Thursday, 23 April 2009

Monday 2nd March - Sunday 8th March

So yet again I've managed to get to the final and biggest race of the season in far from top form. A week off sick is never a good thing in an athlete’s life, but two weeks before the race I'd been aiming at and training for (for nearly five months), my timing is less than perfect.

I struggled with my coach as to what to do training-wise this week. I'd wanted last week to be really hard, with a lot of mileage and some quality sessions.
Instead I was in bed struggling to keep dry toast down. I wanted to really ease back for the race, letting my body recover so I could be at my best. Instead I had to get some runs in to get back my fitness and to rebuild my confidence.
It was tricky. I was still recovering my strength from the illness, so getting the balance was key. Too far or too hard and I'd be tired come race day.
Not enough and I feared I'd be found wanting by the pace required to be competitive.

On Monday and Tuesday I attacked my key training sessions relatively hard considering it was only a few days before a massive race. We changed my usual morning thirty-minute steady run into a tempo session. Ten minutes warm up, ten tempo, and then ten warm down. I actually felt quite good. My stomach problem had passed and I had some strength in my legs compared to my race on Saturday. It was a step forward but completing a ten-minute tempo run is miles from completing a ten kilometre cross country race against the best in the country. With a track session on Tuesday night and energy conservation my top priority, easy runs on Monday night and Tuesday morning were completed. They were so slow I hardly broke sweat and was over taken on a solo training run for the first time in years!

With a number of my training group taking part in the race on Saturday the coach broke the session up. We started with 1200's followed by three 400's then the same again. I worked the longer reps, building my confidence. I felt OK and then flowed round the 400's, letting my legs turn over at a good rate, but at no stage did I want to push myself into severe oxygen debt. I knew with a weakened body it would take me longer than normal to recover and time wasn't on my side. I was reasonably happy with the way things were going. I would have liked to have been able to save myself more, but having had a week off I knew I needed to remind my body how to deal with hard work.

From now until Saturday it was just a case of easy running and a few strides to keep the legs ticking over. I focused on being positive. I'd had the best winters training I've ever had, which had to count for something. I put my feet up as much as possible and tried to tell myself that last week was a chance for my body to rest up, and for my legs to repair themselves, rather than let the illness become an overbearing negative.

The day of the race arrived and I was as excited as I was nervous. I was feeling good and was focused solely on my race and forgot all about my less than perfect preparations.
The Inter Counties in Nottingham have a special atmosphere. With numerous age group races going on throughout the day there is always something happening.
Sky TV cameras add a bit of spice to it, and everyone that's there is there because they are the best in their County. All season you run for your club in open races that anyone who wants to can enter but to run here, you have to be selected. It makes you feel special, like you've achieved something already.

As well as focusing on my race as an individual I was also very aware that my county, Surrey, were in with a very good chance of winning a medal in the team race. With nine runners in each county starting out and only six to score I was going to have my work cut out just to make the team.

We all lined up in our starting pen decked out in the gold of Surrey. Annoyingly, due to my poor luck with illness this season when it came to the big races, I was at the back of the pen. As I was the last qualifier from the County Championships, where I'd suffered with a cold, it was going to be a tricky start.
The gun went and it was a charge up the first hill. Runners quickly swamped me and the crowd dictated my pace. I would have liked to have run at my own pace and have taken closer order from the gun but I couldn't. Part of me wanted a steady start after my poor race build-up. It would give me chance to get into my stride, find my pace and ensure that I didn't go off too hard and use up all my energies.

I felt comfortable but could see I was falling behind where I had wanted to be. Having come well outside the top one hundred last year, I'd set a target at the beginning of the season of 50th. After half a lap I was able to dictate my own pace. I started to move forward slowly. I guess I must have been outside the top 200 after my start and surveyed the field for other Surrey runners to gage how I was doing. I could see a group of four Surrey boys but they were well ahead. I was dismayed. They'd gone for it from the off, weaving in and out to get up well inside the top 100. I'd played the safety card, possibly my lack of fitness and fear over my staying power and lack of strength meant I was happy to settle into the pace of the crowds that engulfed me.

