There is a fine line between training hard and overdoing it.
Last week I skipped a race with a cold. It might have just been coming anyway, it might have been brought on my heavy training and a weakened immune system; it’s hard to tell. What I do know, though, is that you don’t always feel how you are expecting to feel. Sometimes I can handle large amounts of intense training and at others my body refuses to cooperate.
Recently, I have been following the blog of my friend John, a runner I knew at university and have recently been reacquainted with. He is one of the best triathletes in Scotland and posts the kind of training that makes me look like a part timer. As well as describing his races he describes perfectly what I often feel when in heavy training and supposedly at my fittest: fatigue, permanent hunger, aching muscles and joints and all the other ailments associated with being an athlete.
The challenge is to distinguish ‘good pain’ from ‘bad pain.’ The former is normal fatigue resulting from hard training and must be ignored at all times; the latter is illness and injury and needs to be taken seriously. I’m glad I didn’t race through illness last week as I came back fresh and had a good race on Saturday, and am now half way through a big training week.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 10km easy (20)
Tuesday: 9km easy (9)
Wednesday: 17km easy (17)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM track session 10*200 off 150 jog (22)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: Birmingham Relays Mile B race, 2nd in 4:27.21 – PB, approx splits 70,67,66,64 (10)
Below is part of a message exchange between me and my friend Tim yesterday:
I know this feeling. I have had this feeling recently and am neither the first nor the last athlete to ask themself such questions when a race goes badly.
Running is a strange sport. Failures outnumber successes by a significant margin and the most typical type of race is a humdrum, routine one, where it goes neither well nor badly. So why do we do it? In my opinion there are two strands to this question; the first is ‘why do we run at all?’ and the second is ‘why do we compete?’
The first can be answered in a multitude of ways to do with happiness, wellbeing, a sense of purpose and all of the other reasons runners typically give when asked why they run. The second is much more difficult to answer. Although those perfect races when everything comes together are few and far between, if you do the right training and commit yourself to the sport they happen just about frequently enough for it to be worth it. In fact, it could be argued that their scarcity is what makes them so special. If we didn’t have bad races we would never have anything to put the good ones into context or allow us to appreciate them. Any more frequent and we wouldn’t enjoy them, any less and we’d probably all quit and so something more rewarding.
Tim is going to have a great race very soon.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 12km easy (22)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM grass session 1,2,3,2,1,2,3,2,1 minutes with half previous effort recovery, 5*25s off 60s (26)
Wednesday: 16km easy (16)
Thursday: AM 9km easy / PM track session 10*400 off 3:00 in 63,3,3,3,3,2,3,4,4,3 (23)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: road session 10*2:00 off 90s, 9*50m hill sprints on grass (14)
I had a shocker of a race yesterday. For reasons possibly related to sleeping in a tent all week and driving for several hours back from holiday the previous day, I just didn’t have the legs for a good race at the BAL steeplechase yesterday. I even took a tumble on the way out of the water jump that left me both bruised and drenched. The fact that I had been roped in to doing a 400 hurdles an hour before probably didn’t help matters either.
But the thing is, I’m not too bothered.
Yes, of course I set high standards for myself and want to perform well every time I compete, but I have noticed that some races are very easy to write off. This tends to happen when I know I am in good shape and that the poor performance was the outlier rather than the trend. With good training and good races comes confidence. What is more difficult is dealing with poor races when things aren’t going well. I’ve been there too, but for now am quite happy to just write this one off as a bad day at the office.
Monday: 14km easy (14)
Tuesday: 15km easy (15)
Wednesday: AM 10km easy / PM fartlek run – 10 sets of 60s,60s on road (20)
Thursday: 10km moderate, strides (10)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: BAL Premiership, Cardiff – 400h 6th B in 72.61, 3000m steeplechase 4th B in 10:03.49 (8)
This is the post I hoped I’d be writing several years ago but its delay doesn’t make the experience any less sweet. Yesterday evening I broke 15 minutes for 5000 metres for the first time.
There is no heroic story about how I was dropped then rallied then just snuck under the barrier with a hard last lap. No one needed to scrape me off the track afterwards and I didn’t require any medical assistance. There was no fanfare or fuss and no cheering team mates. I just took the opportunity when it came and when I was in good shape, and ran even 72 second laps twelve and a half times.
I had a feeling I would do it after about four laps when a 4:48 mile tucked in at the back of a group felt too slow. My legs felt good. I went through 3000 metres in around 8:59 and knew I had enough in the tank and just needed to focus and not let the pace drop at all. What I can do is grind out a hard pace from a long way out; what I cannot do is make up 5 lost seconds on the last lap. On pace with 3 and then 2 laps to go, I knew I needed to keep pushing and that even then it would be incredibly close.
The clock ticked from 13:48 to 13:49 as I went through the bell. By this point I was hurting. I tried to stay calm and remind myself of all of the laps I have run in under 70 seconds in training and how this was just another one of those. I kicked as hard as I could down the back straight, trying to hold my form and remembering what Dave told me the other night about wasting energy by leaning backwards as I tire. I had 35 seconds to complete the last 200, a simple feat on most days but a tricky one given the strong headwind that had been blowing down the home stretch for the whole race.
Then nothing. I had no idea of my time as the finish line clock had stopped at 14:45 for the winner. I knew I had run a PB and also knew that it was very close to 15 minutes. I chatted to a few athletes I know and to someone else from my race who I had spent the first half of the race drafting behind. Fortunately BMC were quick with posting the results and the numbers were good.
This is why you enter meets with electronic timing. That would have been outside 15 minutes with a stopwatch so I felt vindicated in trying to do it at a race with proper timing. Not that I intend to cut it that fine next time.
The last item on my to do list has been crossed off. Now I just need to add a new one.
Monday: 8km easy (8)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM BMC 1500, Tipton – 8th in 4:07.31 PB (17)
Wednesday: 12km easy (12)
Thursday: AM 9km easy / PM 8km easy (17)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: BMC Grand Prix 5000, Watford – 6th in 14:59.96 PB (11)
This has been a tough week of training, largely due to the intensity rather than the volume undertaken. I know I lack basic speed and have really been trying to address this in my training recently, prioritising the sessions that require me to run close to my top speed.
I tend to find that the sessions I look forward to the most are usually those of least benefit to me. The converse is also true; the sessions I dread the most, for example Thursday’s 10 reps of 400m with long recoveries, tend to be exactly what I need. Give me a 10 mile tempo and I’ll be the cat who got the cream; give me short reps on the track with long recoveries and I will dread the session all day. This is not just a running phenomenon. People often favour activities that do not take them out of their comfort zones, even though those that do have value. I am starting to find, though, that the training I like the least generally isn’t as bad as it seems. Once I have got my head round the idea that I am going to be off the back and getting dropped, I relax and just get on with doing the work. And it tends to be over quickly!
I was particularly pleased with this session. Every rep was between 61 and 63 to the nearest second, whereas I completed exactly the same session last year with times in the 63 to 65 range. On Tuesday I will race over 1500m and have the opportunity to see whether the hard work is paying off yet or not.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 11km easy (21)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM track session – 4 sets of 800,400 off 100/200 jog, 4*200 – 2:17,2:16,2:18,2:17 66,67,67,68 30,30,30,28 (22)
Wednesday: 16km easy (16)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM track session 10*400 off 3:00 – 62,62,62,62,61,61,62,63,63,62 (24)