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Posts Tagged ‘PB’

Last weekend was the London marathon. I have mixed feelings about how the race went and that is possibly best captured by the top 10 things I have taken away from the race:

1)    I ran 2:43:37 and came 235th

2)    I am still the fastest runner in my club

3)    I discovered that even when I am having a bad race I can keep going and not drop out

4)    I discovered some true friends who gave me tremendous encouragement before, during and after the race (thanks Neil B and Tom C!)

5)    I feel angry with myself because I didn’t adjust to the conditions and ran the first half too fast. This anger has now entirely turned into determination that I will do better next time

6)    I needed to not PB in a marathon at some point and that is done now

7)    I know that in hot races I need to drink more

8)    I need new racing flats (not least because of the blisters I’ve been getting in recent races

9)    The marathon is short and things can go wrong very fast

10)  I very, very much want the next step forwards and I will work harder than ever to get that

The conclusion I have drawn from all this is that one of the things that is tough about running a marathon is that if one is focused on a specific goal then the race is quite short and the issues that can mean that a goal is missed can present themselves very quickly. One minute – at mile 18 – I was cruising along at sub-6 min/mile pace and the next I had slowed by 30, then 40 and then 60 seconds per mile. My dream of a PB evaporated over about 3 miles and then it was a matter of quickly adjusting and trying to lock onto a decent finishing time.

Soon after the race I realised that this is the first marathon that I have not PB’d (excluding the New York marathon where Julie and I ran together – her on her debut and me with my arm in a brace a fortnight after surgery – to finish in 3:59) and my immediate reaction to that was that I want to race in the autumn to get a new PB. However while I was in Portugal two weeks ago with my coach he said that he thought I should not run an autumn marathon this year and focus instead on a summer of 3K, 5K and 10K races and then a winter of cross-country and a half marathon or two to try to develop some raw speed that can then be developed into marathon speed for spring 2012.

By the time I am writing this, a few days after the race, I have decided that Nick is right. I have probably started to plateau and even become complacent about marathoning and improving over that distance. I now believe that a 12 month period of uninterrupted training will create a situation where I see results early next year and potentially longer term results in my running over the next few years. Apart from anything else it will be really exciting to try racing at different distances and see what I am capable of. And then next year I will come back to the marathon with renewed enthusiasm, more speed and more confidence. And this time I’ll blow the roof off!

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Tomorrow is the 2011 London marathon and I am running it. I have spent the day today resting and eating and drinking… and thinking. I believe the marathon is a challenge that requires mental as well as physical strength and that is why I write down, before every race, the reasons I know I will succeed on the day. In previous races I have done this on a piece of paper in a hotel or even just run through it in my head, but this time I will indulge myself and stick it up here. So here goes…

  1. I am fitter at this very moment than I have ever been at any point in my life
  2. I define myself as a runner and as such races like this are the reason I get out of bed every morning
  3. I know what it will feel like to finish in my target time and I want that feeling more than almost anything in my life
  4. My 74:20 PB for the half marathon tells me I am ready to get the time I want in London
  5. I have met the most amazing runners, especially in the past few months and I am utterly inspired by them
  6. This race is the next step on the road to finding out what I am really capable of
  7. The conditions are predicted to be perfect. I ran 2:40:49 in terrible conditions in Florence so good conditions will be a massive benefit tomorrow
  8. I see succeeding in the marathon as one of the keys to happiness in my life and I will hurt myself to get that
  9. I want the people I love and admire to be proud of me
  10.  I have trained for this harder than ever before – I know I can succeed

I will let you know how I get on.

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Today I ran a personal best at the Reading half marathon (hooray)… by 20 seconds (oh) which equates to just over a second a mile (erm…) and that has made me think about running, diminishing returns and what it takes to continue to improve.

A couple of weeks ago a compatriot and training partner ran his first race after months of injury and set a new personal best. However when he replied to my text asking how the race had gone, he did so without mentioning the new benchmark (which of course I knew, but I was hoping he’d mention it). And he said he was a bit disappointed. I must admit that I felt like sending an admonishing text back saying that he should be bloody pleased with a PB, but I think I knew, deep in my heart, what was going on. I will explain.

