Room (for) 101

Sunday 27th March 2011

This week I ran more miles than I have ever run in a week. From Monday to Sunday, 101 miles of track, road and trails passed beneath my weary and battered feet. Coupled with the fact that there were only 167 hours this week due to the clocks going forward (no more running in the dark – great news!), this total gives me my best mile per hour average of any week; about one for every hour I’ve been awake during these 7 days.

Now, the reason I felt the need to write about this is that the recording of my weekly mileage has never required a third digit before, and I have wondered for a while now what a hundred mile week would feel like. I know it isn’t a huge achievement; the proof of the pudding is always in the eating and mileage is meaningless if it doesn’t help you go faster on race day. There are people I know who regularly hit this kind of number so it isn’t a particularly impressive feat. Any man who is anti-social enough and has a forgiving enough wife (mine is wonderful) can run high mileage if he builds up to it. However, I still feel quite pleased to have pushed myself through it.

This wasn’t really a week of junk miles either. All my ‘in between’ runs – Monday, Wednesday and Friday were run at a decent pace and I hit some good sessions too. Tuesday was a 10k time trial, run solo on the track. The most boring session in our programme, it is never easy and always requires a sizeable dip into the reserves of mental strength. I ran it in 33:06, which is a personal best. I know that you should never race in training but my ‘proper’ personal best, by which I mean run in a race, is one of my weakest and doesn’t really reflect the shape I’m in now. Wednesday was a double with a tiring day at work sandwiched between the bread of a 4 mile easy and a half marathon. I had nothing in my legs for Thursday’s 300 and 600 session with the club, but put in a decent set of reps.

I tried something new on Saturday – my South African training partner’s ‘Elana Meyer’ session, a workout used by the Olympic medallist in her marathon days. It involves doing 1200m, 5000m, 1200m, 5000m and 1200m on the track with 45 second recoveries. The idea of the session is to run the 1200s hard to build up lactic acid in the muscles and try and hit the 5ks at marathon pace or quicker. The tiredness this causes in the legs is a fairly good simulation of the last few miles of a marathon when you really do need to concentrate on keeping the pace up. I managed to hit my target splits, with the exception of the last 1200. I felt like I was wading through treacle on this one and was much slower but it didn’t matter as much, as it is really only there to stop you running the second 5k too fast.

Today’s long run was a drag. I had heavy legs and didn’t really want to push the pace and fortunately my group were more than willing to go slowly too. I normally finish a week on 80 miles, not start my long run having done that many already. It was the last one before London.

The next three weeks are taper weeks, so I’ll be having some rest days and cutting a few miles off each run. It will be a strange feeling – my body has got used to running a lot – but it should mean I am fairly fresh on the 17th April.

Training’s banked. Now I’ve just got to do the business on the day. Easier said than done.

General Running, Training Summaries | , , , ,

Weekend Round-Up

Wednesday 23rd March 2011

This past weekend was a big one for fans of athletics.

Domestically, the clubs turned out for the regional 12 stage relays, the qualifying events for the national at Sutton Park on April 9th, whilst some of the top British men and women tested their London Marathon fitness at the Reading Half, where 6 broke 65 minutes and 29 broke 70.

The big story of the weekend came from the Big Apple, where Galen Rupp and Mo Farah were making their highly anticipated debuts over 13.1 miles in the New York City Half Marathon. Facing them were the likes of Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezhigi, Peter Kamais and the man who won in this city on his full marathon debut in November, Gebre Gebremariam. British men’s marathoning has seen a decline in recent years and there are strong calls for Farah to step up to the long distances and reproduce his excellent track form on the roads. Rupp, his new training partner with Alberto Salazar’s Oregon Project, must have been asked the same questions about ‘stepping up’ in the States. And step up they did. Starting steadily, and still in a lead group of 10 at halfway, Farah and Rupp worked together to push the pace and drop everyone but Gebremariam, a renowned kicker. It came down to a final mile burn-up. Farah outkicked his Ethiopian rival in the closing metres to seal the win in 60:23, a truly world class time and a National record. Andrew Lemoncello, using the race as a warm up for London, ran a personal best time of 63 flat.

It must be remembered, of course, that the man whom Farah beat into second place on Sunday is not just an excellent road runner but a World Cross Country champion to boot. Sunday also saw the latest edition of this event, held this year in the Spanish Town of Punta Umbria. Say what you like about the decline in popularity of Cross Country, but the World Cross is one of the most competitive events on the planet. In conditions usually reserved for summer track meets – I imagine the British guys found it tough – last year’s star of the Diamond League circuit in the 5000m, Imane Merga, kicked away from the Kenyans to secure his first individual title. Having 4 of the top 5, Kenya wrapped up the team gold in style. Vivian Cheruiyot won the women’s race with her compatriot Linet Masai taking silver. The USA’s Shalane Flanagan impresed by winning the bronze medal.

