On Friday I went out for an unexpected day time run in the snow after being sent home early from work (not for disciplinary reasons I might add – it was snowing heavily) and made my way down the canal towpath.
Not long after leaving the house I passed a group of four guys. All of them were probably slightly younger than me, and their manner of speech and their aroma suggested they had just ingested enough drugs to fuel the US Postal Service team for 3 weeks in the Alps. They stepped aside as I ran past them and made the usual comments questioning my sanity for running in such conditions. So far so good, but shortly after I heard the words “I’m gonna get ‘im” being uttered from one of their mouths. I’ve been chased before whilst running and kids will often run along side me for as long at they can manage, but I wasn’t sure whether this particular person meant it in a friendly or manacing way. This is Birmingham after all.
Not wishing to take any chances I put the burners on as soon as I heard his footsteps coming towards me. The chase was on. From a 20 metre headstart, the gap had shrunk to less than 10 metres and he was gaining on me. I ducked past the umbrella of another pedestrian and carried on sprinting through the blizzard. I could still hear him behind me but he was breathing heavily and I suspected he was approaching his limit. As I approached a tunnel the sound of his footsteps on the thick snow was replaced by the welcome cry of “you fucking killed me man!” followed by, well, nothing at all. I kept looking over my shoulder though, to check he hadn’t had second thoughts about conceding the win. He hadn’t, and I continued my run as planned, albeit at a much slower pace than I had just been going.
First of all, I got a huge adrenaline rush from it. Your body really does go into survival mode when forced into a situation like that. The guy probably wasn’t going to stick a knife in me but there was no way I was hanging around to find out. My legs, sore from the previous evening’s tempo run, felt light and powerful and I was able to run much harder than I would normally be able to. It’s amazing how the human body reacts to different situations.
Secondly, it got me thinking about whether I could outrun anyone. It was satistying to leave someone trailing in my wake, just as it is when I’m racing, and I feel fortunate to have trained myself to a high enough level of fitness to be able to do that. My bet is that I could outrun somewhere between 95 and 99% of the population given the same headstart. But how about those I couldn’t run away from with a 20 metre headstart? For a start, any distance runner better than me would get me; even if I could sprint faster (unlikely) they would have superior endurance. Obviously any sprinter would catch me if they wanted to. My ability to run hard for 25 miles would count for little if they were to catch me within 25 seconds. If I had to design the perfect hunter human, they would look like an 800/1500 runner – the perfect blend of speed and endurance. But I’d fancy myself against anyone else.
However, it’s unlikely to be a problem I have to deal with soon. As my friend pointed out this morning when I told him about the incident, the type of person who could outrun me is not the kind of person who would want to, and vice versa. He argued that the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. How many knife wealding drug takers with their hoods up also happen to possess well honed fast-twitch fibres?
Today I went to my local running store with a rucksack on my back containing around 7000 miles’ worth of used trainers. The store has a collection bin for old running shoes which are then recycled or sent to other countries so that they can be re-used, and I took the opportunity presented by not being at work to have a clear out.
Although it was hard to part with shoes that had provided many happy running memories it is probably a good idea to get rid of old pairs. Hoarding is not a habit I want to get into at only 25 years old; I’m also well aware that running shoes hardly smell like roses and I value having an odour-free shoe cupboard. Here are some of the shoes I got rid of and their stories.
Shoe Number 1: Asics DS Trainer 16
These were bought last November because two of my mates had them and because they were red. I’m not joking. As it turned out, as well as being the most stylish trainer available they are surprisingly good for running in too. They are a lightweight pair of trainers that could even double up as racing shoes if needed, but are supportive enough for every day running. They are unquestionably the best trainers I’ve ever had. A few months ago I replaced them with the latest model, the DS trainer 17, assuming they would be exactly the same as their predecessors (runners are creatures of habit). Unfortunately these lacked the lightweight feel of the 16s and felt heavy around the heel. I emailed Asics to ask if this was the case or whether I was just imagining it. They told me there was extra cushioning in the heel. No wonder I didn’t like them as much. And they’re not red. The bastards.
Shoe Number 2: Asics Gel Hyperspeed 3
These beauties date back to October 2009 and are the first pair of racing flats I ever owned. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t realise they also came in red. Despite this they are an excellent pair of flats. As you can see from the picture, they have small square holes cut out of the sole to shave an extra few grams off the weight of the shoe and as a result are very very light indeed.