I continued to make progress through the field. I was running reasonably well, but I knew it wasn't well enough. Something was missing. That little bit extra I'd been training for all winter wasn't there. My legs felt reasonably strong but I didn't have the speed and endurance I'd wanted.
Up ahead I had glimpses of my teammates with whom I'd raced all winter. I knew where I should be in relation to them but I wasn't. Yet again I'd missed my chance and all because of food poisoning. The way I was performing showed I was in great shape; I was just outside of the top 100 in the UK. But my reserves had been depleted by my illness. I think I was fooling myself that I could have run to my true potential. How can I perform to my best so soon; after losing half a stone in body weight, after having my energy stores so thoroughly depleted, after having my training routine completely disrupted. As I finished all these things went through my head.
Part of me told myself I was making excuses. It's part of the game to get yourself to the line in the best shape possible. I'd failed at that. But my excuse was valid. If it had been just a single day off sick or a cold maybe I would have been making excuses. I was just absolutely gutted. 107th and eighth Surrey scorer. I'd missed out on a team bronze, which didn't make me feel great. It seemed like the rest of the guys I'd been dicing with all season had got to the start line in great shape. 7th, 14th, 43rd, 60th, 63rd, 64th 74th. I should have been in the middle of that lot. 107th felt like nowhere.
On Sunday I didn't run. I needed time to put things into perspective. 107th was much better than last years performance. I'd performed well when I didn't have the best tools. When I look at what my teammates did, it shows me what I can do, and it puts me in the mix.

Running can be a cruel sport. I'd put six months into one race and illness made it seem as though I shouldn't have bothered. But I've had success leading up to this point. The work I'd put in won't be wasted. I just have to change my goals and come back fighting. I want to move up to the Marathon and be more competitive over the shorter distances on the road.
The Inter Counties will come round again next year, and I'll have another chance to prove myself. If I can improve as much as I have done this year all this will be forgotten. With running there's always another race, another chance.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Monday 23rd Feb - Sunday 1st March

Food! I love food. I love running because it requires me to consume vast quantities of food! Up until now it has been a good friend of mine. It makes me stronger and picks me up from the lows of exhaustion. However, food kicked me in the guts this week, literally.

I like a treat, and after a long Sunday I feel I deserved a treat. A nice piece of cake found it's way into my grubby paws. I wolfed it down, it didn't taste as good as it might have but I thought nothing more of it as I moved onto my staple diet of a big bowl of cereal.

On Monday morning I was up early and completed a simple thirty-minute run. I felt OK and there were no sign of what was to develop. As the day wore on I began to feel a little odd. I was tired and lethargic. I was a little light headed and had a slight aching in my stomach. I completely lost my appetite and when this happens I know that something's wrong.

The time for my scheduled evening run arrived. I was racked with guilt as I declined to put my trainers on deciding instead to get an early night hoping that it would all just pass with a little rest.

It didn't pass.

Half way through the night I was up - my head down the toilet. It wasn't fun. I can't remember the last time I was sick. I like to pride myself in having a strong stomach but tonight something had well and truly weakened it.
I was up and down all night, but at the back of my mind was the fact that at least my body was ridding itself of the troublesome bug and that I would be quickly be back on my feet.

I was wrong.

I'll save you the details but for the rest of the week I didn't like to venture more than a short dash from the toilet. I couldn't seem to shift whatever it was that was irritating my stomach. I was still eating, aware that I needed to keep up my strength, and drinking well, ensuring I wasn't dehydrated. But it was all very bland, water and dry toast.

By Wednesday evening I thought I was on the road to recovery and with a race on Saturday I knew I needed to eat some proper food so I stood a chance of making the start line.
It was the last league match of the season. My club Epsom & Ewell Harriers were in the running for promotion to Division One. To compete in Division One next year would give me stronger competition every weekend and will hopefully prepare me more for the bigger cross country races, when every second counts, which are sometimes a shock to the system when I'm used to cruising to victory. I knew I had to run if we were to stand a chance of promotion. I had a decision to make. Did I miss the race to ensure I was rested and recovered for the final remaining race of this season, the Inter Counties, or did I race to help ensure that next season I had the competition to make my whole season as strong as possible.
Eating normal food didn't go down too well with my stomach. I was almost back to square one. I paid my doctor a visit. I explained the situation to her and rather than just advise rest and no or minimal food as I'd expected, she advised me to eat normally until my race on Saturday, compete if I felt able, then fast for twenty four hours. Giving my stomach a rest and hopefully enabling it to recover and return to normal.

So I carried on as normally as I could. As I wasn't running I didn't have to consume the same levels as I would normally, just enough to keep my energy up.

Friday came round and I was still unsure of whether to run or not. I decided an easy twenty minutes to test everything out was a good option. I felt dreadful, but I didn't need to nip into the bushes, which was my biggest fear. I would race and keep my figures crossed that I could pull something out of the bag.

