I was in the steam room at the gym this afternoon. I like stretching in there. The warmth helps relax tight muscles and I feel a lot better for a bit of an extra stretch before I leave the facilities. The steam room and sauna are both newly installed. I really like the sauna; it still smells more like a Norwegian timber yard than a Turkish wrestler’s jockstrap. The wooden benches and wall panels are pale birch or beech and have not yet absorbed the sweat of a hundred thousand hairy arses. It’s all very lovely in there.
The new steam room has little twinkly lights in the ceiling, two prodigiously powerful kettles producing steam enough to fill the long, narrow room and flood lights at ankle-level beneath the tiled seating. The shadows my feet and legs cast against the walls reminded me of images like the one above. I seem to have teeny-tiny feet and ankles below the calves and thighs of a Greek god.
Running form must have changed in the 2,500 years since the unknown artist painted the athletes on the vase in this picture. I don’t think I’d like to see any of my athletes allow their shoulders to counter-rotate quite as much as that and while I like to do a few barefoot drills on a kind surface on a summer’s evening, bare-arse drills would get me arrested.
Week five of marathon training has gone well. Shocker, I know. I had a rest day on Monday then raced on Tuesday in the Ely New Year’s Eve 10k, battling nasty winds to log 46:10 which is a minute and three quarters outside my PB and slightly slower than last year. I had a gentle 14 miles on New Year’s Day, 5 miles of recovery run on Thursday, a very tiring 18 miles on Friday after work and a blessedly regenerative 5 miles yesterday evening. The last few miles on Friday evening were hard but I couldn’t slow down to the comfortable shuffle I wanted because I was running through the city. Suppose someone I know had seen me? I wasn’t going to let that happen so I kept running at a nice even pace and tried to look good even if I wasn’t going very quickly. Runner’s pride is a terrible thing. I did nine of the eighteen miles in Julia DeCesare’s very welcome company. She kept me at a nice, even pace and helped me keep my head straight. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do the extra 6 miles on the plan for today after racing hard this morning but that’s still my biggest ever week of training.
I never enjoy racing in the County Cross-Country Champs. It always comes too soon. I haven’t done any really hard, fast running in what feels like weeks. Tuesday’s race was just a slog in the wind and couldn’t really be counted as a proper session. It was just survival. Christmas gets in the way and obsessing with logging marathon miles gets in the way and what should be an A race turns into an OMG, Already? race. It’s supposed to be 10k but I logged it at 10.7k this afternoon and while that last half mile or so is all downhill, it’s downhill when you’re dying on your arse because your fitness isn’t what it should be and the guys behind are getting closer and the only thing getting further away from you than the guys in front is the fucking finishing line. It just never seems to come until you need another 50m to take another place in which case it’s right there and you cross it in a confusion of relief and despair. Funny thing, racing.
I had someone called Paul from – I think – Riverside Runners up my chuff for the best part of half the race. We each had support on different parts of the course. The race is held in Priory Park in St Neots so it was home turf for Paul and a lot of the marshals come from his club. It’s a good, supportive club because he got a lot of “Go on, Paul, get after him!” or “You’ll catch him, Paul. Keep it going!” I yelled “No, he won’t!” at that one. I’m a lucky man. Because of parkrun, lots of people from different clubs know me so I had lots of support round the course too. It makes such a huge difference. I have friends in clubs and towns all over the county now and just like on Friday night, my runner’s pride wasn’t going to let me look bad.
I finally got away from Paul with about 600m to go. I kicked really hard down the final hill and gradually the sound of his footsteps faded behind me. There were two runners ahead and I was blowing bubbles in a last desperate attempt to close them down. Maybe if I’d pushed harder on the final climb and closed the gap more then, I would have stood a better chance. Whatever, they held me off finishing about five or six yards ahead. It’s hard to tell because I was having blurry vision at the end. There may have only been one runner ahead but I think there were two different colours of vest. The only other time I’ve had blurred vision at the end of a race was the 400m in the Fetch Summer Mile Meeting in Southend when I was chasing Chris Hurcomb down. It’s a bit scary but sometimes you just have to run and trust you won’t actually black out until you cross the line. Besides, the first aiders are at the finishing line, not 200m out so that’s where you have to collapse for the most urgent attention.
I didn’t collapse. I didn’t feel dizzy. I did very badly want to puke and had to find a quiet corner away from everyone until I felt better. That’s how I finish nearly every race. If I haven’t run so hard I want to vom, I haven’t given it everything. When I felt better, I was talking to Christof Schwiening and his daughter, George. He was very generous in his praise. I was grateful to him for his kind words because I look up to him as a runner. George was second overall in her race and won the U20 Girls’ category. I was 95th. I’m happy with that.
Back to work and a normal routine next week. I need to move sessions around on the plan so tomorrow’s rest day becomes a session day, I’ll be coaching on Tuesday and Wednesday becomes a rest day, Thursday get a recovery run and I’ll do my long run on Friday again. I have another race on Sunday, you see. I feel much better today than I did last Sunday. I think I have 13 weeks to go. Bring it on. Bring. It. On.