After my morning run I settled down in front of the TV to watch the coverage of the London Marathon. Taking place on a unseasonably warm day, it provided plenty of entertainment. If you are a massive sadist who likes to watch people suffer, that is. Fortunately I am so had a great time.
Neither the men nor the women set off at a pace appropriate for the conditions and as a result there were some ugly scenes towards the end as titans of the sport crawled home like the charity runners several miles back down the road. Watching Mary Keitany, normally such a graceful and elegant runner, shuffle the last mile, cooked from having gone out inside world record pace on a hot day, was excruciating.
The men’s race was no different, and in the opening miles the men resembled a group of 9 year old boys throwing rocks at each other to see who would get hit by the fewest. Mo Farah managed to dodge several of them but still grimaced his way to a 4 minute positive split.
It wasn’t just the elites. My friend Dan, in a message afterwards, said “I can remember nothing from the last 12km and woke up under a pile of ice in the medical tent.” Sounds like fun.
I’m sure running a good marathon is a hugely satisfying experience but it seems to go wrong more often than it goes right. This must be hard to take in an event you only get a couple of chances at every year and that requires several months of dedicated training. I’m sticking with steeplechase.
Monday: AM 8km easy / PM 12km easy (20)
Tuesday: 16km easy (16)
Wednesday: 16km easy (16)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM 13km moderate, weights (23)
I’m taking a day off running today. Just as well really; It’s raining outside and I’m tired. In fact, I’m planning to take the whole week off running. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a full week off running, not even when I’ve been injured, so this is a new experience for me.
The reason? Well, I ran the London Marathon on Sunday and this time round I am trying to give myself a proper recovery before starting my next training block. That means one week off, a second week of easy jogging and then at least 4 weeks of slowly building up the mileage with easy runs and a couple of controlled tempo efforts to strengthen my body before hitting the hard stuff again. The oft-quoted cliché amongst runners is that ‘you’ve got to build your house before you can live in it.’ I’m sure there are many more like this. The idea is that you can’t try and attempt tough sessions without building up to them. The body needs to be ready for hard training, so building your base is extremely important. Arthur Lydiard famously insisted on a prolonged period of aerobic conditioning as preparation for his athletes; even his middle distance athletes were logging triple figure mileage during their base period. And with great success. Without this base, you cannot manage the hard runs that make you a faster runner, nor do you have the strength to recover from them quickly. Now, I’m not saying my training is perfect (far from it), but my training logs from the last few years are littered with examples of trying sessions I’m not ready for or will not benefit from.
I had this conversation with Mark, one of my training partners, when we were down in London at the weekend. We had spent the evening chatting to other runners about training, racing and injury and the two of us were unanimous in our belief that a large number of the problems our fellow runners faced were due to racing when not ready or attempting overly challenging sessions for their condition. They had tried to live in their house before it was fully built. It’s hard. Everyone likes instant gratification, and it is difficult to adopt a patient approach when training. Your instinct is to rush, to push yourself too early on, and to seek assurances that you are training well with day-on-day gains in fitness. I should know; I’m as guilty of this as any other runner.
Mark also pointed out the fact that as well as the base you build in each training cycle, all your training contributes to your ‘lifetime base.’ In no distance does this theory hold truer than in the marathon. The 2:38 I clocked on Sunday was a decent enough time, but the suspicion lingers in my mind that it still isn’t quite in line with my times for the shorter distances. I’ll get there though. The strength gained with years and years of running doesn’t just disappear. I like to think of my running ‘career’ as a mountain with several smaller peaks on the way up. Whilst you need to come down off each peak, you find that when you start to climb again you are slightly higher up then you were the last time round. If I keep going, I’m sure my times over longer distances will come down even further.
No humour this time round, no tales of determination and suffering, just some thoughts that are going through my mind as I take some much needed downtime.
In athletics, as in other sports, there are some things that make you sit up and say “where the fuck did that come from?” In recent years, Usain Bolt jogging to a world record in Beijing comes to mind, as does the memory of Ibrahim Jeilan chasing down Mo Farah in the final lap of the World Championships 10,000 last year. Or for those who have more interest in longer distances, Moses Mosop ran 2:03 last year on his debut at the Boston Marathon and didn’t even win.
Moments like these are what makes our sport so exciting. Of course, there are the predictable moments, but unexpected results and performances happen often enough to keep most fans interested.
Some might argue that anyone who had followed Bolt’s progress as a junior athlete, or that anyone with knowledge of Jeilan’s career in Japan shouldn’t have been too shocked. Maybe they are right, but the wider public still sat up and took notice.
This happens to average Joe athletes like me and my friends too. A couple of guys in my training group refer to something called a ‘Lazarus run,’ a training run or race that seemingly comes from nowhere, the kind of run you don’t deserve, haven’t trained for, and frankly, pull out of your arse.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my regular long run companions (let’s call him Dan) decided his hip injury was too painful and didn’t join us for the usual Sunday 20-something miler. Just to clarify, Dan is no slacker. If a man who regularly needs 3 digits to log his weekly mileage avoids a long run, it’s usually because there is something wrong. We met up the next day for the usual Monday recovery run and Dan surprised us all by recounting the story of how he went out the evening before and knocked out a 10 miler in under an hour. He couldn’t explain why his hip had recovered sufficiently to run a hard tempo run but it had.
I had a similar experience a few days ago; my Jeilan moment involved running a 10 mile PB in training despite feeling pretty terrible when leaving the house. Again, where the fuck did that come from? But just as the good runs (and races for that matter) can come along unexpectedly, so can the bad ones. All runners have a stinker now and then and I had a prime turd of a run this morning. After two days of easy running I was pumped for my session of 3 x 1 mile with 90 seconds recovery. Leaving the house to go to the park where I train, I felt stiff and sore but kept going, last week’s tempo run acting as motivation. The heaviness still hadn’t cleared after my warm up so I settled for my back-up session of 4 miles at marathon pace. How hard can it be, I thought to myself. Very, came the answer from my quads 100 metres after I started my watch. It hurt. I convinced myself that I could work my way into it and speed up but after a while it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. After busting my balls to run a 5:50 mile I stopped my watch and gave up. I ran home. In fact, to call my homeward shuffle a run would be an insult to proper runners the world over.
Next week I’m running the London Marathon. I’m hoping for a ‘where the fuck did that come from?’ moment. But only if it’s the good type.