Saturday, 19 April 2014

Belief Renewed

When I stood on the London Marathon start line - I believed. I set off, convinced that I could run the Utopian run that I have dreamed of and trained for. There is no other way to race, in my view. Doubt and uncertainty are inevitable along the marathon distance, and the journey to the start line is filled with both - but they have no place on the start line.

The public record shows a creditable run. My record, filled with a week of reflection and analysis, now shows a run filled with invaluable lessons. I ran hard, chased the belief fueled dream, and came up short against the dream. In doing so, I have demonstrated to myself a new performance capacity. And that is the most exciting outcome. I left another sub 3 run out there, but an incremental PB was only really a compromise of Plan B. While not caution to the wind, I tried to run hard and really test myself - and that I did, hence why it has been exciting.

I paid the price for hard running, coming to a virtual standstill 10 times in the last 7 miles. My physical conditioning held up, but my aerobic conditioning was not good enough on the day for the stuff of dreams. But it can be, and it will be next time.

Disappointment is inevitable when our belief is shown to be fallible. Dealing with that disappointment is a separate exercise, and it requires the restoration of perspective - that took a day or 2. Once dealt with, then belief came flooding back. Start line belief is focused on that event solely, and needs to be dispensed with immediately after the event. Holistic belief needs to take its place, as it now has. I believe I can, and that I will, run that iconic Utopian race in due course.

There are some hard lessons that I need to take on board from finding myself racing at a higher HR than I expected, and being unable to find the safe slower pace/lower HR place to recover in. That's why the last 10 miles were effectively run/walk and I came to a standstill so many times:
- my pace control could have been much better (when going well, I was fluctuating within a 30s window around my target pace on a flat course)
- there is still plenty of hard and intelligent work that I need to get through so that I can really chase the dream run (5S's and P - Julian Goater)
- even a belief fueled miracle run requires a good plan, born of rigorous analysis and evidence from training and racing

I will be on a marathon start line this Autumn, full of belief and fueled by even better training. Utopia - are you ready? 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Dispassionate Review of London (Hint - it was Great!)

Every Marathon is a race of truth. The usual formula is "Brains for 20 miles, guts for 6.2 miles"  - and that is how London 2014 turned out in broad terms. It was my first run in London, and I learned more in that race than I have in my previous 5 combined.

It has also steadily dawned on me that I enjoyed London more than any other marathon. There is depth and passion and emotion, and pity and harsh realities - runners everywhere who have lost someone and who have a real cause to participate, not just a vanity run because I can.fulfill

That is humbling, but it is also the connection between my performance motivation and the motivation of runners with a real cause. In both cases, mortality and facing up to the ravages of time are common themes. I run to be the best I can, so that one day I can remind myself (and anyone else that wants to hear) of what I was capable of and in doing so give some legitimacy to why I exist. The runner with a cause wants to do something similar, I think - most runners with a cause have someone near and dear to have that conversation with now.

We all want to contribute to the goodness of life. We want to honour our loved ones, add to their legacies, fulfill our own dreams and create our own memories. Participating in London has helped me to see beyond the commercialised jamboree it can be perceived as and get an insight to the world of the cause driven runners who in their thousands fill the streets. It has helped me to realise how much common ground we share, and what a joy it was to be part of London for the first time.

I didnt run for a charity. I asked my supporters to pledge actions to reduce their carbon footprint. They did, as I did 2 years ago for someone else - and so the cycle continues.

I will continue to run for my performance targets, creating bubbles of expectation that may or may not be delivered on. But that is my motivation, and my contribution. Others come on the journey with me, and that sharing makes the journey richer for us all.

We stand and fall together, as a band of runners - whether chasing causes or performances. Long may we be able to do so, and its certainly London again in '15.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Calmness and Serenity

Sat here this morning, its 9 days 5 hours and 8 minues (and counting) to the start of London Marathon 2014. All of my hard work is done, most of my intelligent work is done - but there are still some crucial elements to finalise for race day, namely the precise detail of my race plan.
I am pleasantly chuffed at how well I am managing to remain much calmer and apprehension free in comparison with previous big races (especially Paris 2012).

As I reflect on this, I find there have been so many surprising things for me in the past 6 weeks of marathon preparation. All of those have their roots much further back in my long term preparation and planning, but I didnt expect them to materialise as they have.

The biggest surprise for me has been the easy speed that I have found when I switched into my final training block which focused on speed. The practical implications of this are twofold:
- I can now cruise at 15s/mile faster than my previous marathon PB at no higher heart rate
- I have another set of gears to go through when taking it home from 20 miles

This has its origins in significant improvements to my running form and my conditioning. Its an efficiency play, with better form enabling me to run more quickly without any additional effort. That said, 18 months of injury free running, plus the patient and progressive approach I have taken, have also contributed significantly. Expert advice and input (especially Adela for getting me on track with my form and conditioning) have been invaluable.

The next surprise for me was the ease with which I faced down my fears about delivering my stated goal of sub 2 55 in London. I have realised that having a sub 3 from Paris is a superb back stop (thank you Philippa for pointing that out to me), therefore I should feel no pressure in comparison to that which I piled on myself in 2012. Putting any fears of failure to one sides has been liberating. It has opened up other possibilities than just chasing that time. I can choose a new target, or I can turn up and race on the day (against myself), or I can simply go and run to be the best I can be.

