Getting Carried Away With It All

I was going to write a race report about last weekend’s Amsterdam Marathon and Half Marathon. My achilles injury prevented me from running but I went out anyway to support my friends and clubmates because I’d paid for the trip already. I had a tremendous time and everyone had a stonker. There were amazing marathon debuts and PBs galore.

I may have got carried away with it all. When my friends do well, I want to do well too. It’s partly a result of having heroes for friends. My running heroes are not only Mo, Galen, Haile and the untterably beautiful David Rudisha. Nor are they Cram, Coe and Ovett. I’ve been inspired by all of them, of course but it’s what my club mates do which drives me on more than anything.

ChrisHurk set his new PB in Amsterdam and it’s only three seconds slower than mine. I have no doubt that he could have gone faster on a less congested course and a small, embittered, obsidian-dark part of me is glad he didn’t manage it. We’re going to have a bit of a smackdown at the Cambridge Half as a result. It’s a pancake flat course and while it might be a bit congested in places the atmosphere is such that we’ll have lots of support to cane it. I joked that I’ll just sit on his shoulder until the final 100m then outsprint him to the finish. I think it would be more accurate to say that we’ll pace each other round and really go for it only when we know that we’re going to get home in PBs. If things go well over the winter then we’ll go faster than 1:40 but I was so carried away with things that I had visions of 1:35. While it’s good to have ambitious targets, there are practical limits to ambitions.

We were talking about the Marathon Talk Magic Mile on the Saturday night. I was really impressed with Tom Williams’ improvement from 6:07 last year to 5:00.3 this year. My mile PB is 6:03 and I rashly said that with Marathon Talk’s six months of perfect training, I could match that. It was only when I remembered that Uffish’s mile PB is 5:07 and brotherjohn’s best is 5:10 that I worked out just how ridiculous I sounded. I wasn’t even drunk but I was as high as a kite on friendship. My friends’ enthusiasm wound me up like one of those old chattering clockwork teeth toys and set me off across the table. I was only embarrassed later and that is embarrassing too.

This entire post was partly inspired by Simon Freeman’s post on his blog. He says that what we need are heroes and he’s right. I like knowing that elite athletes are out and doing great things. I do want to emulate them in small ways. I’m more driven by the great things my friends do with a fraction of the time to train available to them in comparison to the elites. Just because they have 20% of the training time doesn’t mean that they give anything less than 100% in the time they have.

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They Think It’s All Over

We had the final assessment for 8 Weeks to Natural on Saturday afternoon. Like the first session, it was at the Parliament Hill track on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Once again, Simon from Sponge Marketing was playing host, Tom was taking photographs and Helen was our coach. It was a good session for nearly everyone. Danae wasn’t back from her hols and couldn’t make it which was a shame and Tim arrived near the end of the afternoon straight off the plane to Gatwick. That was commitment!

I struggled to do two or three laps of the track. I could walk reasonably well but even a few hundred metres of drill was enough to set my achilles twanging. I couldn’t do more than shuffle round with little fluency or economy. I just wanted to show willing, really. ActionJen had a mahoosive blister following her half marathon debut and was suffering too. We both dropped out after handful of slow, uncomfortable laps and watched our friends whizz around the track elegantly and with hardly any apparent effort.

Helen said that even over the handful of laps we had managed, she had been able to assess our progress. I was pleased that I had discernable progress to show. She said that we could spend the rest of the time on the track or take to the slopes of Parliament Hill for a hill session. I watched with some jealousy as the others had the hill session to end all hill sessions. I love hills. ActionJen and I stood to one side as under Helen’s careful coaching and incessant encouragement, the group flew up and down Parliament Hill. We’ve decided that when we’re both fit again, we’ll ask Helen for a shared coaching session and do some hills too.Sadly, I don’t know when that’s going to happen. I’m making very slow progress. Even the very little that I did on Saturday has put me back beyond where I was originally.

We still don’t know who has won the competition. That’s really not that important. Each of us has made progress towards a more efficient running style, one which in time will carry us farther and at greater speed than we had been able to maintain before. I think I’m a winner from that point of view. I have a pair of delicately trashed Bare-Xs which I would happily run back into a burning building to save once I was sure wife, step-son, cats and chicken were safe and inov-8 are giving us another pair of shoes each. I’ve chosen the Bare-Grips which I hope will carry me through the latter part of the cross country season.

My thanks go to Simon and the people at Sponge Marketing for organising everything, to inov-8 for the opportunity to do it and all the goodies – buy their stuff! – to my fellow 8 Weeks competitors for their blogs and company and most of all to Helen Hall for her coaching, mentoring, advice and encouragement. I’ve loved every second of it.

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Why I Run

The inov8 8 Weeks to Natural campaign has started me thinking about why I run. It would be easier for me to say what I don’t run for. I don’t do it for the glory or the fame. I’m a middle-aged man who is never going to be quick enough for that.

I don’t do it for money, even though The Sore Legs Tour is raising small amounts of money for Macmillan Cancer Support. (All donations gratefully accepted.)

I don’t do it for the medals but I’m proud of the ones I’ve received for completing those races, especially my first one from Cambourne 10k last year and my two marathon medals from Moray 2011 and London this year. I prefer the t-shirts, in fact. I feel especially attached to the lovely, soft cotton one from the Moray Marathon which I wear after a hard race because it’s so comfortable. It’s yellow and cheap and feels like a duster in the making but I worked hard for it for months, not just the time I spent running around Morayshire.

I don’t do it for my friends even though most of my friends now are runners. I was a bit of a lonely soul before. I enjoyed reading most and that’s pretty much the definition of a solitary pleasure. I could share my other pastimes like old cars and older music but I felt better when I went to race meetings on my own or listened to music sat quietly in a church or concert. The shared experience of music is something I left behind somehow when I stopped going to gigs. I never played or sang well enough to make much music with friends either.

Now that I run, I share my time with runners who have become my friends and that’s pulled me out of my shell. I’ll now happily spend time with people as long as I can have my me time too. Some of my friends who weren’t runners before are runners now and a few of them have come out as runners. It used to be a shameful practice, done late at night or very early in the morning, in parks or public gardens or along ill-lit back streets where few went for other purposes. They’d hide the special clothes and shoes they bought in secret from specialist shops or over the internet. Now, because they see me at it they feel empowered themselves. They’re out and they’re proud.

I still don’t do it for them.

I don’t do it for my health. I have asthma and was on the border of COPD. I was smoking and being an arse about it. I’ve written before about my love affair with cigarettes. I don’t want to go through it all again. I’ll just say this: they were wonderful for a while and then they wanted me to die and I don’t want to remember that bit. I just want to remember the good times. Pubs after hours with a beer in one hand, a fag in the other, a buzz in my head and bonhomie in my breast. That’s all gone now and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.

There are compensations. I’m now much less likely to contract lung cancer or heart disease. I’ve reduced the chances of stroke. My asthma has improved and I’m no longer in danger from COPD. I can come in and snog my wife and not worry about the smell of cigarette smoke on my breath. I no longer consume quite so many mints.

But that’s still not why I run.

I run because I feel the joy of movement. When I’m running and I feel the blood in my veins and the air in my lungs and my legs and arms drive me on. When it’s going well – and for the most part it’s been going very well since I started 8 Weeks to Natural – it feels brilliant to run. I feel very free and my movements are easy whether I’m sprinting hard up a hill or cruising along on a long run. It’s partly the training and the new techniques I’ve learned and partly it comes from my head being in a good place.

It just feels good to run.

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