It’s the first cross country race of the season.
The day after the Chester Marathon. I’m tired.
My next marathon is less than two weeks away. It’s time to start resting. It was a nice evening, so I went for an easy run.
Since being a child I’ve been fascinated by old doorways. Perhaps it’s an overactive imagination, picturing goodness knows what lying await behind the wood. Or perhaps it’s because for the most part of my life, through my innate nervousness, I’d rather hang back, not enter the room, stand outside, and ultimately miss out. It’s not like that anymore. Doors are made for opening cautiously, and they are made for bursting through. They don’t need to separate us from what we could be. We don’t need to miss out on the beauty that life can offer because of doors that we have built up in our heads. We can open them. We can look inside. We can all change.
(A small door on St Stephen’s and All Martyrs Church, Bolton)
They were eating sausage rolls. Or rather one of the Yr10 girls was, the other was pointing at them and asking, ‘Do you know what’s in them?’
‘Not bothered’, was the response. Presumably because nobody wants to talk about how sausages are made while they are eating them.
It reminded me of parkrun a few weeks ago. It was a quiet week and I found myself in the lead from the outset. I took a risk and pushed on as hard as I could, eventually finding myself the first over the finish line. Later that day my father in law asked me what my training was like. How had I managed to go from a 24 minute runner to, well, first over the line? I stated by saying that back in 2012 when I first started parkrun…then I added a longer run…then…
I could almost sense his eyes glazing over. I didn’t think that I was going to bore him with my answer, and that was certainly not my intention. He didn’t say ‘Not bothered,’ but his body language spoke otherwise, and not wishing to prolong his discomfort I just simply said that I had got lucky because it was, after all, a quiet week.
That’s why success is like sausages. When it comes down to it very few of us really want to get our hands dirty, we don’t want to break the process down and learn from its constituent parts. Many of us are happy enough to taste the end result, but the tiny, messy, difficult steps required to get there are for other people to attend to.
I get it. I really do. Back in my formative ‘misery years’ I would ascribe the quicker running that others could muster to an innate talent, to luck, to winning the genetic lottery. But I’m not stupid, and I quickly realised that these are just convenient excuses; they don’t ever account for the successes of others. These days I’m fascinated by what makes people successful, what makes them really push themselves far, far beyond what we mistakenly think is possible. And when I speak to these people, or read about them, or just listen to them they all say a version of the same thing: forget the sausage; just concentrate on the daily process of making one.
Sometime soon, we go again.
The details will differ. The locations, rooms, names, times, meetings, and agendas will be wrapped up in the contexts within which we work. But the essential business will remain. Namely: how can we do this even better?
To some this is exhausting. I get it. I know it can be. I have been exhausted and wrung out by it all too. The feeling that nothing is ever good enough. A feeling that almost always comes from within. Years ago now a colleague asked me for a link to my tracking spreadsheet. For a bewildering twenty minutes his words revolved around my head but failed to latch onto the image or idea of a spreadsheet. I simply couldn’t work out what he meant. I was exhausted.
I’m not now though. I haven’t been for a long time. I’m excited again. Just like I was for the whole of last year. And the whole of the year before.
Nothing is permanent. Other than change. And I need to continue to welcome this change throughout this next academic year. It’s change that lies at the heart of a creative classroom. The room is blank. The paper is blank. The air is still. Nothing happens. And then change. Change within the first five minutes of a lesson that can, sometimes, last a lifetime. Think about that. Think about that and then fail to be anything other than excited. Deeply satisfied.
Teachers, eh. We take the stillness, the calm, the silence. And then we shape the thoughts and word of others. It’s a craft. We take the absence of knowledge and skills and create understanding. We move minds. Challenge. Support.
And then we go again.
When I started to write up my training for this autumn’s Chester Marathon I had intended jotting down my notes each week. I hadn’t, however, intended on being quite so busy with various projects. This is good. I feel much better and much more productive when my mind and body are engaged in purposeful activity. Years ago, a colleague of mine would rather flamboyantly stride out of meetings claiming, ‘I can either talk about work, or actually do it.’ I’ve had to take this approach. Life has been very busy and I’ve chosen to run, rather than write about it.
That said, I now have a spare few minutes…
The last 4 and a bit weeks have been very productive. I have run 262 miles. Within this period I’ve completed long runs of 15, 16, 18, 20 miles. I’ve run another 4 speedwork sessions, 4 Bolton parkruns, and a 4.4 mile trail race. The rest of the running has either been recovery runs or steady paced efforts of around 10 miles. I’ve really enjoyed all of it.
