Beget: to cause or bring about.

I can’t remember who first said to me:

Money begets money

What I know is that when they said it, there was more than a tinge of bitterness in their voice. And I guess I believe that it is true – if you are lucky enough to start out with a big pile of cash, it is generally easier to make a bigger pile of cash. Donald Trump, I’m looking at you.

But recently I have realised that there is another – much more positive – side to the idea that doing something can bring about more of it. I am currently experiencing it.

Fitness begets fitness

In the past month or so, I have really hit my stride. In fact I have written about little else on this blog. The reasons I have gone from struggling to get out for a run more than a couple of times per week are many, but include;

  • Discovering that I actually really enjoy cycling
  • Getting better at cycling (or at least less scared of going fast on the bike)
  • The arrival of spring – especially the warmer weather and longer days
  • Realising that my physical fitness is an essential part of being the best husband and colleague I can be

What has really become apparent though, is that the more I do, the more I want to do. It is almost as if now that I have invested some time in exercising, it would be a bigger and bigger waste to let the hard-won fitness go.

Transformation

The transformation has surprised me. I’ve gone from feeling like going for a quick run was far too much effort to waking up excited about a 3 hours solo bike ride. I have been getting out for a run or a ride five or six times per week. And I am starting to think about some challenges for later in the year (Chiltern 100 and the Etape London are on the menu for cycling. Might also chuck in a trail race).

So what does all this mean? I think that the old adage that “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” (attributed to Jim Ryun, US track and field athlete who won a silver medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the 1,500 metres) is the key here. I was motivated to try something new – cycling – and now it is becoming a habit (and a bit of an obsession) which makes it easier to make it stick. And that has increased my motivation to run as well.

Long may this new motivation last …

Starting To Click

IMG_7338
Sunrise on the ride to Hertford this morning

Sunday morning: I was just unloading some decking planks from the back of the car, when our neighbour crossed the road to say hello. He was on his way out to get some ingredients for lunch. As a keen gardner himself, the neighbour was interested in what we were doing with the array of potted plants, bags of compost and decking materials I was unloading. Truth be told, this was all my wife’s idea. I actually dislike gardening only slightly less than I dislike DIY. And I hate DIY.

But I was actually feeling really good by this point.

My alarm had gone off just after 5am. I had eaten breakfast, dressed, faffed and was on my bike by 5:30am, pedalling up the hill from where I live to meet a friend with the intention of riding out from north London into the countryside. He was late as usual, but a small coffee van in the carpark where we had arranged to meet was already serving (at 6am on a Sunday … only in a city like London!)

My cycling companion arrived, apologised and we set off. Steady pace – my legs were tired this morning and my friend had not ridden for a few weeks.

Within half an hour of us heading north, the sun rose and we were treated to the most glorious morning you can imagine. Our joy at being out before the roads got busy (6:30am on a Sunday, remember) was only tempered by the fact that it was way too cold for the kit we were wearing – hand in particular were throbbing with pain.

But the whole ride was wonderful. Scooting along quiet country lanes, seemingly a million miles from the hustle of the urban sprawl, I felt stronger, fitter, calmer and freer than I have for a very long time.

On the way back we had a coffee stop. And I was home by 10am.

Just in time for a trip to the garden centre with my wife to purchase the planks and plants that she wanted to get.

That was when my neighbour said the words that – if I am being completely honest – I love to hear:

You’re obsessed

Well, I am a firm believer in John Water’s quote:

Without obsession, life is nothing.

I actually think that getting obsessed by something is route #1 to getting as good as you can at it. And I really want to be the best I can be at a few things at least. Ten years ago, it was running. In the last year, it is cycling. And I’m still obsessed with  photography. And for the past five years I have been obsessed with Freestak and Like the Wind magazine.

My wonderful realisation today was that cycling has started to click. I am feeling more and more comfortable on the bike. My ability to read the road is improving. I am getting fitter. And I am getting braver.