In really simple terms (‘cause I’m a simple guy) the law of diminishing returns states that if you continue to add more resources to a process there will be an initial increasing return that, as more resources is added, will start to tail off. That is not to say that the addition of resources will result in a fall in output (that is known as negative returns) but the rate of returns will start to flatten. A common example given is that of people building a car – add more people to the process and you’ll get more cars. But continue to add more people and you will still get more cars, but not at a proportional rate.

If you apply this to running, it means (to me anyway) that if you add more training you should continue to get faster but at a decreasing rate. Most novice runners – me included – take massive chunks of time off every time they race. This could due to be a number of factors:

  • fitness increases
  • experience increases
  • running economy increases
  • etc

However as the runner races more, each beneficial factor has a less magnificent impact until we are scrabbling around for seconds here and there.

Now I recognise that almost every factor in racing is non-linear – we are not machines after all – and that it is impossible to apply this type of model to human behaviour, the effect of the weather, the impact of illness, etc but I believe that every runner will acknowledge that running is like ‘bungee running’…

Bungee running? I hear you ask. Last year at a festival in central London, my fiancée and I saw a bungee running sideshow – an inflatable tunnel where people are tied to a bungee cord at the open end and try to run up the tunnel to snatch a prize at the other end. The initial few meters are easy (in a running analogy this is the first few races that a novice enters) with little resistance to forward momentum but as the bungee runner reaches the furthest extent of the cord, the effort needed to go further (in our running analogy to achieve a personal best) increases… until they are flung backwards to the open end of the tunnel, exhausted and defeated. Nice.

But there is something on our side. Something that started being discussed in the GB cycling squad and (surprise, surprise after their results in the Beijing Olympics) made it into the lexicon of the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown; the aggregation of marginal gains. It is beautifully described here and essentially is the process whereby everything that could possibly have an impact on an outcome is systematically questioned and improved, if only by 1%. This, my friends, is where we find out improvement.

So what do I think this means?

I think it means making sure every training session is a close to perfect as possible (note I do not mean as fast as possible, or as long as possible. I mean as perfect as possible).
It means getting a massage.
It means stretching for a minute more or one more muscle than before.
It means going to bed 30 minutes earlier and making sure there are no distractions in the bedroom (well, apart from that obviously).
It means laying out your breakfast stuff the morning before an early run or a race.
It means thinking about everything that one can do that might have an impact in your A-race.

And where does that leave me? Well, I’m quite a long way up the bungee tunnel and the rope is quite tight. But I am not quite ready to slip back, not yet. I know that to get a little further up the tunnel I will have to work harder. But I am also going to work smarter. And I am going to accept that my days of 15 minute PBs are over and that from now on – if I am improving, I am improving and that is all I want.

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“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford (1863-1947), American founder of the Ford Motor Company.

As the new year, 2011, gets underway the plethora of resolutions being broken is almost audible. Friend updating Twitter and Facebook announce almost gleefully that they have broken one or more (or all) their good resolutions and the media are full of stories and faux statistics about the number of people who will set themselves targets that they will fail to stick to beyond the first weekend or the first week or the first month. I even heard a phrase that I had never encountered before – ‘January joiners’, a label for those people who join gyms or football teams or running clubs, full of good intentions but who, it is assumed, won’t last beyond the end of the first month.

This is hardly surprising because most people set themselves challenges that are too tough or require privations that the average Buddhist monk would baulk at or that simply don’t fit with a lifestyle they are not prepared to sacrifice. So what? The habits of the masses are not what I am interested in.

For those of us who have a dream and know that this dream will require effort and commitment and sacrifice, there is a place for resolutions to change, for change is the surest way to achieve something different. As Aristotle said “Change in all things is sweet.”

My coach Nick Anderson, has a saying that I think many a runner would do well to think about: in order to run a personal best time, we have to be prepared to run faster than we ever have before.  I have thought about this and it seems to me that this obvious statement has behind it a truth that many runners would rather not face up to. That in order to improve we must change. It may be, and I realise that I might be committing blasphemy here, that the ‘club run’ is one of the things that limits runners’ abilities to improve. Since I started training with Nick I have had to forego the regular Tuesday club run which was the same route for half the year – the ‘summer route’ – and a different route for the other half of the year – the ‘winter route’. Those runs certainly helped me improve when I first joined the club, because they were different to what I was used to. But after a few months (possibly even after only a few weeks) my body had adapted to the stress of running those routes and the fitness gains I could derive from them began to diminish. Now I open my training programme when it is sent to me and almost every day is different and every week is different from the one before and the one following. Obviously I get to go to the club when I want to see my friends there, but I have to bid them farewell and set off on my own to do my thing when they set off on the ‘winter route’. And whilst this is something I regret, the desire to improve my times – which I believe I will do by following my training programme – is stronger than the desire to go for a run with the lads).