The race was in Lloyd Park in Croydon, my favourite cross-country stomping ground. It gave me a bit of confidence that I felt so at home racing here. I hoped it would add an extra string to my depleted bow.
I did a minimal warm up. I would use the first mile to warm up properly, the less running I could get away with the better. My goal was to make sure I finished and that I did so within the top ten. No point in taking all the risks I had and not completing the race. At no point was I going to take the lead. If I was in contention I would leave it till the last stride if possible to hit the front. I knew I wouldn't have much energy for the race or my recovery post race, so saving as much as I possibly could was key.

The race started and I settled into a pack in around twentieth place. We hit the first hill and it felt like Everest. I had no power in my legs. I knew it was going to be a long hard slog and that I'd need to play to my strengths if I was to get to the front and really help my team's push for promotion.

Up hill was hard, but down hill was no problem. I could stretch out my legs and chew up the ground on the leaders without wasting any energy. I managed to use the first two down hill sections to move up to fifth. On the flat I felt reasonably comfortable and my group of five moved clear of the field. Up the next hill the two leaders, one a team mate, the other from a rival club vying for promotion, moved away. I managed to stay with the rest of the group then moved onto the back of the leaders down the next hill.

I was actually enjoying the fact I was running under such tough circumstances; it added a strange spice to my race. I was running with less pressure on me to win. I could just concentrate on running a tactical and sensible race.
We finished the first lap as a group of three. I was stalking at the back, unwilling and unable to take on the pace. I decided to alter my pre race aim. I was clear in third and as long as my teammate won, I'd be content with third. But I wanted an Epsom & Ewell victory, so my mission was to stick to my opponent and react only to what he did.
My teammate Phil made his move early on the last lap. He managed to open a gap on us and I was content to let him go. By this time I was finding the going tough. I was really lacking any energy. My aerobic capacity was fine but my legs just felt empty and drained.

Up the next steep incline I was dropped. I had no response and resigned myself to finishing third. The gap grew to a hundred metres quickly. I managed to recompose myself on the flat and stayed within watching distance of the action in front. Suddenly I noticed my teammate faltering. The gap to second was quickly eaten up. I woke myself up and decided to make an attempt to catch back up if I could.
My competitive spirit had got the better of me. If we finished second and third instead of first and third it would make little difference to whether or not we were promoted. I just felt that if I could win feeling like I did it would be a great confidence boost for when I got myself back to 100% fitness.

I caught my teammate who'd fallen behind the leader and started to slowly claw back the gap to first. Up the final uphill drag I neither gained nor lost any ground. It was all down hill to the finish now. I began gaining and with one hundred metres left I made contact. I went for it straight away. Anything I had left I gave and it was just enough. After an initial tussle I pulled a few metres clear in the last few strides. Of a five-mile race I'd only spent ten metres in the lead. But they were the ten metres that counted!

I was shattered and my warm down was a dash to the Portaloo!

I refuelled that evening then set about a twenty-four hour fast. I was actually feeling a little better post race. Like I'd finally blown away my bug. But I took no chances and rested up, 'Doctor's orders'.

Now it was about recovering my depleted energy reserves to ensure that for the final and biggest race of the season I had a chance of being competitive. I hoped I'd made the right decision by running. We'd gained promotion for next season but had it come at a cost? I'd soon find out, as there's no hiding place at the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Monday 16th Feb - Sunday 22nd Feb / Nationals

This week the National Cross Country Championships were being held in their spiritual home of Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath.

I love the National. Runners from all round the UK, of all abilities, set out for some quality racing with individual goals and hopes for the race. The men's race is a great sight, with nearly two thousand runners racing in their club colours and Parliament Hill has got to be the biggest cross country test of them all.

Undulating is a polite way of describing the course. A bit muddy doesn't do justice to the ranges of underfoot conditions you face. The mud can be like an ice rink or like quick sand and you never know what you are going to encounter.

I really wanted to put in a solid performance. So far this year things haven't quite gone my way in the big races for one reason or another and although my confidence had taken a few knocks, I still had faith that I was training better than ever and that at some point I would surely see the fruits of my labour.

It's always difficult to know how to tackle the week of training leading up to a big race like the National. It wasn't my main aim for this season - that was to come in a couple of weeks. But it is an important race and it's definitely a race that needs to be respected. To go into it shattered from a really hard weeks training would be madness. You'd soon be found out because if you sneeze, you lose a dozen places, so it's important that you feel confident that your body is strong enough to tackle seven and a half miles of fast, testing cross country racing.