One thing I know is that I am really lucky to have the opportunity to get obsessed with vanity projects like marathon running or road cycling or photography. These activities have no value other than boosting my ego. Nevertheless I would love to be the best I can be (given all the circumstances) and so I will embrace the obsession. Long live obsession.

What would it take?

The last few weeks have been really interesting. For a whole host of reasons I have managed to get out either cycling or running almost every day. This is a return of mojo like I have never experienced before. I must confess that for the last couple of years I have really been pretty pathetic, always finding an excuse for why I can’t spare the time or make the effort to get out for a run. In less than a month I have rediscovered a love of running that I thought had slipped away permanently.

How I lost my running mojo

I think that the slide started as soon as I ran my marathon PB in the London marathon in 2013. That was a glorious day. I ran 2:37:07, knocking nearly a minute and a half off my previous personal best. That year I was the 164th fastest male marathon runner in the UK. Even out of the 36,000 people who ran the London marathon that year, I would have been happy with 164th – but this is out of every result by a British runner that year. In that race I was just outside of the top 100.

The problem is that as soon as I finished I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to get back to that kind of performance again. Mrs. Freeman and I had just launched Freestak and we were already contemplating Like the Wind magazine. I felt that the inherently selfish pursuit of a faster marathon time could not be justified. We had work to do.

Immediately after the 2013 London marathon, I took off the two weeks that my coach always prescribed. I was always advised by him to do that – physically and mentally it was the right thing to do. But rather than getting to day 10 of that two week period and feeling like I wanted to get back to training, I was immersed in work and really enjoying having the time that I would usually dedicate to training for Freestak and other projects that I had put on hold.

I remember getting to the end of the fortnight’s enforced rest and thinking that I’d give myself another week. Probably the week after that I went out for a few miles easy running. It was almost out of obligation.

After a while I got back into running regularly. But there was not plan. No target.

I would go out for a run because I knew it was good for body and mind, but I found myself just running for its own sake and not to any sort of programme. That carried on for month after month.

Running, but not as I knew it

A month after I ran my PB in London, I went to Copenhagen and paced a good friend – Charlie – to his PB. Then in the summer I ran a couple of ultras – the main one being the UTMB CCC (100+km around Mont Blanc, this is the little brother race of the main UTMB). I set off with Mrs. Freeman and the intention was to run the whole thing together (she didn’t finish, which is another story for another time). It was a slog-fest (you can read about it here). I took over 24 hours. No sleep.

The following year I ran the London again – my PB from the year before had guaranteed me a place in the Championship start. But I felt like a fraud because I really hadn’t trained. My idea was to ‘run for fun’ and it was only after about 10 miles that I thought I really should try to finish under 3 hours (which I did, just). It was fun, but I didn’t get a massive thrill from running that day in 2014. And the result was totally ‘meh’.

Later in 2014, my wife and I went back to run the UTMB CCC again. It didn’t go well once again. I finished, but I wasn’t happy.

After that, I just sort of fell out of love with running.

The wilderness years

All through 2014, 2015 and last year I was feeling a nagging sense of loss: the marathon had been my obsession since my first one in 2006. Of all the running I had done, the marathon was the distance I had enjoyed the most. The challenge that I embraced the most.

I lost the training group who had been such a huge part of my life as I trained for my marathon. Some people – including my coach – moved away from London. Other seemed to give up on marathons or went to other coaches and I didn’t want to follow them.

I just sort of drifted along. Running felt pretty pointless. I have put on weight. Struggled with diet. Tried to start going to the gym (it is just not for me). I have started enjoying rock climbing and hiking and road cycling (actually that is really becoming a new obsession) but nothing has hooked me like the marathon …

Coming in from the cold

In the past few weeks – with my renewed excitement about training – I have realised that 11 years after my first 26.2 mile race, I am still in love with the marathon. I still feel the emotional tug to race again.