The most important thing for me to continue to reflect on as I focus hard on the next few weeks is to be grateful. I started this year simply wanting to get to the end of it without injury. I spent so much time last year limping around the place that I was really questioning what was going wrong. I worried how would I resolve the issue: every single time I got a bit fitter, I’d end up injured. So I’m grateful that I have been able to find a solution: run more.
It’s true, and it’s deserving of separate blog post, the answer was there all along: run more. As I’ve slowly increased my mileage, I’ve got stronger. This strength has made me far more resilient. Truth be told: I didn’t need to find what cross training, strength work and stretching I needed to do to avoid injury. Instead I needed to work out how to run more to become a stronger runner. That’s not to say that cross training and the like can’t be useful. I’ve come to believe that if it is in addition to the maximum that you are capable of running, it can really help. But if it is instead of running, my guess is that it won’t help you to be a stronger runner one bit. I’m nowhere near my maximum running tolerance. And at the moment, I’m nowhere near the limping and shuffling that characterised so much of last year.
(Thanks to Marty at Bolton parkrun for the photo)
I came to this week with high expectations. In many ways you have to when you are going further and harder than you have ever been before. It’s of little value entering a session without expecting to get something from it – and this week I started running structured sessions.
I decided to start with the classic Yasso 800s. The rationale behind this particular session is well documented. Essentially it requires you to run 800 metre reps. A target marathon of 3 hours requires you to run the rep in 3 minutes with a three minute recovery. If you can run 10 of these, you should be in three hour shape. Obviously, if you are targeting a four hour marathon your timings change to four minutes.
I quick measure on Google maps and I soon found an 800 metre length of path running through Leverhulme park. Of course, it would be even easier to do it on the track there. However, a combination of the track surface and constant running on the bends seems to aggravate my calf. So, I’m staying clear.
After a few miles of jogging to warm up and considerable talking myself into it, I was ready to Yasso. I decided to run 5 reps. This would give me time to add a rep or two every couple of weeks in order to build up to the ten reps recommended by chief running officer of Runners’ World Bart Yasso (after whom the session is named). I’m obviously not running this session every week.
The first rep passed in a bewildering mixture of pain and uncoordinated movement of limbs. Anyone observing must had thought that I was either being chased by a particularly nasty swarm of wasps or was suffering from some form of uncontrollable arm spasm. Or at least that’s how it felt. The only consolation was knowing that my watch would stop at a pleasing 2:30. I was flying.
It stopped at 3:12. I wasn’t.
I spent the three minutes recovery reminding myself that however difficult today was going to be, it was precisely through running such sessions that I’d make the improvements that I am seeking. The next four reps saw a similar pattern: run hard, stare at my watch in disbelief, shake my head for three minutes, and repeat. But, by the end of rep three I was actually enjoying working really hard. I was rewarded with subsequent reps of 3:01, 2:55, 2:51, 2:55.
The day after saw me complete my midweek longer run. This 13 miler passed with an average pace of 7:22. I deliberately ran this with a negative split and felt very strong towards the end of a very warm run. A quick look on Strava reminded me that this was the quickest that I’d ever run on this course. It is runs like this which convince me that going sub 1:30 in the Bolton Community Half Marathon in September is a definite possibility.
The week’s other highlight was Bolton parkrun. I felt relaxed for a fifth place in 19:55. The lowlight was Sunday’s run. A combination of family commitments, heat, and tiredness meant that I really struggled around the course and I was truly relieved when I finally stopped.
So, this week’s training looked like this:
Monday: 9.4 miles @ 8:22
Tuesday: 5 x 800 metres (3 rec)
Wednsday: 13 @ 7:22
Thursday: 4 recovery
Friday: 10 @ 8:59
Saturday: Bolton parkrun 19:55
Sunday: 10 easy @ 9:21
Total miles: 60.5
The aim for next week is to consolidate the gains made this week and to push on slightly. More specifically, the sub targets are:
Tuesday: the rep session will be 4 x mile reps @ 6:30 m/m
Wednesday: the aim for the midweek long run will be to add a mile to make it 14 and to continue to run this as a negative split.
Saturday: Bolton parkrun. The aim will be to run this as hard (but but not a flat out effort.
Sunday: 16 miles easy, but with the last 7 @ 7:30 m/m
This has been a slightly odd week. Or perhaps I’ve just been tired. I’ll settle for tired. Really tired. OK, that’s all the negativity out of the way. Normal positivity can now be resumed.