So for me, I will be starting the new year with a continued commitment to keep changing because that way I think I will give myself the best chance of achieving my goals in 2011. Now, Tuesday night threshold and track session, anyone…?

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This weekend I ran in the 27th Firenze Marathon, in beautiful Tuscany.This is some of what I thought of the race.

The weather forecast promised rain and it delivered. Man, did it deliver. I have to admit that I tend to be a cynic when it comes to weather forecasts and this isn’t inspite of being a geographer and meterologist – it is because of it. I know how susceptible weather systems are to winds and pressure systems, how a small pressure system dictating the weather can suddenly veer away thanks to a change in temperature or wind direction. So it was no surprise that in the week leading up to the Florence marathon today, I could find every forecast from torrential rain to clear skies. Sadly however, by Saturday morning all forecasts has coalesced on one certainty – rain. Oh, and low temperatures and a fairly stiff wind.

So how was it that here I was, atop a hill with what should have been a magnificent view of the beautiful city of Florence (or Firenze to give it is proper name) in a total downpour that ran off the plastic poncho we had been given and poured down my shivering legs to soak my shoes as thoroughly as if I was standing in a bucket of water?

Well those who have read these ramblings before will know that in August this year I started training with a coach – Nick Anderson from Running With Us. Nick suggested that we target a few races of varying distances culminating in a marathon before the end of the year to give us a benchmark. He suggested Firenze because it is a race he knows and if there is going to be decent conditions anywhere in Europe for a marathon at the end November, there is a good chance they’ll be in Tuscany.

The truth is that I decided the moment I first met Nick for a coffee in the cafeteria of a gym in west London, that I would trust him completely and follow his suggestions to the letter. I reasoned that he is an excellent and well-proven coach and that to do anything other than exactly what he said would be a futile exercise – better to give it a year and see how we go and then pack it in if it didn’t work, than half-heartedly follow a diluted programme and then never know if I was able to improve under his guidance.

I have to say though, that at 8.30am on 28 November under the rapidly emptying leaden skies of Firenze, I was starting to question whether my faith in Nick should be this total.

As expected from a mid-sized marathon with an over-zealous organising committee with questionable professionalism, on a day with such nasty conditions, the start wasn’t exactly smooth. We were herded into overcrowded pens at least 45 minutes before being lead down to the start line. By the time the barriers were removed and the line of linked-armed stewards lead us to the start line proper, I (and everyone around me) was completely drenched and shivering quite badly. We were then stopped again 50 metres from the group of elite and celebrity runners actually on the start line, before the marshalls finally stepped aside and a minute later the gun went and we were away.

The race follows a road downhill for the first mile and I was really aware of Nick’s advice that I should run conservatively and not get carried away by the overzealous Italians determined to break the 10 second barrier for the 100m as a primo piatto to the main course of the marathon. I suspect that as we reached the bottom of the descent I was probably somewhere between 200th and 300th place – I was confident I would see quite a few of the sprinters again.

Nick and I had discussed a plan for the race that would see me aiming for 6min/mile to 6:10min/mile – or 3:45min/km to 3:50min/km in Eurozone marathons – running conservatively to 16 miles and then attacking the last 10 miles. As is often the case for city marathons in order to get the miles in, the course tracked north and then west to the Parco della Cascine to eat up the first half, then tracked out east to take up another 10km before we headed back to the city centre for the cobble-y finale.

I was careful to not get caught up running with people too quick for me in the first 16 miles and indeed I struggled a bit with the fact that I couldn’t find a group at my pace so ran long stretches alone. Luckily the wind wasn’t too bad and I was so wet that there was no way the rain could affect me. I passed half way in 1:21:33 and decided to hold off my attack on the end of the race for a little longer. In fact even when I got to 27km I was still a bit concerned about over stretching myself, but a plan is a plan and I had to see whether I could do what Nick asked of me, so I pushed as hard as I dared. My average pace from 25km dropped from 3:53min/km to 3:46min/km.