I have started looking at paces on the runs I am doing and equating them to the pace I would have to run in a marathon if I wanted to run a time worthy of training for. I have started thinking about how I could make the time to run if I really want to, considering that apart from work, there is not much that I would rather be doing than running. I guess my new-found love of cycling is something that could get in the way, but already I’m wondering how much cycling could become part of my training for a marathon rather than a distraction from it.

I think the improvement in the weather and the longer daylight hours is helping. I think about how I trained through winter after winter for spring marathons and I really can’t fathom how I did it with no loss of enthusiasm.

Ready for a new challenge …

So all of these thoughts have been swirling around my head for a while. I haven’t actually considered the logistics at all. Or wether my 42 years old body could handle training properly. But then again I know quite a few people who are posting really impressive training volumes and interesting results and I know they are not super-human. They are mainly just dedicated.

Sure there are a million excuses for why I can’t or shouldn’t think about trying to start training for a marathon. But why should I listen to that voice inside my (or indeed anyone else’s voice) that doubts I can or should give in to the temptation to run another marathon. Surely not being reasonable is the reason I got myself in a position to achieve one of the proudest moments of my life.

So I am going to take a bit of time. Have a think about what I would need to do to run another marathon and whether that is reasonable. I am going to research whether cycling can fit in to a marathon training schedule. And I am going to think slightly longer term than I have in the past. I probably need 6 months to reverse the loss of fitness and strength from the last 2 years.

Then who knows. I might give it one more go. I’d love to know what you think …

Finding intensity

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Dennis Kimetto – a man with intensity

Recently I posted about happiness (or lack thereof) and I have to say I was pretty overwhelmed by the response I got to that – friends contacted me by the dozen to offer advice and ask if they could help (to those who asked if they could help, just asking if you could help, helped!) And I am really pleased to report that I have started to find my happy again. I’m not all the way back to unbridled joy – will I ever be? – but I am certainly above the line that divides happiness from unhappiness.

Now I feel as though I need to capitalise on the positivity and see what I can improve upon. My current thinking is about intensity.

I will admit that most of my life I have considered myself to be a lazy person. I don’t judge my laziness by any empirical measure and I don’t spend any time trying to compare myself accurately against other people. But the feeling that I am lazy is more like a nagging guilt that hangs around in the background.

I have thought about this long and hard and I now believe that the answer to feeling lazy is in finding some intensity.

Perspective

We were having a conversation in the office recently about how we view ourselves and I tried to make the point that it can be difficult if the people you aspire to be like – the people that you consider to be your peers even – are actually outliers: those who are the best in the world or at least those who dedicate themselves to doing one thing at the exclusion of all others. For example it would be stupid for me to compare myself as a runner with Dennis Kimetto. But I do have friends who have run 2:20 marathons (and faster) and I think that I am more like them than I really have any right to because they are, and have been, more dedicated to becoming the best runners they can be that I am (and have been). When I find that I don’t have the motivation to go out running and I know that they are training, I blame myself for being lazy. Actually I believe that when it comes to running, those people just have more intensity than I do.

Intensity

So what do I mean by intensity? Well I am defining it as a state of mind where there are no excuses, where the focus is completely on the thing at hand. Intensity to me means that the person has a clear goal and a plan to get there. And importantly, the discipline to make sure that they are not distracted.

In my life I feel like I struggle to maintain focus and that means that I don’t have the intensity that I need to succeed to the degree that I want to. I certainly get distracted too easily. So what do I need to do? Well here is a list that I have been thinking about (but if you can add anything to this, please chime in and tell me);

  • Have a goal or two and make them the priority. Don’t let other people prioritise things for me.
  • Have a plan – whether that is running or business, I know I need a plan to get me to the goals I have set.
  • Clear the decks – get rid of all the distractions that take time, emotions and energy away from the goals that are important.
  • Throw off negativity, especially people who want to drain my energy or focus.
  • Review regularly.
  • Have fun doing what I am doing.