Over the past eight months, since working with my coach Robin Dixon, a lot of the worry of how to tackle weeks like this has been taken away from me. I discuss with him what I want to achieve overall in a season and what I want to achieve in each individual race. He then sets about guiding me in the right direction so I can achieve my goals and perform at my best when I need to. Obviously certain things alter your plans and illness and injury are factors which will always change the path of your season and how you approach certain races. However, with Robin directing me, I now only have to focus on each session he writes out for me, rather than being constantly distracted by the thought of what I will be doing tomorrow or next week or next month.

So we decided that this weeks training would tail off towards Saturdays’ race, but only slightly - enough to give me a bit of bounce in my step but not so much that I compromised future races.

Monday was 30 and 40 minute runs which were tackled at a steady pace. Tuesday morning was a couple of miles to stretch out the legs. The evening session on the track was an initial 1200 metre rep, which I worked hard on, helping to push the pace as we lapped the track in around 72 seconds. This was enough to make me feel like I was working. The second part of the session was three sets of 4 x 400 metres. This is where I backed off saving some gas for Saturday. I was lapping around 70 seconds striding out as much as I could but staying close to my comfort zone. I didn't want to feel the lactic burn in my legs, that my heart was going to burst out of my chest or that my lungs were going to explode! I was working but I knew I could always pick the pace up if I needed to. The racing takes place on Saturday not on Tuesday night.
Wednesday was cut back considerably from the hour plus runs I'd been completing to just 20 and 40 minute easy runs. Thursdays tempo was cut to just 6 minute bursts within a 50 minute run, with a hours slow plod in the evening and Friday was just my usual pre race 20 min jog with strides.

I felt good going into the race. My legs were reasonably rested and the way I'd run on Tuesday gave me confidence as I'd shown myself during the 1200 that I was running well and in the 400's, although at the back of the pack, I wasn't finishing miles of the pace and this, without giving my all.

Race day and the gods were on our side. The sun was out and there was no breeze to speak off. This didn't fool me and after a quick look round the course, 15 millimetre spikes were placed in the bottom of my shoes. Mud, mud and more mud, the more grip I could get the better.

The race begins with a charge up hill for 400 yards or more. I decided to play a waiting game and relaxed for the first mile. It's all too easy to get caught up in things and push too much too soon. I set about getting into some sort of rhythm, which was difficult on a course that is so undulating and with so many changes in underfoot conditions. I was feeling good after a lap but was outside the top hundred. My goal was to finish in the top hundred. I pushed on at the start of lap two and was passing people consistently. At the half way point I was in around 100th place and still felt confident and full of running but just wasn't able to give as much as I felt I had. I was working hard but just lacked that edge, that extra five percent, which can make such a difference.
I knew I was capable of being much further up the field but yet again I couldn't realise it. I continued to work through on the last lap finishing in 89th place.
I was relatively satisfied. It was my highest placing in a national cross country race and shows that this year I'm running at my best. But it was one of those races where I feel I could have achieved so much more. The top 50 was by no means an impossibility. I know I have the potential to do it, the way I'd run told me so. It was a solid banker race. Unspectacular but another box was ticked and I remain convinced things are going to come together soon.

I've got the drive and motivation like never before. My long run on a Sunday is a great example of this. It's no longer a drag. I can't wait to put in the miles; it's made me stronger psychologically as well as physically. Even after racing over seven miles the day before doesn't stop me now. Previously, I may have wimped out, put it off for another day or cut the length down. Now I have to stop myself from doing more than my coach has set.
I need to put that cherry on the cake and to start performing in races. The sooner, the better, as far as I'm concerned. It's all well and good putting in weeks of great training but results are what count and I need to step up to the mark.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Monday 9th Fevruary - Sunday15th February

After the fun of running in snow I was glad to get back to normality this week.

I'd always thought I wasn't a creature of habit, doing the same runs at the same time every week, year in year out. I'd thought I was a lot more flexible with my training. If I felt good I'd make adjustments and do more or work harder, the same if I wasn't feeling quite right. But it turns out I like the reassurance of tried and tested routines. So it was with great pleasure that I donned my trainers for Monday's runs of thirty and forty minutes.
A Monday schedule I'd thought I was growing tired of. Not any more.
I never get tired of training on a Tuesday night. It's one of my real quality sessions of the week. But I guess you do take it for granted. Tuesday night is group-training night, only last week it wasn't and I missed it! At first I didn't think I really would miss it, but now looking back a week I know my mind and body longed for the extra impetus training in a group, doing hard and fast work, gives you.

