I can run that time with terrible legs and a temperature shows that my basic level of fitness must be high. I shouldn’t have raced given how I felt earlier in the day but still managed a time I’d have been pleased with on a good day a couple of years ago.
Saturday’s track session was pleasing; I managed to run all the 300s in between 45 and 47 seconds with only a minute between efforts. Speed has never been a strength of mine so I know if I can keep up with faster runners on the short track sessions I am doing well.
I just hope I can translate this into a couple more good results before the end of the season, starting with a 3000 at Stretford on Tuesday night.
What would life be like if I did this professionally?
Of course I appreciate that this question is ridiculous and of course, entirely theoretical given that I am nowhere near the required standard. There isn’t a long queue of shoe companies, funding bodies and elite training groups all clamouring for the signature of the 40th best steeplechaser in the country. But let’s just ignore that inconvenient fact for a minute and speculate on how my life would differ.
This week I trained hard. Although I didn’t log huge mileage I completed three very tough sessions and this morning I feel completely exhausted. If running were the only thing I had to do with my day I suspect my week’s training would not have looked that different on paper but the differences would have largely been in what I did when not running. For a start, the hours of my job dictate that even on days when I don’t run before work I have to be up very early. This means that I rarely get more than eight hours’ sleep during the week, when something in the nine to ten region would be optimal. Afternoon naps are also, sadly, not an option for me. I notice this difference when on holiday. The quality of my recovery is noticeable and I feel significantly more fresh when I run, a result of being on my feet less and having my eyes closed more.
Aside from rest, the other element of training that falls by the wayside when I am busy is strength and conditioning and mobility work. I get a couple of sessions done a week but I suspect that daily sessions would convey much more benefit than what I currently do. My post run stretching sessions would last more than their current 10 minute duration after evening runs, and would actually happen after morning runs. All of this would undoubtedly help with injury prevention and recovery.
But would I enjoy it?
Yes I probably would, but that is not to say that I dislike my current situation. There is no pressure on me to perform beyond the pressure I exert upon myself. Everything is optional and running is the activity I look forward to rather than the chore I have to complete. I’m happy with my life as it is.
Monday: 10km easy (10)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM grass session 1km,2km,2km,1km off 3:00/5:00, 2*300m off 60s (25)
Wednesday: 15km easy (15)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM road session 10*300 off 2:00 (25)
Friday: 14km easy (14)
Saturday: road session 10*500 off 70s, 10*50m hill sprints on grass (13)