Looking at that list it all seems so obvious. But in the last few months I have realised that the important things to me at the moment – especially my running – have suffered because of a lack of clear goals, a lack of a plan, too much mental clutter, the unwelcome distraction of negative people and – possibly as a result of all of those things – a feeling that there is not much fun being had.

I also know that when I look back on my running a couple of years ago, I had all of the elements I am now saying I need to put in place: I had intensity.

So, thank you to everyone who reached out when I was in a slump. Some of you know more about what was actually happening than others, but everyone I spoke to or who wrote to me or sent me a message was a massive part in helping me pull myself together. I am really grateful and humbled by the support.

Thankfully I feel that I have managed to clear the mental fog, I am back on track towards some clearly defined goals and I feel like I am regaining the energy and focus that I was missing.

Now is the time to bring the intensity.

Happy? It’s more important than you realise.

Me being very, VERY happy!
Me being very, VERY happy!

Greg Rutherford was recently on a documentary looking into the concept of whether people are born to win: if through genetic testing it is possible to see what sorts of sports any of us are ideally built for? Regardless of whether or not you think it is ethical or important or necessary to know these things – and I am not sure personally – another thing that came up in the programme was that there is much, much more to being a winner, or the best you can be, then whether you have the right genes.

Matthew Sayed was on the same programme and he says that genes are a tiny ingredient in a very complex and rich recipe. More importantly, for Sayed, are attitude and opportunity which he says are everything.

Back to Rutherford, and he says that being happy is key. Before his breakthrough at the Olympic Games in 2012, Rutherford actually reduced his training to three sessions per week and spent much more time making sure that he was happy.

Personally this is a bit is a light bulb moment.

At the moment I would say that I am not generally very happy. There is a lot of pressure coming from being half of the team running freestak with my wife, Julie, and – again with Julie – trying to continually improve Like the Wind magazine. Running a business is really tough. I am learning the difficult lesson that when you do something for yourself and put it out in the world, you become a target for people who think that their opinions matter, even when all they seem to want to do is be negative. I guess that is just spite and jealousy, but I am definitely affected by it.

At times I feel tired, stressed and anxious. Don’t get me wrong, this is not how I feel all the time. If I did I would have to stop! But I would say that on balance I feel unhappy often enough that it is having a negative effect on my running. In short, I find myself regularly thinking that I would rather have a cup of tea and curl up on the sofa than get myself out of the door.

So the answer is… well I’m not sure. I guess I have to think about how to make myself happier. If I think back to when I ran my marathon PB, I was really happy. J and I had launched freestak and we were in a honeymoon period with the business. I was happy to be my own boss and I believed that we were doing something important. Training therefore was going well and that made me… happier. As a result I raced well and enjoyed a few good results. And guess what? That success made me even happier!

Right now I know that if I can get myself out and start running more and get in shape, then I will feel happier and that will have a positive affect on everything. I guess I need to start being less sensitive about what people I don’t know think and try to look at all the positive things that are happening. That can then be the fuel to drive me towards more and more happiness. Let’s just hope that I’m genetically programmed to be happy!

Maintaining not training

Training (ˈtreɪnɪŋ/) is defined as

the action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event

and I have recently realised that I am not training. Not that I don’t have a sporting event lined up – I do – but I am not really training for it. Certainly not in my head.

Running… but not with any purpose

At the risk of becoming rather maudlin and reminiscing about the good old days, I think that quite a lot has changed for me since the London in 2013. The business I co-own with my wife has developed and expanded. We have launched a magazine, which has also developed and expanded. These things are taking up a lot of time and energy in my life and I love them, so I have no problem with that. But I also know that I am just ticking over when it comes to my running and my fitness.

