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Posts Tagged ‘potential’

Earlier this week I heard U2’s hit “Where the streets have no name” on a radio being played in another room. Suddenly I was reminded of the classic YouTube video – well it is a classic as far as I am concerned! – of the dual in the sun. This was the 1982 Boston marathon in which Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley ran the entire distance neck and neck, finishing within two seconds of each other. The video is quite amazing, especially towards the end as the commentators get ever more excited. Check out the crowds and the impressive array of technology used by the television companies to broadcast the race, which goes some way to illustrating what an important sporting event it was.

Equally compelling viewing is the video that usually pops up to the side of the race coverage video – that of Dick Beardsley describing the end of the race from his point of view and, I guess, with the benefit of hindsight.

What strikes me about Dick’s monologue is what he thought during the final few hundred meters of the race. Dick Beardsley had been leading the race, albeit only by the length of his arm, for most of the 26.2 miles. However Alberto Salazar was the favourite and, as Beardsley acknowledges, Salazar  was considered to have the better kick, so it was no surprise when Salazar dropped the hammer with less than a kilometer to go and passed Beardsley just as his hamstring cramped up.

Dick could have eased up at that point. With a cramp in his hamstring and against one of the greatest marathoners of all time and certainly of his generation, Beardsley knew that second place was his and there would be no shame in that. But he didn’t…

Instead he put in one of the fiercest comebacks in any marathon and with only a few hundred meters to go, Beardsley went for the win.

So what does that mean for us? Well I think the simple lesson is don’t give up. I know that in the end Dick Beardsley did not win the 1982 Boston marathon. But he did know as he crossed the finish line that he had given his all and exceeded everyone’s expectations of him, perhaps even his own expectations. I think that the way he raced and didn’t give up also illustrates the kind of man he is and the level that he was training at. He gave it his all and this is what I think that everyone should do, whether that is running the first 10K or the 100th marathon, giving it all allows us to find out what we really are capable of.

So have a look at the videos and remind yourself of your aim. Then in every way you can make sure you give it 100%… you never know U2 might find out that you are capable of more than you ever thought possible.

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As I have mentioned before, some time ago I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a talk given by the dynamic duo – Liz and Martin Yelling. You can read about the event here.

The talk wasn’t really aimed at people like me. It was a talk organised by the Yellings’ primary sponsor Adidas for a group of people who had won an opportunity to be given some high-level training tips and a free pair of shoes after a pretty cursory gait analysis. But Liz or Martin – I can’t remember which – did talk about something that is pertinent to everyone who runs and wants to be the best they can be. They asked us to each think about how big our training budget is. It is an interesting question; what are you prepared to give up in pursuit of your ultimate achievement?

Smoke? Well you’d better give that up. Junk food addict? A salad might help now and then. Three square meals a day? Might have to swap that for more smaller meals throughout the day. Working eighteen hour days? A job that takes less time will be required. Avid clubber out every Saturday until the wee small hours? That’s not going to help with the long runs on a Sunday. Getting married in two weeks?…

Well, I am getting married in two weeks, to the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And it is, without doubt so far, the most important thing I have ever done. It isn’t something I do every day. Indeed I never intend to do it again. And it takes time and commitment to organise a wedding – ask my fiancée because she is doing most of it. But I also have quite a bit to contribute and that is taking up both time and mental space.

The reality is that there are only 24 hours in a day and so as the wedding takes up more and more time, something else has to give. It isn’t going to be work – we are in a recession and every business needs to work harder than ever at the moment just to stay afloat. Oh and I have a wedding to pay for! Sleeping and eating are two of my favourite activities so they have to stay. And Julie and I have already stopped going out much!

So running is going to take a back seat for a couple of weeks. I will still try to run every day, unless I can’t… and then I won’t. The truth of the matter is that for the next fortnight I have no idea what my budget is, so I will spend when I can and when I can’t, I won’t. I think that one of the characteristics of my running has been a lack of flexibility and that has been useful to a degree. But foregoing parties and meals out and nights in and dancing and drinking is all well and good, because they will come round again. But the wedding… that is a once in a lifetime thing and I am going to do everything I can to ensure my new wife has a wonderful day.

It’s only two weeks after all and then I’ll start training for the Bristol half… I’ll have a HUGE budget by then!

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Tonight was another track special with my coach Nick Anderson and a group of his athletes. It was a really great session – warm-up and drills then 5 minutes at threshold (5:23 min/mile), 4 x 800m at 5k pace (5:08 min/mile) and then 6 x 300m at 3k pace (4:48 min/mile).

It was the kind of session that makes me feel like a real runner, where I knowingly and willingly push myself beyond my comfort zone and I can feel the benefit of the pain that subsides to leave another few nuggets of strength and endurance and confidence in the training bank. I have to say that I love track because it exposes me and shows me where I need to improve, how far I have come and how far I have to go. If you’ve never done track before, give it a go and unleash the inner athlete!