As ever the last few miles were really tough and there were a few lonely stretches where I really zoned out and felt quite ‘out of body’. I was convinced that I had hit the wall and was staggering along, whereas in fact my pace only increased the closer I got to the end. Finally around 39km I remember snapping back into reality and realising that I had barely 12 minutes of running left. I started to focus and work out that I had a new personal best in the bag – I just needed to keep doing what I was doing.

And so I did keep the pace and suddenly I rounded the bend into the magnificent Piazza san Croce and the inflatable finish line. Time: 2:40:49 – a PB by 3 minutes, a negative split by 2 minutes and 48th place. Job done!

I find it difficult to describe how cold I felt at the end. I had to grab a foil blanket and a cup of tea and get back to the hotel as fast as I could for a 20 minute hot shower. But nothing – not the cold, nor the state of my feet or the fact that I knew I had no time to relax before I needed to head to the airport – could dampen my elation. I was really proud of myself!

So what does this all mean. Well I think that the conditions and the super-twisty nature of the course cost me a couple of minutes so I think that on a different day I would have gone under 2:40. This means that I am another big step closer to the next target for spring next year and it also validates 100% the faith that I have put in Nick. I am sure of one thing and that is that without his input I would not have run that time in those conditions. So I am looking forward with relish to the next phase of our training. But in the mean time I have two weeks off running and I am determined to enjoy that time and recharge so that when I start to build again towards London next year I am in shape to make me proud of myself again!

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I have just been to see my osteopath and, dare I say it, friend Gavin Burt at Backs and Beyond. I have known Gavin for almost as long as I have been running. A runner himself he has treated me for all sorts of, thankfully, minor complaints and kept me running the whole time. Before the Paris marathon this year I went to see Gavin a week or so before a key race for a bit of a MOT and realignment and it seemed to work so I went to see him again today. I tend to get to the taper period before a race feeling a bit crooked – stiff back, inflexible hips, the odd niggle here and there. So Gavin and I talk through the upcoming race while he checks me over, works on any tightness and cracks my back. I always leave feeling looser and taller and readier than before I went in. I know I now just have to maintain the improved form and posture for 10 days until race day.

As Gavin is a runner, I make sure we also always talk about his running. He is a busy man with a demanding and successful practice (witness the phone call I overheard as I waited to pay in reception, between the receptionist and a customer who was calling for an appointment only to be told that it was at least 5 days until he could have the time he wanted) but Gavin always keeps up his running and bangs out at least a brace of marathons and a clutch of halfs every year. Today when we were talking I mentioned one of the benefits I get from my coach Nick Anderson – the fact that we discuss race strategy and pacing together and Gavin said that he thought he might benefit from coaching, especially when it came to getting his marathon time down. Now to protect his privacy I won’t actually go into numbers, but Gavin’s marathon time is much slower than his half marathon time suggests it should be.

I was curious. “Is that because you start off at just slower than half marathon pace and then run a significant positive split?”

“Oh no, I set off at the pace that I finish at” said Gavin.

Me “So really Gavin, like so many of us, the problem is between your ears not in the legs or lungs?”

I am increasingly of the opinion that we are capable of more than we can possibly realise and that what limits our performance is psychological rather than physiological. While we were talking this afternoon, Gavin had asked me what my ultimate aim was as far as marathon running goes. Six months ago my answer would have been that I would dearly love to get under 2:40 in 2011 and then target a sub-2:30 marathon in the following 12 months. But now I am not so sure. Why aim for an arbitrary time like 2:30 if I am capable of running 2:28?

The beauty and the challenge of distance running is that every one with a target time in mind must make a decision about the pace they want to run before the race starts or within the first mile or so. There is no point running 20 miles at 8 min/mile to pace and then trying to break 2:45… there isn’t enough road or time left. So if you want to break 2:45 you need to start off at somewhere near 6’15” per mile. Logical that.

But then how do you decide what the target time should be and therefore the pace? Well training helps, I think. Training allows us to experiment with paces and see what works. If you think that a 3 hour marathon is possible then a 50:50:50 session with 50 minutes easy, 50 steady and 50 at race pace will tell you whether 26.2 miles at 6’50” pace is possible. Or 10 x 800s in 3 minutes per rep (good old Yassos) will let you know whether you are in shape.

Or we can approximate our potential race pace from shorter races – a half marathon time doubled plus 10 minutes. Or a 20 miler at target marathon pace should feel comfortable at the finish line.