I realise that my ‘ticking over’ is not all that bad – 30th place and an hour faster than last year in an increasingly competitive 60km mountain race a couple of weeks ago is OK. I know that I could knock out a 3 hour marathon without too much trouble. My default steady runs are always the same pace, around 7 min/mile which feels really comfortable. But age and a love of food and beer is against me and maintenance is becoming ever more of a task. In fact I know I have plateaued in the last year or so and that I need to do more different stuff if I want to avoid slowly slipping.

So what I think I need is a target. What I used to think is that I needed a target that is a race. But even with a 105km mountain race in 6 weeks, a 24 hour relay race next weekend, a whole load of other races between now and the end of the year AND having made a decision that I am going to have a crack at the London again in April ’15, I am still not motivated enough. I think that I need something even more immediate – a target for today, tomorrow and next week. So that is what I am working on. Something that I can get my teeth into NOW. That might be a challenge to do some exercise every day.

And I’m open to suggestions. So what do you think? What would you set me as a challenge that is going to get me going – give me a reason to forego sleep and put myself on the line. Something more motivating than fighting advancing years and too much good food…

Training for a mile: must remember to smile.

I was recently invited by adidas to join them at the Westminster Mile and run the race alongside a bunch of other blogger and journalists. They then introduced a twist. I’ll come to that in a moment.

Me? I’m NOT a miler

Now I have not run a race for a very, very long time. Probably almost 25 years ago. The last time I tried to race a mile or 1500m was at school and I was probably 14 or 15 years old. And I was always well beaten by Phil (who was a really good swimmer, understood the need for training and didn’t bow to peer pressure and an addictive personality by taking up smoking). What I know is that even looking back through the mists of time, running those shorter distances was unpleasant. And that was brought home to me last night on a training session organised by the adidas team (bit late to organise training for a race in 4 days, but I guess it is the thought that counts!)

A session to prepare us mentally if not physically!

We were all still smiling at this point - the session hadn't started!
We were all still smiling at this point – the session hadn’t started!

We – that is me, two other writers, a member of adidas’ PR agency and Tom the coach – met at the London Marathon Store and changed into our kit before being presented with a new pair of the adidas adios Boost (more on them in a minute) and after quick introductions we were off with Tom leading the way to a park in Shoreditch, nestled between a railway line and the back of the Truman Brewery.

After the short jog to the park, Tom put us through some drills as a warm up and explained the need for warming-up before a mile race. To be honest, one of the things I like about marathons and long races is that you can use the first mile to get into it and warm up. For a mile, you probably need to do several miles of warming up before you start which seems counter-intuitive to me: run more distance than you intend to race in order to be ready to race. That is probably not the only thing that marks me out as a non-middle and –short distance runner!

One we were warm, we had the following session to do:

  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 2 x 3 minutes at 10km pace
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder
  • 90 seconds recovery
  • 200m hard (VERY hard) then 30 seconds then 200m harder

A nice neat session which really tested the remaining few fast-twitch fibres in my legs that have not yet capitulated in the face of old age and a focus on long, slow runs. I actually really enjoyed the session although my face didn’t betray the inner joy I was feeling. Tom actually said that I looked shocked, which was not entirely untrue!

Am I ready to race a mile?

So where does that leave me, running wise. Well actually the session made me feel worse about my chances on Saturday rather than better. The 200m reps were not on a track, they were between two cones on a path in a park, which may mean that they were more or less than 200m apart. I was hitting each one – even the last one in 32 or 33 seconds. But that is 4:08 pace for a mile at best. And remember we had recovery between the 200m efforts.

On Saturday, if I want to take in the challenge that adidas has set up, I have to try to run the mile as fast as Wilson Kipsang ran each mile of his world record in. That is around 4:47 pace. I suppose that it might feel less like my lungs are going to burst if I am able to run a few seconds slower on the day, but not much I would guess. So I would be amazed if I get anywhere near 5 minute pace.

