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Catching Up

Thursday 5th May 2011

Yesterday evening I had a catch up with two of my closest running friends, the core of my training group and the guys I do several of my training sessions with every week. It was good fun. We sat in Mark’s living room, ate some pringles and popcorn, put our feet up and watched the full 3 hours of footage of the London Marathon. Ace.

Apart from our unanimous agreement that, amongst other things, Mary Keitany is a running goddess, Emmanuel Mutai is a machine from another planet, and that British men can’t run marathons, we were united in our view that none of us had really achieved what we had set out to at the start of our most recent marathon training cycle. First there was Mark, the evening’s host, who had got into great shape leading up to the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon (56km) in South Africa. He managed to run a 2:06 20 miler and a 16:12 5k in the two months leading up to the race and was well on course to break the 4 hour barrier and claim his first silver medal at the event. Illness in the weeks leading up to the race caused him to miss his target time, and he ran 4:17. Whilst this is a very respectable time for a hilly 35 mile race in the heat, Mark is the first to admit that he could have run quicker in different circumstances.

The second of the trio was Gracie, also afflicted by illness in the two weeks preceding his race, the London Marathon. A tough and strong willed man, he started the race despite not feeling 100% and began to struggle soon after the gun. To his great credit, he continued to the finish, running a time of 3:36, over half an hour slower than he had trained for. He had done the miles, done the sessions, but wasn’t able to cash in his banked mileage on the day.

Which leaves me. Readers of this blog will know that I had a bad day and didn’t even finish the London Marathon, having to be scraped off the pavement by a police officer somewhere in the Docklands. After four hard months of specific training, I don’t even have a marathon time to show for it. Not even a bad marathon time. No time.

Now it’s easy to view these setbacks as proof that our training was wrong, that we did the wrong work, that we were not adequately prepared to run the times we were claiming to be capable of. This might be true or it might not, but my personal view is that different forces were at play. Don’t worry; I’m not going to start making the classic mistake that losers make and start making excuses. I do feel, however that this was just a bad day. Well, three bad days.

What running teaches you is that you are not always going to be successful. You can have the perfect build up but still not deliver on the day. For every 5 great races you have, there will invariably be one stinker of a race, and it is more often that the one bad race of the six is the one that you remember the most. We spent a disproportionate amount of time reflecting on the bad things that happen, whilst forgetting to reflect on our successes. Arguably, this is what makes a successful athlete – the ability to learn from setbacks and build upon them. But I do feel that you must learn from the good as well as from the bad. Was it the mileage that helped you to that half marathon PB? Was it the hill sessions that gave you the strength to dig in on that last climb of the cross country race? Was it the extra rest day that you took the week before that helped you to the great 5k time?

This is one of the many ways in which running is a metaphor for life. Sometimes you fail. Sometimes you do not achieve what you had hoped. Sometimes you are disappointed. Admittedly, it is the hard working and the fortunate who are disappointed the least, but everyone has a bad day sometimes. Mine was on April 17th, and I am going to learn from it.