Chasing the Chasers – why group runs really work for me

Tuesday night is track night for me – well it is now that I have given myself a kick up the backside and started to take my training for VLM 2014 seriously. These track sessions are brilliant and will be one of the crucial things that makes a difference to my training. There is one downside, however, which is that Tuesday nights are also the club run at the Mornington Chasers – my running club. So I have to make a choice. And seeing as the track sessions are coached by one of the most experienced endurance coaches in the UK, my friend and the man guiding me to another PB in London in 4 and a half months, Nick Anderson, the club runs take second place.

This week, however, Nick was away and so the track session moved to Thursday. I could go to run with the Chasers. Little did I know that the sociable, fun club run that I was perhaps expecting would turn into one of the best (and hardest runs) I have done for a very long time.

Same route: different runners

As is to be expected, membership at the club changes. People drift away, new people join. And when I went on Tuesday, I was delighted to find that two new runners have joined, who are very fast indeed – Will (a 74 minute half marathon runner) and Rory (a former 800m runner and contemporary of Andrew Osagie) are not only really nice chaps, they are also blooming fast. As I was about to discover.

We set off on the usual ‘Winter Route’ which takes us from the club house in Kentish Town, up towards Highgate and Hampstead and the heath, before returning via Swiss Cottage, to where we started. For those who don’t know, this is a very hilly route, with one particularly long steep hill in it.

Start easy, get tougher

The first mile or so was lovely, a large, friendly group clipping along at a decent pace, but not one that meant we couldn’t chat and take in some of the sights along the way. Soon, though, we hit the aforementioned hill and the pace picked up as the conversations all petered out.

We hit the top of the hill and as the three runners ahead of me stopped to catch their breath I blurted out words I would later regret

Come on, no stopping – it’s not an interval session

And I continued over the crest of the hill and down the other side. Soon there were four of us – me, Will, Rory and Tom Craggs (a great friend and brilliant personal trainer/coach).

By the time I had caught my breath from the climb, we were clicking along at almost 5.5 minutes per mile on the gentle rises and downhills, with someone seemingly always at the front, pushing the pace.

The runs that put the tiger in the cat!

This was why this particular run turned out to be so good for me. It was like racing. The pace felt like it was on my lactate threshold almost the whole time. The urge to stop, to drift off the back of the group and slow to a more manageable pace was really powerful. The desire to suggest we slow a little or take a break at the next hill-top / corner / road crossing was almost overwhelming.

But I didn’t. I was having immense fun and really felt as though this was the sort of run that puts the tiger in the cat. So many times I read about elite athletes putting together long tempo or threshold runs, and wonder firstly ‘how’ and secondly ‘why’.

The run I did on Tuesday answered both questions: ‘how’ – with a group (or perhaps in a race) and ‘why’ – because these are the runs that build the speed endurance and mental strength that is crucial to being the best marathon runner you can be.

This was the sort of run that prepares me mentally and physically for the battle ahead. It will get tough in the marathon, but runs like the one I did on Tuesday, show me that I can push a little harder and hang on a little longer.  A few more like that and I know I will be ready for 13 April 2014.

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