The first time I wore them was for the Coventry Half Marathon which took place the day after a cross country race I had taken part in. Despite having hammered myself in the mud the previous day I set a personal best time, which tells me two things. The first is that I was clearly on an upwards curve at the time and that that kind of thing would never happen these days. PBs are few and far between now and I have to work much harder for each second now. The second is that racing in new shoes buys you time like nothing else; the first run in a new pair is always the easiest.
Shoe Number 3: Brooks Green Silence
Just to prove that I’m not solely as Asics man, here is a pair of running shoes from Brooks, not to be confused with the legendary Dunlop Green Flash shoes. I first set eyes upon these at the 2010 London Marathon Expo and asked for them as a birthday present the following month. Their unique selling point is that they are biodegradable and made out of recycled materials. And they look awesome in asymetric red and yellow. These are primarily lightweight racing flats but I found them supportive enough for track sessions and tempo runs. These served me very well until recently when their biodegradable properties came to the fore, and I found a split down the side. They have now been replaced with exactly the same shoe again (I told you we’re creatures of habit) and despite Brooks now offering a vast range of colours, I plumped for the original red and yellow.
Shoe Number 4: Asics GT 2150
I liked this shoe so much that I bought it 3 or 4 times in a row. Slightly cheaper than the DS trainer, it was the shoe I first bought when I was a student and it is very good value for money. The 2150 (I think they’re on to 2170 now) is a solid, reliable cushioned trainer that enabled me to build up my mileage to the 70-80 per week range without getting injured too often. Now I’m used to it I can get away with a lighter trainer but this one served me very well.
I wish these shoes well in their retirement.
Last night’s hill session was great. I managed to get 5 guys to come down for a few reps of our usual hill, more people than I would normally train with on a Tuesday evening. The hill efforts we do are 400m long, starting on the flat and getting steeper as you climb. I had done the same session on my own the previous Tuesday and it had been a struggle right from the first effort. Training in a group is much easier. So to celebrate that fact I won’t talk about the session, I’ll tell you about the guys who did it.
Chris has been a member of the club for a while but has only just started training with us. He’s a sub-34 10k runner and a triathlete who looks likely to take a big chunk off his marathon PB in April. He started the session tentatively but absolutely blasted rep number 8, acting as rabbit for the whole group. Starting too fast can be a good thing though; it trains the body to deal with pain. And I could certainly feel he was in pain as I passed him half way up the hill.
Tim, star of last week’s blog, was also in attendance and became the first person to actually manage ten reps of the hill after having set out to do so. He has been putting the miles in recently and is very strong. I had to make do with pacing him half way on rep 9 as I was spent after 8.
Ben is a mountain goat. He ran every club race at cross country this winter and just seems to do better on an incline than on the flat. His powerful sprint also suggests that he could be a rather useful 400 meter runner, should distance running not prove to be his thing. We had a nice little battle on the 8th rep.
Last, but not least, Rob joined us after the first rep. He gradually worked his way into the session showing far greater patience than the rest of us. I didn’t see the end of his last rep, but reports (Tim) suggest that he adopted a sit and kick approach, something that clearly dates back to his days as a middle distance man. You see, Rob is a dormant volcano when it comes to running, but when he erupts he does it with style and devastating speed. The speed needed to run 1:59 and 4:04 doesn’t just go like that. Now it’s time to get this man in a race before they delete his power of 10 page.
One notable absentee was my usual training partner Mark, missing due to illness. He missed a good one.
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.
Of all the things that a runner can do to prepare himself for the start of track season, I would suggest that falling over in the road and smashing one’s knee does not represent the ideal preparation. Correct me if I’m wrong.
I went for my long run on Friday morning; unusual I know but my club mate Jack was up for it and the royal wedding was on, meaning a day off work. The other reason was that I had entered a track race today (Monday) and wanted to be fresh for it.
We had barely been going a minute when I ran across a road at pace, caught a bit of gravel and slipped, with my right knee taking most of the force of my fall. I wanted to become more familiar with the streets of Birmingham by trying out some new routes. This wasn’t what I meant. I left several layers of skin behind and my elbows, hands and knees are still pretty grazed. We carried on with the run, an excellent blast round the countryside and some cycle routes at a decent pace, but the next day my knee really started hurting. I think it’s just a bit of bruising and muscle tissue damage, but I will try and get to a physio this week and get their verdict. In the mean time I’m taking a full week off running, and icing my knee to calm the inflammation, with the hope that I should be OK for my next scheduled race on Saturday. I had a very similar injury last year and I delayed my recovery by rushing back; I’m trying to be a bit more sensible this time round.