And yet… the marathon is still a really significant challenge. There is something about the full 26.2 miles that means that experienced runners with many, many races under their belt, will start off at a pace that is so significantly slower than their training or tune up races suggest they are capable of, that their results have a very obvious kink that can only be explained by their psychological state rather than their physical one.

This is, of course, exactly what I am wrestling with in my own mind with 8 days until the Florence marathon and if I look at a couple of online calculators I get some pretty exciting (or, ahem, scary) numbers:

According to the McMillan Running Calculator my recent results suggest the following:

  • 01:14:20 half marathon (Birmingham 2010) = 2:36:46 marathon
  • 55:58 10 miles (Cabbage Patch 2010) = 2:36:45 marathon

[now that is nothing if not consistent!]

And the Runners World calculator gives similar results:

  • 01:14:20 half marathon (Birmingham 2010) = 2:34:58 marathon
  • 55:58 10 miles (Cabbage Patch 2010) = 2:35:21 marathon

But I was planning on targeting a slower time than both of the calculators suggest I am capable of. What to do? Well whilst I don’t like the idea of hitting the wall with an almighty thump and having a horrible last 6 miles, I think that fortune favours the brave and so I might just have to readjust my target. But I think I’ll keep the fine details to myself for now… sorry!

And the final word goes to Gavin. Having done the MOT and given me a full assessment he told me that I am in good shape. No terrible tightness or misalignment. So that is a green light. One week to go and my focus is on staying healthy, hydrated and relaxed. Facile, as they say in Italy.

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Like the vast majority of runners, I work full time to pay for the day-to-day costs of living along with the luxuries that make life that little bit sweeter! I work for a design agency where I have the grandiose title of account director. I spend my working day making sure that our clients are happy and that they are getting what they want whilst also trying to find the next client to keep happy. It is a challenging and fulfilling role that is well remunerated and affords me a day off a week as well as the weekends to train and relax. Best of all I have a very, very supportive boss who, as a runner himself, understands the need that I have to pull on my trainers every day and get my training done. All in all, I am really lucky.

However the job that I do and the job that all my colleagues do is very demanding at times. Our clients are highly motivated and driven businesses who thrive on being able to do more, so the more we give the more they want. And I sometimes feel like Billy Kramer in some crazy tug-of-war with clients demanding my attention with ever increasing shrillness and desperation (and ‘no’ I am not exaggerating!) The truth is that I am not even really good at what I do, it is just that I have a great group of colleagues of whom I am the most visible and the clients don’t have anyone else to do what we do as well as we do it.

Last week the grasping reached a new level – every client wants all their challenges solved in time for Christmas. And one client decided that her department was not getting enough attention and she was going to let someone know; my boss.

The sad thing is that rather than saying that she thought I was crap at my job or that I wasn’t allocating my time effectively, she decided to hit me where it hurt by telling my boss that I was impossible to get hold of because I am always out running. This was a shock.

The truth, as any runner with a full time job will testify, is that running fits in around work. I happily admit that some nights when it gets to 6.30 or 7pm and I am still in the office and I still have things on my ‘to do’ list, I will decide it is time to go for a run and that the work will wait for the morning. Or that if I have to run before work I sometimes just get in for 9am by the skin of my teeth. But the longest runs I ever do during the week are 90 minutes and they are club runs that happen in the evening, so they don’t interfere with work at all. The reality is that her complaint was utter bullshit.

However bullshit sometimes sticks and whilst my boss remains steadfastly supportive I know that a different person might have thought that there is no smoke without fire and that my focus had possibly been somewhere other than doing the thing that I get paid for.

The annoying thing is that I believe that fit and healthy colleagues are a good thing and that my running is an asset to any business. I am fitter than most if not all of my colleagues and as a result very rarely ill. Most mornings I arrive at work fresh and motivated. I don’t drink as a rule, so there are never hangovers for the business to pay for. I could go on.

The point is that there must be many like me who are much more than recreational joggers – people who train hard and race hard, who will tell tales of PBs and tough training sessions when asked how their evening or weekend was. And those people have to understand that they are unusual and their focus might be viewed with suspicion or misunderstanding. That their passion might become a problem.

Well, if that is you please remember this: work is important, but I doubt it will provide the feelings of fulfillment and well-being that come with being the best possible runner you can be and on that basis, don’t hide your light under a bushel – be proud of what you are and don’t let anyone undermine your focus. After all, they’re probably just jealous!

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