The adidas adios Boost

At least I know that I will have a decent pair of shoes on my feet (there goes another excuse!) with the new adidas adios Boost that we were given last night. I have written about these shoes before and I stand by what I said then. As far as the racing shoes I have tried are concerned (and I don’t get to try them all by any means) these are currently one of my favourites. They are light, fit like a glove and I love the Boost mid-sole material which seems to be the perfect balance of cushioning and rebound for me. And they are orange which looks pretty cool!

So I will report back about the mile race after the weekend. In the mean time, if you fancy trying out this iconic – and for most of the runners I know – pretty unusual distance, there is the City of London Mile Race on 22 June. I think that the mile will be an interesting experience and is short enough that anyone can have a crack at it. And you never know, maybe I am about embark on a new running career as a middle-distance runner. Maybe…

 

 

Seven things I believe have transformed my running

Like many people I have met through running, when I started I really had very little idea what I was doing: all I knew was that I needed to take back control of my life. A friend of mine had made the same lifestyle changes that I needed to – stopping smoking, getting fitter, eating more healthily – a year before me and he had some advice for how I should start running. But my progress was all a bit hit-and-miss to be honest. I remember buying Runners World and trying to decipher the best advice for me and I bought a couple of books – the most useful of the first few books I bought was probably The Competitive Runner’s Handbook by Bob Glover.

But in general I made up my training as I went and hoped for the best. The more I ran, though, the more I was able to discard the useless things I was doing and refine the good stuff. Once I met my coach, Nick from RunningWithUs, I had a real boost in terms of things that made me a better runner. And now I am training for my next London marathon and tilt at a PB, I feel that I have uncovered a few things that have really made a difference for me. Obviously there are other small things that have also contributed and there are certainly things that I should be doing that I am not doing. But here’s the list as it stands:

Threshold

Without a doubt this was the one thing that Nick introduced that made the biggest difference for me. I am still not 100% sure that I get the pace right every time, but I go by feel: I aim for a pace where I can manage to blurt out a three or four word phrase, that I think I can probably sustain for 10 miles and where there is the faintest feeling of a build-up of lactic acid in my legs after maybe 10 minutes. I usually describe it to myself as running hard and sustainably. Nick describes it as controlled discomfort, which I think is a very useful way to consider it.

I don’t really have a deep understanding of the physiology behind threshold runs, but for me it feels like I am driving the engine hard for reasonably extended periods of time, which makes the goal pace for the marathon feel much, much more manageable. It is like tuning a car engine so that it runs like a sports car and then driving at 70mph – it makes marathon pace feel like cruising.

Probably my favourite threshold sessions are longer runs with sections of threshold in them, a good example would be 75 minutes with 3 x 10 minutes at threshold with 2 minutes jogged recovery in between. But there are many, many variations. The key, I think, is just pushing your body up to the limit (the threshold) and holding it there for a period of time.

Results? Well once Nick incorporated threshold in my training, I went from a 2:43 marathon PB in Paris to a 2:40 in Florence five months later. That could have been due to a number of factors, but the biggest change I could see were the threshold sessions I was doing.

Discipline

I believe this is a cornerstone when it comes to being a better runner. Life is busy, undoubtedly, and there are myriad distractions. But without sticking to the training, results will not come. I do think that a fit person can blag a result at distances up to a half marathon. But the marathon is different.

Without consistent training (which I mention below) I don’t think that a runner can expect to perform well and the key to consistency is discipline. Make a choice about what you want to achieve and then work out what it is going to take to get there. Then do everything you can to stick to the plan – discipline is about controlling all the things you can control. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at my training plan for the day and thought “oh no, I don’t want to do that”, but without sticking to the plan, without being disciplined, I would never had been able to see what I am capable of. And finding that out is why I run.

Self belief

Two really obvious phrases: If you want to run a particular time in a race then you need to start at, or very close to, the pace required to finish in that time. And: if you want to improve your PB at a distance, you have to be prepared to run faster, over that distance, than you ever have before (borrowed from Nick and Phoebe at RunningWithUs).