So we tackled six 1400 metre loops on the road. I think everyone must have been missing working together as we were flying along. When I look back in my diary we were a good few seconds up on each rep. We were all up there as well, right to the bitter end. Quite often the group disperses a little after the initial charge to get away. Today, however, we were finishing more or less together. I started to wonder if my enthusiasm had got the better of me by the final two loops. I was starting to blow. But I dug deep and regained some form of composure to get the session done and done well.

Having had a bit of an up and down week due to the weather my coach decided to punish me! I told him the weather had nothing to do with me. He didn't listen to my pleas and upped my mileage for the second half of the week, beginning with a single 75 minute run on Wednesday. I decided to become a coach myself and included a very easy ten minutes in the morning. The first run after a hard Tuesday night session is always painful. My legs are tired and stiff and it all seems a chore. By doing a ten-minute leg stretch it got the aches and pains out of the system before my long evening run.
It worked wonders. I felt very little pain or fatigue in the evening. I almost would go as far to say as I loved every step of my longer than normal run. I particularly enjoyed being able to get a good distance away from home. The extra time gives me room to try paths and routes that I would normal only include on my long Sunday run. Having talked about loving routine I still had a soft spot for spicing training up with different training elements.

On Thursday training again was that little bit further than normal, my usual 15 warm up 15 tempo 15 warm down were increased to include a 25 minute tempo run. Keeping with routine I used my normal route, which takes my usual 45-minute session to complete. The spice was added by lapping Ashtead Village Green to add ten minutes to my run. Having just read back that sentence I guess I'm really easily pleased, I don't think Ashtead Village Green has spiced up many young men's lives! But to the long distance runner simple changes of scene like that can make world of difference. And I think it did make a bit of a difference. Just as I was beginning to feel the strain after ten minutes of tempo running, the diversion gave me a new impetus and I finished the run as strongly as I'd begun it. Exactly what you want from a tempo run.

Friday was an easy day. But I was told to run. Where normally my day's so easy I don't actually do a run and completely rest up, I was under strict instructions to get at least an easy 30 minutes under my belt. So I did.

On Saturday a small group tackled a session in Richmond Park, including tempo running, which always feels a lot faster and harder when I do it in a group, perhaps it is, and some hill running which, opposed to a normal hill session where you summit the hill and turn back, included a good four hundred metres on the flat once we we'd reached the peak. It's all about simulating racing. You never climb a hill then stop in a race. You have to quickly regain your normal cadence and form and by doing this sort of hill rep it teaches you how to cope with the change in style and work rates involved.

Thankfully my Sunday run was kept at just an hour and a half. It was about all my legs wanted to do as they began to feel a few side effects of the week. That said I'm sure I could have done more if required. My legs although tired are ready for more of the same next week, as we really get into the big races of the cross-country season.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Monday 2nd Feb - Sunday 8th Feb

This week the weather dictated when, where and how much I trained. I woke to find a winter wonderland outside my bedroom window. Being the big kid I am I couldn't wait to get outside a play. Snowballs, sledging and snowmen till late morning. What a great way to spend a Monday - if only they were always such fun!

I walked into town to see what was happening and to pick up something for lunch. I had planned to go for a run when I got back. However my plans quickly changed after I fell over just crossing the street! I was at my girlfriends in Cranleigh, which didn't get the same levels of snow as the rest of Surrey.
This meant that the snow on the pavements and roads was quickly compacted down, turning it into an ice rink. I didn't have access to any off road runs so decided to miss training rather than risk injury. I unfortunately had to spend the rest of the day sledging, where (if I am honest) I stupidly risked injury!!

On Tuesday morning I decided to risk driving home. I couldn't believe just how much snow had fallen on Epsom Downs. Cars were abandoned everywhere as over a foot of snow covered the ground. Thankfully, at home I can walk out of the back door and onto fields that lead over to Epsom Downs. With mud and grass under the snow, slipping and sliding was reduced dramatically and I was running again.