With all this racing going on, Zersenay Tadese’s world record attempt at the Lisbon Half Marathon is unbelievably a footnote to this racing review. He came to Portugal last year to remove 10 seconds off Sammy Wanjiru’s record, running a staggering 58:23. He returned on Sunday to try and put the record further out of reach but fell short by 7 seconds. He now holds the two fastest times ever over the distance. The man is without question the best half marathon runner in the world.

Maybe Mo Farah will try and change that.

Athletics, General Running | , , , , , , ,

Pour La Radcliffe

Sunday 20th March 2011

It was announced this week that Paula Radcliffe will be making her competitive return on May 15th at the Great Manchester 10k.

With apologies to the likes of Coe, Cram, Holmes and Edwards, Paula Radcliffe is the greatest athlete ever to have emerged from within the British Isles. She holds every British record from 3000m upwards and holds multiple world championship titles on the track, the country and on roads. No Briton has pushed the boundaries of their event in the way that Radcliffe has, let alone put the boundaries out of sight of most of their competitors.

In my view, her marathon world record from London in 2003 (her finest hour – or more specifically 2 hours and 15 minutes) is the greatest in the books. It is better than Bolt’s 9.58, better than Komen’s 7:20, better than El Guerrouj’s 3:43, superior to Koch’s 47.60 and beats any of Isinbayeva’s vaults hands down. Say what you like about having a male pacemaker to drag her round the course but no other woman has come within three minutes of her best time. She was not just the fastest woman in the world that year but the fastest person in the UK, male or female. Astonishing. Of the current crop of female marathon runners, Mary Keitany is the only name that springs to mind capable of recording a time close to Paula’s 2:15:25.

But the one thing lacking from her expansive trophy cabinet (do athletes have those or is it just something I like to think they have?) is the Olympic medal for the marathon. As the number one female marathoner and newly crowned world record holder, the world had already draped the gold medal round Radcliffe’s neck before the 2004 Athens games had even begun. Stomach problems led to her withdrawing from the race and losing her chance of the gold medal that should have been hers. A similar story in Beijing four years later meant that for all her accolades, the one thing the Bedford athlete doesn’t possess is an Olympic gold.

Undoubtedly, Paula Radcliffe is one of the best athletes, along with the great Wilson Kipketer and others, never to have won gold at an Olympics. She has a chance to put an end to this injustice on home soil next summer, which is one of the reasons why I am so excited about the Games. No one deserves it more than her, and the prospect of her running down the Mall (not the Olympic Stadium track unfortunately – more on that another time perhaps) in the lead is one that would cap an otherwise perfect career.

So it is with excitement and anticipation that I await the Manchester 10k on May 15th, not just because I am running it but because it sees the start of the comeback of the greatest marathon runner of all time, and hopefully one that will be completed on August 5th 2012.

Good luck Paula.

Athletics, General Running

26.2 miles in 34 days

Monday 14th March 2011

No, this isn’t the brand name for Stefaan Engels’ latest challenge, and with respect to the Belgian it would be a pretty low target to set oneself. Nor is it the anticipated duration of Katie Price’s latest marathon attempt, though I’ve sort of given the game away with that one. In 34 days’ time, the London Marathon takes place.

Now, 34 is not as arbitrary a number is it might seen at first. The reason I’m suddenly getting excited about the race is that my race pack arrived today and with it the magazine, mainly an advertiser for the sponsors but also packed full of information about the race. The headline act is Kebede vs Wanjiru in the Battle of East Africa, with support acts Mikitenko vs Shobukhova in the Battle of East Europe, Lemoncello vs everyone else in the Battle of Britain (rings a bell – is that one taken already?) and of course special guest Banks vs the 2:30 barrier.

Until recently the race had seemed a distant prospect, something to think about in detail at a later date, but the passing of my last big race effort yesterday and the arrival through my letterbox of the red envelope today has made it a very real prospect. I can’t even begin to describe what it feels like to run such a large and well supported event. You really have to try it for yourself.

But combined with this excitement are fear and anxiety. Ultimately, those 2 or 3 hours on 17th April will determine whether you’ve had a good winter or a bad winter. This is the driving test, the final 3 hour exam of your degree, the last question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. You’ve done the hard work, but is it going to pay off? I am going to do all I can these next few weeks to make sure the answer is yes. One more week of hard training will be followed by a long taper during which I will cut the volume first and then the intensity of my training, allow my muscles to heal and prepare myself mentally for the task ahead. This sounds dramatic of course, but I do believe that as long as you leave no stone unturned you are more likely than not to meet your goal.

I’ve worked hard for this one, much harder than any of my previous marathons. It’s getting close. I can hear the start gun sounding in my head already.

General Running, Training Summaries