The thing is, if you are going to choose a target time that is faster than you have ever run before and set off at a pace that is quicker than you have ever run before, you have to believe that you can do it. If you don’t, you will almost certainly fail. Because in every marathon I have run for a time, there has come a point where I thought I would not be able to keep going at the pace I was running. Every time. And if one gives in to the voice that says “you can’t keep this up” you will slow down and you will fail. So you need to believe – you need to start the race knowing that you can do it. Then when the pain builds and the road seems to go on forever and things start to look like they might be going wrong, you can dig into you belief and say “No! I know I can do this. Head down, think about form. Get on with it”

Where does the belief come from? The discipline that you have shown to train consistently. You should know that you have put in the work. You have made the effort. You have got what it takes to do this, because you have earned it.

Trail running

By trail running, I mean off-road running, wherever that is possible. I think that getting away from the pavements is great for the body and soul. Physically my Achilles heel, is my right ankle. I broke my fibula playing rugby in my first year of university and needed an operation where the surgeon screwed a plate to the outside of the bone. Due to the injury and probably also the surgery, it feels as though there was quite a bit of damage to the tendons and ligaments around my ankle and as a result I always have some pain in my ankle, varying from a dull ache to real tightness and soreness. By getting off-road, I believe that my ankle is both protected and strengthened. The soft surfaces seem to reduce the pain that I get post-run and the unevenness of trails means the muscles supporting my ankles work harder and get stronger.

I live in north London and face the typical challenges of anyone training for a marathon whilst living in a built-up urban area. But I am lucky to live within a few miles of some great off-road running in Highgate Woods, Hampstead Heath, Trent Park and even Waltham Forest, so I can run on the trails regularly.

I also think that getting off the pavements is great for the soul. Many of my favourite runs have been those where I have found myself alone, on a trail in a quiet wood, just running without a care in the world. Moments like that are a huge boost psychologically and remind me of why I am a runner.

Training in a group

When I started running, I only ran on my own. None of my friends were runners and I wasn’t confident enough to join a club. That has changed over time and I have increasingly come to the conclusion, that I am more motivated and I enjoy my running more when I train as part of a group. I even like racing in a group. For me, running is a team sport and the more people I can find to train with, the better I train and the closer I come to finding what I am really capable of.

I have really thought about this and studied the idea of a group being greater than the sum of the parts and I have found so many examples that I am now 100% convinced that if anyone wants to be the best runner they can be, then a group of runners at an equal level, with similar goals and the desire and commitment to make the effort to train together, is invaluable. Go make friends!

Consistency

This is the sibling of discipline. It is about training all the time, utilising periodisation to make sure that mind and body stay fresh and motivated. It is about building on last week’s efforts, last month’s efforts and last year’s efforts to get better and better.

I met an elderly gentleman at a race a few years after I had started running and he asked me what I was trying to achieve. I told him about wanting to find out how good I could be. He simply said to me

You need seven years! If you train and race consistently for seven years, your body will have adapted to the rigours of the marathon. Then you will be in shape to see what you are capable of.

My marathon PB of 2:37:07 at the 2013 VLM came seven years after I started training and racing consistently. So I believe that you need to keep your foot on the pedal all the time. I certainly do not think that you should keep the pedal to the floor, red-lining it 52 weeks a year: that is not sustainable. But by making sure that running is a constant factor in my life, punctuated a few times a year by a build-up to a key race, I think I now have reached a point where I can increase the training load and push my limits to see what I am really capable of.

