Training has been going really well recently. For the last 6 weeks I have maintained a decent training volume and have had some excellent sessions by my standards. As a fitness test last week I did a 10km run on the track, exactly two weeks after doing the same session. I was half a minute quicker for no extra effort. If anything it felt easier. On Sunday I did exactly the same long run (hour out, hour back) as two weeks ago and by 57 minutes had already reached the point that took me an hour to get to a fortnight earlier.
Whilst this is a satisfying measure of progress, the only measures that really count are race results. In the past I have always possessed the ability to push myself hard in training and produce sessions that look good in the training log, but have failed to produce race results of the same standard. I have become much better at this recently though; I obsess (slightly) less about the numbers and times in training and am able to see the bigger picture. The longer you train for, the easier it becomes to train according to how your body feels as opposed to just doing what you think you should be doing. Being flexible is important; if you need to cut a session short then do, if you need to take an unplanned rest day then do, if you’re struggling with the pace of a session slow it down. It is easy to rattle off a load of common-sense statements like this but much harder to actually enact them. A few years ago I would have ignored them.
The reason I say all this is partly a reminder to myself. I am training better than ever at the moment. All the key elements seem to be there – sleep, mileage, diet, strength and conditioning, quality sessions and all the rest – I now just need to make sure I cash it all in with a race performance to match. Next week I am racing over 10000m at Highgate and am in shape to run a good time. I just need to watch what I do over the next 12 days in order to achieve this.
Good training means nothing without the results to back it up.
I think it’s fair to say I’ve recovered from my injury.
After a couple of months almost completely off and another couple spent building the volume back up very slowly, I’ve now managed 7 weeks of what I would call normal training. When you initially start training again, it is a real shock to realise how unfit you are. Paces and distances that would normally be no problem leave you gasping for breath and in pain for days. Recovery takes much longer; your body takes a while to adapt to the demands once again being placed upon it. When I was at this stage, Tim said to me “don’t worry – when I was injured it only took 3 weeks to get to 95%” and this has proven to be the case.
After two weeks I raced again and after 3 I was managing Tuesday track sessions without feeling like I was about to die on Wednesday morning. After 4 I almost broke 16 minutes again at the parkrun. Tim was right. The 95% rule seemed to be working a treat. What he never told me, though, was how long the last 5% would take. Clearly this is not an exact science but there is an element of truth to it. You improve very quickly when returning from injury, just as one does when taking up running for the first time, but the difficult bit is when you start to approach your physical peak again. Like climbing a mountain, the summit always looks closer than it is. As you keep climbing, however, you realise how much further there is to go.
Yesterday was a day when I was hoping to notice some improvements. I’d had a light week, tapering down for the race after a very good week of training prior to that, and was confident I could have a decent attempt at breaking the top 30 or even top 25 in Birmingham League Division 1. Sadly it wasn’t my day. Feeling confident, I went off quickly but within a few hundred metres my legs felt sore, heavy and sluggish. To add to my misery, the wind had picked up and seemed to be in our faces the whole way. I say ‘our faces,’ but what I really mean is ‘my face,’ as I managed to get myself stranded after half a lap and ran the vast majority of the race completely on my own. I dragged myself round the second lap of three and as I crossed the line to start the final lap the rain began to pour, cold on my wind-battered skin. I managed to work my way past two people but did not get any shelter from them as they didn’t respond and went straight out the back door.
I held my position for the remainder of the lap and limped over the finish line feeling freezing cold and sorry for myself. One mild attack of hypothermia and one hot chocolate later we were on our way back to Birmingham. It was the kind of race and conditions that make you if you’re in good shape and break you if you’re not. Yesterday I learned that I am the latter.
The last 5% clearly takes some time. I don’t know how long yet but I’m going to keep working hard until I find out.
First training update for months. Finally starting to get up to a decent volume. Big jump in fitness this week. Lots of strength work in the gym.
Monday: 13km easy (13)
Tuesday: 13km easy (13)
Wednesday: 13km easy (13)
Thursday: 8km on track in 29:44. Starting to feel a bit fitter. (14)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: 5 laps of CH Park, 8km ish in 27:57 (14)
Sunday: easy run – 4km on track, 3km on treadmill (14)
Week total: 81km
Geezers need excitement. If their lives don’t provide them that they incite violence. Common sense. Simple common sense. – The Streets, Geezers Need Excitement
Mike Skinner (aka The Streets) is a talented musician, lyricist and poet but this lyric from nearly a decade ago seems strangely prophetic against the backdrop of the recent riots that have plagued England’s cities.
But wait; this is neither a music blog nor a politics blog, so why the focus on recent events? Well it is simple. Young people riot because they are bored. They riot because they lead unfulfilling lives. They riot because they are full of anger and unexpended energy. Now I appreciate that to say such things is to oversimply the incredibly complex set of conditions that caused the riots, and without trying to wash over the deep rooted social issues this nation faces at present, it is fair to say that today’s youth simply aren’t active enough.
I work as a teacher in a secondary school with a highly trained and hard working PE department who do a great job at motivating pupils and keeping them fit. But there just isn’t enough time allocated to it on the pupils’ timetables. Some pupils will always misbehave, lose focus and cause trouble, and I am not foolish enough to assert that a few laps of the athletics track would suddenly change this. However, most misbehaviour I witness stems from boredom and unspent energy manifesting itself in the classroom.
So here’s my suggestion. Every morning before lessons start, pupils do 45 to 60 minutes of a sport of their choice. It doesn’t even have to be the conventional football, rugby, hockey or netball. Why not offer others? Dance, aerobics, boxing (yes, I see the irony here), cycling and table tennis spring to mind. They then get changed and go to their lessons refreshed and focused. Schools could then be free to offer more structured and competitive sporting options after school or in PE lessons.
The positive effects of this would be twofold.
Firstly, the simple fact that children are active means that they are expending energy on something positive and don’t have much left for illegal and antisocial activities (smashing up the Adidas store and taking what they fancy, for instance). It also instills healthy habits in children from a young age, making healthier adults who contribute more to, and take less from society.
Secondly, a more subtle point. Namely that many young people suffer from a staggering lack of self esteem and confidence. I am convinced that a large number of those out on the streets of Manchester, Birmingham and London this week were young people lacking a purpose, a direction and a sense of worth. Learning and succeeding in a sport can help to change this. Not everyone taking part in sport has to become a world-class sportsman, but every young person should be made to feel like they have achieved something.
It’s not the solution but it’s a start.