I left without a set time goal. With the snow so deep I didn't know how far I'd be able to get, or how tiring battling through it would be. But I relished every moment. I loved working hard every step of the way, how my feet quickly froze, the thrill of finding fresh un-trodden paths, the adventure of running down new paths and how old routes seemed very different when covered in snow.
I stayed out for seventy-five minutes, but I could have done more. The way snow gives even the ugliest of views an uplifting brightness fills you with joy and lifts your mood. If you’re in a good mood whilst out running it makes such a difference to your performance or the way you perceive your performance.

That was it for Tuesday. With my local running track closed by the council for safety reasons I had nowhere to go. I had got a long run in so on Wednesday I would try and do some speed work.

I set off unsure of how fast I would be able to run. The faster you run the more you slip. I knew that short, sharp running was a no go, so decided upon a tempo session. My favourite 15 minutes warm up, 15 tempo, 15 warm down seemed like the perfect solution.

It all went well and because of my adolescent love of the snow I felt great. It was hard work, especially the last five minutes, my thighs were really burning due to the extra strength required to pull my feet from the deep snow, my lungs were taking in long deep breaths of freezing air, my core stability was stretched to the enth degree trying to keep me in an upright position and my feet were like blocks of ice. But again I loved every second. The buzz you get from completing a hard workout was doubled or even tripled. I had a massive smile across my cold, sweaty face. I couldn't wait to get back out in it.

The only way I was going to get a second run was to venture out after dark. I still didn't want to risk running on the roads, but they do have the benefit of lamps lighting the way. I looked out of the window and the moon was shining and bouncing up off the white surface. There was more than enough light to allow me to get out and run off road again. So I set out for a spot of 'off road night time snow running' or ORNTSR! It was great fun. I wandered over fields and golf courses with no particular route in mind and I'd bump into the occasional dog walker and sledge rider enjoying the same night light. I fancied more of the same on Thursday night.

I wanted to do a bit more that night than the three quarters of an hour I'd already run in the dark so did a simple thirty minutes during the day. That night I planned to do an hour's ORNTSR but the clouds had closed in and a thick fog descended cutting visibility to just over a hundred yards. But I could see the ground right in front of me well enough so I set off. It was a great run. It was another fun, new experience in the snow. I was very much focused on myself. At times all I could see was a dark white glow as the snow merged into the fog. It was as if the rest of the world no longer existed. The fog was so thick I could run barely two or three hundred metres away from a road and hear but not see the cars and their headlights. I could focus on myself and my running without any distractions.

With the snow showing no signs of melting, Friday brought some more steady state running. This time the novelty seemed to be wearing off. It was becoming frustrating that all I could really do was steady state runs. I longed to push myself through a session, so on Saturday I would do something about it.

I hit Epsom Downs with vengeance on Saturday morning. On the flat I still couldn't go any faster than my tempo pace so set off for fifteen minutes of it. What I did find is that going uphill I could almost push to my maximum without loosing grip. So I found a steep hill and climbed it. Then did it again and again ten times, all done in around the same time of a minute and a half. I hadn't finished with my session just yet so decided another fifteen minute tempo run was in order. All in all I'd done three quarters of an hours worth of fast and hard running. I was shattered and only just dragged my body back home. But I was satisfied that I had run well, pushed my body to it's maximum and that I was in good shape despite the strange way my training had gone.

I decided to go back to Cranleigh on Sunday. I'd heard it was free from snow and fancied a break from it. I wanted to run normally for ninety minutes. Not worrying about avoiding roads, about where I was going to go and how much extra energy the snow was going to take out of me. So I got it done and enjoyed running without thinking about the conditions. I'd enjoyed my week of snow fun but wanted to get back to normal and continue the good work I've been doing lately. But I wouldn't change this weeks running for all the sun in the desert and can't wait for a bit more ORNTSR but not for a good while yet.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Training Mon 26th January - Sunday 1st February

With the frustrations of the Southern’s fresh in my memory I decided to use my pent up aggression in a productive manner and hit my training really hard, putting in lots of long hard sessions and quality runs.
Often I find a poor result acts as a greater incentive, to work harder in training, than a good result. You know in a bad race that you didn't show your true potential so the next time you tow the line, your determination to show even greater potential is so much stronger. If you compete well, you can fall into the trap of resting on your laurels.

Needing to have an instant release of tension, I spiced up my normal thirty minute Monday run by pushing at tempo pace for the first third of the run, recovering for a while, then pushing hard up a near, five minute gradual hill climb before relaxing back to the finish. I needed to feel I'd had a hard run and a good run, which is what I managed to achieve. In the evening I knew I had to take things slightly easier running a steady forty minutes.