Enjoyment

The last point is really the most obvious. Running is for everyone – I think that we really have evolved to run and because it is such a primary activity our bodies respond well to it. However I know that the type of running I do does not appeal to everyone. So if you feel like you have to train and that it is a chore and you don’t enjoy racing, find something else to do. Because I really believe that the thing that has played the biggest part for me, is that I really love running. I certainly love it a lot more than I loved my old, unhealthy lifestyle. I love the finish line feeling in a marathon, I love the training, I love long distance trail races with my wife. I love the friends I have found through running. If you can find that sort of enjoyment from running, then, my friends, I believe you will become the best runner you can be.

I hope this list is helpful. Or at least interesting. And I would love to know what you think has made the biggest difference to your running, in the comments below. There might be something that I have overlooked and that I can do to bring me one step closer to that PB on 13 April this year!

All training is (not) equal

I am a believer in training programmes. That is mainly because I know that I am quite a lazy person and unless I have a training programme, I will often struggle to get out and run, especially for the tougher sessions in the week. That is why, once I started trying to find out how good a runner I could be, I began to list what I wanted to do in a week and try to stick to that.

Early marathon training schedules

Initially I had training schedules cobbled together from what I could find online, along with a dash of ‘what I can achieve considering all the other things I want / have to do in my day-to-day life’ and a splash of advice from runners that I got to know.

Then I started reading and building training schedules from books – in particular I used The Competitive Runners Handbook by Bob Glover and Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover, Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglass and The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes. I then added to that my growing personal experiences of running marathons.

Eventually I had a bit of a breakthrough at the Paris Marathon 2010 with 2:43:55 – the first of my peer group at my club the Mornington Chasers to run faster than 2hrs 45min and get the UKA Championship Start qualifying time.

Coaching – the answer to improving

But I was a bit stuck then and didn’t know how to improve further. That is when I met my coach Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs and he started providing my training. An email every fortnight, with clear instructions of what to do every day of the week. Simple.

The only challenge with having training provided by a coach (or indeed from the web or a book) is that there is a degree of inflexibility. To my mind the schedule that is provided is, by its very nature, the optimum training to hit the target you have set for yourself. So any deviation from that schedule, means that you are not training at the optimum level. If you don’t believe that, then you are following the wrong programme or training with the wrong coach.

Not following the programme

This is why recently I have been wrestling with myself. Since launching my business, freestak, with my wife Julie, there has been less time to train. Obviously I managed up to the London marathon, but since then training has not been consistent.

Additionally I have been doing things that would not fit into the training that Nick sends – 7 hour runs with Julie around the mountains in Chamonix, 2 hour pre-breakfast runs in the Alps, a 24-hour relay race where I ran 4 x 10km laps cross country, half of it in the dark, during a storm and through knee-deep mud over a 24 hour period during which I slept for less than 2 hours.

But is that all bad?

Last night, I attempted a club run at the Mornington Chasers. My legs were toast after the 24 hour race two days previously and I had a deep ache in the middle of my right hamstring. I voiced my concern that what I had been doing recently – essentially lots of very long, very slow runs in tough conditions – meant that I had lost the fitness required to run a decent marathon, as I struggled to keep up with the group. In response a friend and training partner said

Well it is all good training and you’ll get great strength benefits from the weekend’s race as well as altitude benefits from all the running in the Alps

Is all training, good training?

So is he right? Is all running good training? I can’t imagine that if Mo Farah trained like Usain Bolt or visa versa, that would do them much good for their respective events.  But for the rest of us, maybe it doesn’t matter so much?

If I am honest, I think that specificity becomes more and more important the closer you get to your absolute limit. If you are just starting out, then I believe that all running – indeed almost all exercise – is going to be beneficial.

But after my summer of fun, I don’t feel as though 26.2 miles at faster than 6 min/mile – which is what I would need to run to PB again – is going to be easy and climbing the slippery pole back to the shape I think I need to be in, will be a pretty stiff challenge.

But at least I still have my training schedules, thanks to Nick. So I am going to simply download them every two weeks and tick off the runs, one by one. Who knows, maybe I have laid down the foundations for a great 10 weeks of training up to the Frankfurt marathon… only time will tell I guess.