Sometimes I put myself off posting on this blog because it seems so self-indulgent. Running often seems like a self-indulgent pursuit at the best of times anyway. If you have read ‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek, then perhaps like myself you found it inspirational, but at the same time an account of a life of masochistic self-indulgence. Or perhaps it is merely too honest? A man searching for perfection and his purpose, to win but also reach an unobtainable inner peace.
When I am tired on Saturday morning and want to do nothing, followed by a Sunday with a long run or a race I wonder whether I will look back on this time as inspirational or utterly selfish. How will my wife remember it? Will we regret less weekends spent touring National Trust properties or cuddled up watching movies? Or will those hours foam rolling, cooking and running (or recovering) seem worthwhile?
Nevertheless, here I am. ‘Here’, as of this morning, is at a place a lot of my friends said couldn’t be done, was unrealistic or even stupid. I have run every day for the last 119 days, (that’s 17 weeks), which can look impressive or unimpressive depending on your perspective! I’m not quite at the end of my ‘journey’, but I’m not sure there is a well-defined stop point, or an end point, (or a middle point), so this is as good a time as any to pause and reflect!
I can’t pretend I’m doing it for spiritual or soul-searching reasons, or anything so noble, but then it’s all perspective, perhaps there is a something noble in anybody who works hard and changes their behaviour to strive for anything? I find such individuals inspirational and hold them up as examples to follow, whether my friends who have achieved things which they have worked hard for or fellow local runners who have put the time in and elevated themselves.
My start point was November the 6th, last year (2016). 24 weeks away from London Marathon 2017. As previous blog posts have discussed, London Marathon has become my Moby Dick since I first watched my ex run it in 2013. I set a Good For Age qualifying time as a target, achieved it the September and ran it in 2015. A lack of genuine preparation led to unrealistic aims, an excruciating finish and an overall disappointing race experience, despite managing to get another GFA qualifying time.
You’d think that might have learned me a bit, but in all honesty my preparation for 2016 was sluggish and poorly planned once again, with only the discovery of a 2nd Edition ‘Daniels Running Formula’ in a charity shop in January saving me, putting me on the right track from the start of February. It was tough getting the training I wanted in with such a short period of time remaining but the focus it gave me allowed me to pull it out of the fire and I managed to get my PB with the magical sub-3 hour milestone (2:59:04).
I disappointed myself by dying a death with training afterwards; I ran out of steam and let my newfound enthusiasm and fitness drop off. But I was determined to learn my lessons again and give myself a full run at the training. So, opening with a cold, windy cross-country race I commenced running with 24 weeks to go and now, 17 weeks on I’ve not missed a day. In all honesty I’ve surprised myself! Which is always a nice thing.
It’s not entirely necessary to point this out, but it’s not always been easy! After a lead-in period of 6 weeks I needed to start hitting mileage totals in line with my own ‘peak’ target and as soon as you’re in that zone it’s not about just getting out, it’s about making the numbers add up. It needs planning and determination. I’ve had weeks where I’ve run 11, 12 times. I had a Sunday where, to make it a 20 mile day, I ran four separate times in one day: 4 miles pre-race, then went to run an off-road 10km, followed this with a long ‘warm-down’ (was already cold!), then ran with the wife after getting home, showered and changed!
Over Christmas I managed to hit my weeks mileage target despite picking up a slight injury after placing 3rd in the ‘Abombinable Snowman’ 10 miler on the Isle of Wight. Very painful to run on but I kept them short and easy, kept icing and rolling and it cleared up.
After Christmas I had a pretty aggressive chest cold (I’m asthmatic), and a few weeks ago I had a significant calf injury, which required me to completely rearrange my training to incorporate a highly-involved foam-rolling and icing regime.
The whole process of training, and overcoming setbacks, has taught me so much about what it takes to improve at running: the mistakes we make and some of the key elements in good training. For me the number one element to training well and improving is:
You have to have a plan. You have to know your timeframe, your target, yourself. For my first London I had a pace target based on absolutely nothing other than a misguided notion of what PB I thought I should be able to get. Now I understand that you don’t aim for specific PB’s. You have targets, but you aim to train right. If you train well you’ll get exactly what you deserve on the day. Plucking a PB out of the air is not worth the time it takes you to think about it. Our capacity to train is limited by our personal lives and our attitudes. If you are lazy you will be found out. If you can’t balance maintenance with running you will get injured. You have to plan, you have to schedule and be realistic and sensible. But it’s more than that. If you have a schedule and a busy life then you have to look ahead. When can you run? When can’t you run? Where is that second long run going to fit in? How are you going to schedule so you don’t do hard sessions too close together?
I’m not saying that people need to be this militaristic to maintain a casual, fun-running schedule. When I first started running I ran every other day, averaging maybe 3-5 miles each time. I was injury free, improved and enjoyed it. I would run long runs on Sundays when needed for longer races and still managed to become a respectable local runner who would place fairly regularly in the top 10, if not top 3.
Which leads me onto the second most important thing with running well:
Nobody builds and improves with a 1 step-forward, 1 step back approach. Or, as is more common with runners (myself included), 1,000,000 steps forward, then 3 months taking it easy. That way lies injury and disappointment, as you try to run at paces your body has lost the ability to support. If it’s not a habit, if it’s not regular, you make it tricky for your body to become accustomed to something that it doesn’t do regularly. If sitting on the sofa is the norm, exercise will always feel a little unpleasant! Instead of just sitting on the sofa you could be doing…
STRENGTH AND MAINTENANCE WORK.
A sedentary lifestyle does not strengthen the body, it is preparation to fail. Life is busy and baby steps are essential but as the amateur Ironmen and women prove, we can develop our bodies to do incredible things. But you have to have a balance. So many casual runners fall victim to imbalance injuries as they seek to develop their legs while not having the necessary core strength and stability to keep everything in the right place! For some, running will always be a chore so the idea of having to do further work around it will never appeal. However, 10 minutes of yoga before breakfast, or doing some planks and sit-ups in front of the telly; these are achievable things which will help your body help you. Some people don’t even stretch after a run…I would say that if you want to truly improve and appreciate running, (or probably any sport), you must factor in maintenance work as well. If 3 x 30 minute runs a week seems more than enough then I would not set your targets on a marathon!
This all brings me full circle. It’s not simply the miles you run or the time spent running them that can feel selfish once you try and test yourself. There is so much more. It’s coming back and spending 20-30 minutes stretching and then showering before you’re truly ready to help out around the house. It’s asking your partner/family to get you things while you sit there icing and heating for 30 minutes, or begging your partner to massage the hard to reach parts of your back. There is so much more than the time spent running that you will see on Strava and the only people who truly appreciate this and have to bear the brunt of it are those you live with. It can all feel very selfish sometimes…but once you start to achieve amazing things, as a team, it does feel very much worthwhile.