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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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Please excuse me for what could turn out to be the most indulgent and self-pitying blog post ever written… but I have a declaration to make.

There is a saying that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel and I believe that if one, important area of your life is not going well, it will have an impact on all the other areas of your life. In my case I have been having a torrid time at work. I am not going to dwell on the situation, but it has been enough to cause sleepless nights, constant worrying and much sadness. Frustratingly this unhappiness has leeched into the other areas of my life – especially my relationships and my running.

This is not the place to discuss my relationship, but I will write about my running. The situation at work has created physical and psychological pressure on my running. The physical impact has been caused by a lack of sleep. My coach, Nick Anderson, has a very clear view about sleep and he says that the body needs 4 hours of sleep to get to the zone where it then really starts to repair itself. That pretty much means that while I have been getting 3 or 4 hours sleep a night, I am not even dipping into the recovery zone. Not good.

There have been days where I have got out of bed so tired that the idea of two runs that day is more than I can bear to think about and I am sure I haven’t got even close to running perfect sessions week after week after week. There have been times when I know I have just been going through the motions.

The psychological impact of not being happy at work has manifested itself as being distracted and starting to doubt myself. The distraction, I think, comes from simply being bloody tired and constantly worrying about work. I keep forgetting bits of kit (the number of runs I have had to do without socks is stupid and in the cold weather I seem to forget hat and gloves for almost half my runs) and I don’t seem to have been able to summon the enthusiasm to organise food in advance or work out the best way to even get to the track to do a session.

The self-doubt is, I think, an overspill from the fact that I feel like I’m failing at work and the harder I try to fix the problems there, the more problems I encounter. Then I go for a run and struggle with a session or run a slightly disappointing time in a race or time trial… and I start to doubt that I will be able to reach my running goals this spring and into the future. There is a creeping lack of self belief, which if left unchecked will have a serious impact on my running.

So! On Friday – my day off – things reached a boiling point at work with a job that went wrong. Unable to not check my emails, I saw there had been a problem and I felt the world closing in around me. My boss told me that he was extremely unhappy with the situation as well as my performance and the client decided that the matter was so critical that she would email my personal email address to express her frustration. I finally decided that I need to do something. I need to decide what I want to do with my life and what is important to me, rather than allowing a company to decide what is important. I have known this for a long time, but I finally acknowledged that my definition of a good and useful life is not ploughing on in the face of overwhelming evidence that I am being paid to do something that I am not enjoying and not good at.

I have decided that I want to work in sport – endurance sport in particular. I want to work out a way that I can help people fulfill the potential that exists in everyone. I want to help people start on the journey I have taken towards a better life (sorry, there is no other way I can describe it) and share the moments with them that will have them (and no doubt me) smiling from ear to ear whilst crying tears of joy and disbelief. I want to help future generations discover sport and activity, rather than KFC and computer games. I also want to know, when my running is in decline as it soon will be, that I fulfilled my potential and had a great time doing it.

As yet, I don’t know how I am going to help to change the world even just a little bit. But the experiences I have had so far – hopefully inspiring the athletes I run with at my club in some way, giving advice and support to the most wonderful group of people at the Run Dem Crew, meeting people from running companies, especially Nike and Brooks as well as interviewing hugely successful and hard-working athletes, working alongside my coach and his team at training camps and learning as much as I can about running and everything that goes with it – tells me that one way or another, I will – I must – do my utmost to ensure that I look back on my life with pride and a sense of satisfaction. It’s going to be quite a journey!

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I never intended this blog to be the place where I washed my dirty laundry or wrote about my emotions, but as everything I do at the moment is bound up with my running, I guess my emotional state is relevant.

I can’t sleep very well at the moment. With the volume of training I am doing I feel physically tired and I usually fall asleep pretty quickly, but I seem to wake up after a couple of hours and then the whirl of work and the things that I haven’t had time to do crowd in and that is that! For the last couple of weeks I have been averaging something like 3 or 4 hours sleep per night. And the worst bit is that I feel my dream slipping away. My training is suffering as a result of my inability to sleep and that in turn creates more anguish and tension and means I am even more stressed when I go to bed at night.

And so this morning, as I was searching the web at 4am as usual, I found a little interview with Angelo Dundee, who coached Mohammad Ali amongst others. Thirty seconds into the interview he said:

“I always had fun. That’s the key. If you have fun at what you do you going to excel at it. If you’re not going to have fun you might as well forget it”

Pow! Another clear and unambiguous statement that hammers home the point that stoically ploughing on at doing something utterly depressing and stressful is not heroic or manful or positive in a ‘stiff upper lip’ sort of way. It is pointless and wasteful.

I need to do something radical. The London marathon is 8 weeks away and after that there is only one more marathon in 2011. Beyond that I might have another year of ‘proper’ running (i.e. trying to improve on my times) but probably not more and that is not long enough to spend another sleepless night. I guess it is up to me now.

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