The point that I’m labouring is that I don’t ordinarily deal well with tiredness, and this week I’ve found myself getting reduced sleep. Some of this has been connected to the fact that it’s been quite warm, particularly in the evenings. Some of this is connected to the fact that I’ve had to do some training later in the evening and I’ve not calmed down enough from the running to be able to fall asleep on time, and some of it is simply the fact that I’ve been working and training hard. I’m consciously making a note of this as I move forward with the plan: I need more sleep and I will be making this a priority over the next few weeks. I don’t want to spend the next 14 weeks feeling as mentally foggy as I have done this week.
However, I have enjoyed training this week. As I write this on Sunday night I have run for 40 consecutive days for a total of 320 miles. This is a daily average of 8 miles, and it’s the highest that I’ve ever run. I’m definitely in the place where I want to be out running and I want to continue to gently turn the screw. There’s no magic at work here, just consistent running.
Sunday’s race was a brilliantly organised trail race. The course went from the cinder track at Cam’s Lane, down to Radcliffe before winding its way down the old railway line and back up to the track. I ran as hard as I could. My breathing felt great, I just couldn’t get my legs to turn over any faster. In many ways this is pleasing. I think that it’s great evidence that the base building is working. I’m looking forward to see what happens when the more specific session start.
This week has looked like this:
Monday: 9 miles @7:22 m/m
Tuesday: 7 easy recovery
Wednesday: 12.7 @ 7:27 m/m
Thursday: 8 miles easy round the park but with 8 x 90 seconds on hills
Friday: 3 miles recovery
Saturday: 6 miles easy, then Bolton parkrun in an easy 26:00
Sunday: warm up, Radcliffe 5K trail race (19:15)
Total for the week: 55.1 miles
Next week the aim is to train is a similar way: two longer runs with the pace around 7:20 and another hill session. The main difference will be that Bolton parkrun will be a hard effort and Sunday’s run will be 16+ miles. I’m aiming for 75 miles.
The aim of this week was to continue to slightly increase the mileage. It’s now been nine weeks of upping the running, and this week came in at just over 61 miles. I’ve found myself going out running without thinking about it too much, and I’ve certainly not needed to talk myself into it.
I’ve also spent time this week watching the documentary Betting on Zero. On the surface this could be seen as a dry account of two prolific investors squaring off with each other over the investing in, and shorting of, stock in the company Herbalife. However, it’s much more than a drama being played out between two Wall Street big hitters. Not only does it open the viewer’s eyes to the ways in which these types of companies operate, it also explores aspects of trust, faith, and the often mistaken belief that we can all make it if we work hard enough. It’s often a dishonest assertion, and yet it’s one that is ruthlessly promoted by one side of the argument in this film. It’s a fascinating and sobering film. It left me being reminded of the old truism that if it looks too good and sounds too good to be true…then it probably is.
Thankfully, running is a much simpler business, or at least it is if you keep it that way. And it would seem that some people don’t. I’ve been bombarded this week with adverts on Facebook for all sorts of running related gadgets and gizmos with the implication that they can help me to get faster, recover better, and generally be a quicker runner. Perhaps these frivolities avoid another truism: you get out what you put in. Admittedly, only now am I beginning to realise that I haven’t actually ever put that much into it. I’ve always played it safe; always held back; always stopped long before I’ve actually found out what I can really do. Previously, I’ve bet on zero, or at least acted as if that’s all I’m capable of getting from running. I suppose if there is one thing that I have learned in steadily increasing my mileage, it’s that I want it. I’m ready to work hard, really hard. I’m ready to put as much as I can into this marathon build up.
So, this week’s training looked like this:
Monday: 6 miles recovery
Tuesday: 10 miles at 8 m/m
Wednesday: 9 miles with miles 2-8 as progression
Thursday: 7 miles recovery
Friday: 10 miles at 8 m/m
Saturday: Bolton parkrun (6th in 19:47)
Sunday: 14 miles easy
It’s clear where the focus needs to start to move towards. The aim of the coming week is to continue to build the base and increase the miles. However, I also need to increase the pace of some of the runs. Bolton parkrun came in at 6:25 m/m which is the nearest thing to quality that I ran all week. Other than a couple of low 7 m/m in the progression session on Wednesday, it’s been all easy running. With the aim of increasing the quality of some of the running, I’m going to do a 5K race on Sunday. This is a club race, so there should be a healthy element of competition and plenty of runners to aim for. I’m also going to run the last 5 miles of Wednesday’s long run at a pace that is just under 7 m/m. On Tuesday there is the inclusion of 10 x 100 metres of strides in an otherwise steady run. Other than that, I’ll be keeping an eye on my pace during all of the runs, and making sure that unless they are recovery runs, that the pace is turned up just a notch.