Tuesday. With a long hard session lying in wait with my group that evening I just cruised a thirty-minute run by way of preparation. That evening we were back at Ham Gate for that legendary Ham Gate session. The coach set us over eight kilometres of fast running, broken into two sets. Each set consisted of 2100, 1200 and 800 metres of running. I was feeling good, I was focused and I was determined to give one hundred percent to the session. I pushed on at the front during the first set, helping share the pace with two members of the group, James and Stuart. I knew I was working hard and I hoped I was working them hard too! The second set was going to be a hard, painful affair. The first set had been so fast that hitting the same times with fatigue setting in was going to be tough and so it was. I could feel my legs were tired but I was really focused. I kept my concentration, focusing on my running form and on maintaining contact with the other two. I managed this, give or take a couple of metres and we maintained the pace, completing each rep no more than a handful of seconds down on the initial times. I had run well but was more than happy to finish. It was a real battle of mind over matter just jogging the warm down. My body wanted to switch off, get in the car and just stop. But I knew I had to get it done. After a hard session on the unforgiving roads I knew that if I wanted to walk downstairs in the morning I had to get it done.

Having wanted to hit my training hard this week I was pleased that my coach was agreeable and set me a reasonably long Wednesday run of seventy five minutes. I cruised round surprising myself with how fresh and bouncy I felt after Tuesday night's exertions. I even found myself working the hills rather than easing back for them. I think subconsciously I was preparing myself for what lay ahead on Thursday, namely Boxhill!

Sitting in my car in the car park at the foot of Boxhill, the size of the task that lay ahead gets into your head. The sheer scale of the hill is intimidating. You have to crane your neck to see the peak you are about to climb as you squint to make out the dots of figures enjoying the view from the top. What helped me get out of the car was a training partner. Without Matt showing up I think I would have just driven back home. But with him keen to tackle the hill for the first time, chickening out wasn't an option.

My memories are of pain. Three minutes of heads down arms and legs pumping for all they’re worth. With each rep the burning in my thighs greeted me further down the hill. By the last run it was just all out agony. But finally after scraping myself up off the grass I too could take in the view, basking in the sun with the warm glow of satisfaction easing the pain and numbness in my legs. I think Matt enjoyed it too, although he hasn't mentioned meeting up for a repeat performance, although for that matter, neither have I!

Easy running was all I had planned until Saturday. Easy running is all I could face or do!
Saturday came round as quick as a flash and it was back to some tempo running. With my club participating in a local cross-country relay I decided to combine my training with a leg of the race. I took the role of anchorman. Not for the glory of bringing the team home, it was more to do with having space in which to do my own thing. I didn't want to be battling it out for position. I knew that by the time it was my go everything would be decided. Which is what I wanted as I was set twenty five minutes of fast tempo running and with a lap taking less than ten minutes I would have to just keep going after passing the finish. If I had to work hard and push all the way there was no chance I was going to be able to just keep going.

Thankfully my plan worked. I whipped round the course with no one in sight. Then having crossed the line, slowing to pass through the funnel I took off again. I must have looked like I'd taken the wrong turn to all the dog walkers. I was still decked out in my team colours and race number but with no one else to be seen. The second half of the run was hard. I had pushed the pace more than I would normally for a tempo run in the race. Your competitive spirit takes over when you’re in club colours. But it was good for me. Another hard work out and a great weeks training proved to be the most satisfying week that I've logged down in my diary for a while. I wanted more. I was tired but it was a good tired. I still had energy and will power to burn and the tiredness in my body was a positive thing. It was like I could actually feel my body getting stronger and faster. I just need to make sure I don't try to take on too much and have illness or injury come bite me like it has before. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Monday 19th January - Sunday 25th of January

This week I was a little caught between wanting to ease up for racing and continuing on with the good progress I'd been making in training. With the Southern Cross Country Championships on Saturday, (over nine miles of muddy fields), I knew it would be a real test of my fitness. To go into them tired was asking for trouble, but I wanted to build on my fitness and all round conditioning. You always want more, with every hard run you feel faster and stronger, with every easy recovery run you feel your fitness is just treading water.

I decided to keep working hard on Monday and Tuesday and then make a decision based on how my body was feeling with regard to how much and how hard I should train for the rest of the week.

