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Posts Tagged ‘running with us’

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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… Seville oranges to be exact. Part of the plan that my coach Nick Anderson and I have devised is that I will not be running a marathon this autumn. This came as a bit of a shock, I must say. But I have decided that it is the right thing to do – an extended break between marathons will let me work on raw speed with 3k, 5k and 10k races and cross country and will also give me a psychological break from what has become a relentless drive to improve times every time I race.

So I have a couple of half marathons at the end of this year and I am really looking forward to them. And then we are looking at a marathon that has a limited risk of being too hot like it was in London this year (and like it has been in London for the last goodness knows how many years!) and one suggestion is the city of oranges – Seville. Flat, scenic, not too big field (4,000 people last year), inexpensive, easy to get to and in February. It looks like an amazing race, but does anyone have any thoughts?

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Since I started training under the watchful eye of Nick Anderson, there have been a number of changes to my training and approach to races. However one of the more radical changes, as far as I was concerned, has been Nick’s insistence that post-marathon I have a full week with no exercise at all and then another week with just a couple of light runs… I am in the middle of the second week and I am starting to crack!

The first week has quickly become part of the psychological process that I employ whilst racing – somehow knowing that I will have a week off after the race during which I am going to allow myself a few indulgencies helps me push through the tough miles. But the second week… that becomes a matter of self discipline! The following exchange between me and my friend Richard (a 2-30 marathoner in London this year) by text message illustrates the point;

Rich: I want to run. I don’t want to be in the office.
Me: I’m with you there! I’ve just about had enough work today. Going to the Chasers [my club] for an easy run tonight…
Rich: I get first post-mara run tonight… really looking forward to easy 20-30min!

If we sound like a couple of addicts I suspect that is because we are! So here we are – it is Wednesday and I ran on Monday and Tuesday. I have managed to ensure, through a combination of a diary full of meetings at work and then arranging to meet a friend for a drink tonight, that I won’t run today. But it is another long weekend coming up and I doubt I’ll be able to resist the temptation to stretch my legs at least a couple of times!

So here I am on the road back. Actually I am on the road ‘beyond’, because I am going to regain the fitness I had immediately before the marathon and storm past that to new heights and it feels great. The London marathon and the couple of runs this week have been a total affirmation that I love my running and as Paula Radcliffe has written in her new book ‘How To Run‘ her coach told her that “…to be a great runner you have to have the talent, the willingness to work hard and the love or running to put the work in” Well I guess for me having one out of three ain’t bad!

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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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This week I ‘ave been mostly… running with a group of 30 people in the Algrave, in sunny Portugal. The trip was suggested by my coach, Nick Anderson, as an opportunity for a group of the runners he coaches to get together, have a week of running in the warmth of the Mediterranean and talk about running with Nick, Phoebe Thomas (the other half of RunningWithUs) and Bud Baldaro, a guru of endurance running and the man who introduced me to Nick Anderson.

I can now reveal that I was a little nervous about going. I feared, more than anything, that the week would turn into an adrenaline-fest with everyone trying to run the legs of everyone else and prove that they are ‘the man’! The reality is that I have never met such a wonderful bunch of open-minded, dedicated and thoughtful people in all my life. Apart from a couple of very minor blips the entire week was awash with support, humour, intelligence and a community spirit. And the running, while a little bit repetitive, was great.

The highlights for me were (in no particular order);

• recovery runs, run at 9 min/mile to start and which really genuinely ended with me feeling better than when I started
• two long runs where in the heat and on a hilly loop, I nailed 22 and 14 miles at sub-6 min/mile for extended sections
• two track sessions and a 6km time-trial (on the same cross country course where the recent euro-cross was run) in which I held my own and ran strongly
• running with people like Richard Gregory, Steve Scullion, Dionne Alan and Clayton Payne who are all superb runners and who gave me encourgement as well as a vest to chase
• having time to sit and talk to Nick and Bud about running and training in general and learning more about the sport I love
• discussing the next 12 months’ running with Nick (which was quite an interesting discussion – more on that soon!)
• taking the time to rest and relax between runs
• nailing 3 core and strength and conditioning sessions with Phoebe
• celebrating my birthday with my new found friends (but sadly not with Julie, which no amount of cake and “Happy Birthday To You” could make up for)

The list goes on and on. But the over-riding thing for me from the whole week, is the fact that I was surrounded almost entirely by positive people. The vibe was amazing and everyone was inspirational. I have really come home buzzing with excitement and really ready, both physically and psychologically, for the challenge ahead…. so here is to Portugal –

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Tonight I was invited to attend a Q&A session at Nike’s running shop in London’s Covent Garden, where the legend Carl Lewis and one of the UK’s most exciting young track prospects – Perri Shakes-Drayton – answered pre-prepared and ‘from the floor’ questions. It was another wonderful experience and I got to chat to lots of brilliant people.

On Saturday just gone I ran the hackney Marshes Parkrun – a 5k blast round to blow away the cobwebs – in 16:42. And on Sunday I enjoyed a 2 hour run with another athlete coached by Nick Anderson.

And today I talked to people about running. Wrote about it. Read a book about running. In short I really indulged my passion.

What is the point of all this? Well, as earlier posts have explained, I have not been enjoying work and that has had a very negative impact on my running in particular. I have decided to reverse that trend. I will have to be strong and determined and not be diverted by doubt and fear. But hell! I’m a marathon runner… keeping going when the going gets tough is what I do. Keeping going in the face of adversity is part of the training. This, right now, is the next phase in the journey and I am really excited. So, London marathon – here I come!

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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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