So on Monday I ran a reasonably hard double header of 35 and 45 minutes. I felt strong and relaxed for both, which is relatively rare when I work hard twice in a day. Normally the second run is more of a chore. I feel lethargic and know I'm working a lot harder than I should for the pace I'm running at. But not on this run - it all flowed. They were both the type of runs where you just feel you could keep going forever.

After running hard twice on Monday I took things really easy on Tuesday morning. The run was OK, but I often find it quite tiring to run slowly. And I was running so slowly that I didn't really enjoy it. Unlike yesterday's runs I wanted it to be over almost as soon as I'd begun. But I got it done and it helped flush my legs out ready for the evening's session.

For my speed work my coach had set out another broken session. We began with a two-kilometre rep. I felt really good. I was lapping just shy of seventy two second laps which I was happy with, especially as it was a freezing cold night, far from ideal conditions to stretch out the muscles. We then tackled two sets of five x four hundreds. Again I felt good, dipping under seventy seconds, without ever hitting top gear. I began to feel a small build up of lactate in my legs towards the end of the set, a sure sign that fatigue was beginning to set in.

With Saturday in mind I decided to ease back a few seconds for the next set and run closer to race pace. I tried to slow down to an easy seventy three seconds per lap, running within myself, listening to my body, but my times were always up. I had to push myself to the back of the pack to slow myself down, forbidding myself to overtake anyone. Finally I was hitting my self-imposed lap times. I finished just how I'd intended, feeling that I'd worked hard but with gas in the tank and freshness in my legs.

On Wednesday I did a fairly easy fifty minutes. It felt OK, but my calves were a little tight, possibly due to the cold temperatures the previous evening. I didn't want things to get any worse so I decided to take Thursday off rather than Friday. The sooner I eased out the stiffness the better. So Thursday was a hot bath and stretch day, not the hardest day's training I've ever had! But it had the desired effect.

Friday was just easy running, nothing I did today was going to make me any faster in the race; it would only have the opposite effect. So a couple of relaxed twenty-minute runs, with some relaxed strides thrown in, did the job.

The race was held in Uxbridge on some college playing fields, which were, for the most part, covered in ankle deep mud. With a dozen races run before the senior men the course was churned up nicely so it was going to be a mud bath. After an initial burst to get ahead of the masses and avoid the bottleneck around the first sharp bend, I took things easy. With nine, long, country miles to run, a cautious start was the order of the day. After the first lap I was comfortable sitting around fortieth. I would like to have been higher but I just didn't feel my body was with me one hundred percent. I made my way through to a position with a group battling for a place in the top thirty on the second lap. I felt comfortable after my cautious start and was gearing up to move through the field some more. On the long slog of a climb that greeted us at the start of each lap I started to feel uncomfortable, a dreaded stitch was beginning to form. I made it to the top of the hill without losing position and hoped that on the flat the stitch would disperse. Sadly I was wrong. It only got worse. I started losing a few places as I struggled to breathe and run normally. The pain soon got so bad there was nothing for it but to stop and with it any chance I had of getting into the top twenty in the South of England.

I walked and stretched, which eased the pain until I could jog, but I was over-taken by more and more runners. I felt like it would never go. I managed to get up to some sort of speed but people kept passing me. As I was slipping back and being passed I kept to the inside of the course, out of the way, occasionally running just inside the flags, but without any advantage being gained. This wasn't good enough for one runner who accused me of cheating in a rather ungentlemanly way as he passed me. It was red rag to a bull and I pursued him, letting him know what I thought of his gesture. It would seem that shouting is the miracle scientific cure for stitches. No sooner had I finished telling him my point of view, noting that as I did so he cut a corner, than my stitch was gone. I couldn't believe it. I slowly started passing people, not wanting to get carried away in case it returned. I waited till the final lap to push again. I now felt great and was full of running. My legs were fresh and I started climbing back up the field. Having dropped to somewhere between seventieth and eightieth place I worked my way back to finish 54th.

I was so disappointed thinking about what could have been. If I hadn't had to stop I'm sure I would still have felt full of running on that last lap having saved something in the early stages. Top twenty was on the cards and would have shown me a good improvement year on year in my progression.
There was a lot to be pleased with, yet so much disappointment at an opportunity missed. I hit Sunday’s long run hard, frustrated, as I wanted to be faster and stronger for the races that lay ahead. Ninety minutes flew by as I played things out in my head. Running has got to be the best stress relief going. I made sense of everything on that run, putting things into perspective. I finished exhausted but my mind was at ease. I had a good weeks training planned and I know things will come good for me eventually if I just stick with what I'm doing.