The other most significant surprise is in weight and physical appearance. I'm no lighter than Paris 2012, but feel lighter. Belts are in a notch, but I have struggled to get inside 84kg and maintain it.

My calmness and serenity will be sorely tested in the next 9 days. Advice from Julian Goater's book (The Art of Running Faster - thanks Richard) where he writes about peaking as opposed to tapering has been very helpful, and will continue to be. Julian also writes that success lies in the 5 S's (skill, speed, stamina, suppleness, strength) and P (psychology). All need practice and development, then fine tuning in the build up to race day - especially P.

Race Day - you will soon be here. In some ways, waiting for you and enjoying the delicious balance between anticipation & apprehension is very enjoyable. However, it all amounts to little unless I deliver on being my best when we meet.
There is one guaranteed outcome - a wonderful sharing of race day experience and post race entertainment with Tania: my rock and my source of so much inspiration.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Little Things Matter - Especially in 3's

As I ran back home last evening in the dusk, I saw Tania walking down Wharf Road towards me - taking our Scottie CoCo for her evening walk. It dawned on me that Tania had not spotted me yet - usually so eagle eyed. She did spot me when I was within a few strides, and said that she had not recognised me.
Usually, she recognised my internally rotating gait easily - but I looked so smooth and aligned that she thought it was someone else.
This is significant, as Tania has not seen me running at any pace for 6 months or more. If the changes to my balance and gait are that noticable, it's a great validation of what I feel and what I have worked so hard on.

There are three areas of improvement over Paris '12 which will help me run faster in London '14. I set out to improve my conditioning, increase my speed and reduce my racing weight. All three areas are definitely in play now. I race little, so my main feedback loops are from training and from expert observers.

Little things do matter - Tania's observation validates how smooth I felt while running hard for 2 x 3 mile reps between 10k and half marathon pace. Going further, it means that the capability to run that well is there within me. It is there for me to work with and nurture for another few weeks. Then its race day - London '14.

Already, I'm getting excited and apprehensive about my first London marathon. I like this feeling - preparation and apprehension and managing nervous tension is a huge part of the joy of big races and setting lofty ambitions. It will be great, juts the little matter of delivering on the day.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Running Puts Life in Perspective

It is rather ridiculous and a good indication of priorities a little out of kilter, perhaps - my most recent blog post was July '13. What have I been doing?
Even '14 threatened to get away in a similar vein, but I have managed to grab hold of it in the past week.

London '14 beckons in 10 weeks, 1 day, 2 hours and 36 mins (as I write). Lots of good and hard work awaits between now and then. The next 2 weeks are programmed into my diary and I need to make training happen come what may. Some big obstacles have arisen in the past 6 weeks that have stalled my momentum. The optimistic view of this is how life does the periodisation of training for us - and that is how I choose to view it.

A sober assessment indicates that I'm fresh and strong, with fewer physical issues than in 2012. I will turn up on race day with my lightest racing weight, my conditioning will be better - and I have the remaining weeks to sharpen up my speed stamina so that I can go chase the sub 2 55 dream. A simple plan really, but one where every day and every act of training and rest and stretching and nutrition and sleep and motivation and visualisation will play a role.  

This makes me smile, while also trembling a little with both nervous anticipation and apprehension. On 13th April, I will go to places I have never been yet in my running career to try deliver this new dream. That's a tad scary. In reality, I will need to go to some of those places in training also. They are places of the mind much more than the body.

And it starts today. Despite the rains, I need to run on trails - so I'll head to Fineshade for trail hill reps. Tomorrow I'll get enough of road - app 21 miles by the time I guide the LSR crew round the Valentines 30k route. Then Monday and Tuesday will see me doing some short runs in Fontainbleu before its back to Stamford.

Running puts life in perpective for me, and not the other way round. It provides a way to live my values in many respects - aspiration, dreams, achievement, discipline, doing good and sharing. It can also be a route for me to be hard on myself so that I'm more balanced elsewhere in life.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Still Learning

I have known for the past 5 years (since I started running) that running makes me a better human being.
Why is that, I hear you ask.
1) I am more structured and discplined when I'm running
2) I have time in which to reflect on live and what is truly valuable - love, family, a sense of purpose, being a positive influence in life
3) I learn (and re learn) to balance confidence and humility in a more appropriate way
4) I provide a constant stream of challenge to myself which is exciting, sometimes daunting, and always exhilirating
5)  I appreciate all the gifts that life has given me, and accept the responsibility to use them as wisely as possible
6) I learn from others - runners, coaches, writers, supporters, Tania, CoCo, everyone who takes an interest

These all manifest themselves in the course of day to day training, planning, resting, aspiring, fretting. It is a big continuous process, not just a one off for race days.

So, given the opportunity to be a better human being, I'll grab it with both hands for as long as I have hands or other such grabbing devices.

Setbacks on individual race days are simply other opportunities to learn, grow and develop. They are both formative and informative, life giving and enhancing. Much of the real work, and the real benefits, are generated before and after race day.

But, the beauty of any Ultra run is that it brings all of this together in a continuum that is impossible to replicate in training. This is why it is so attractive, so compelling.

Road running is gladiatorial in its simplicity - time & distance, either good enough or not. It is character forming, as there is no hiding place when you set out to be the best you can be.

Now, are you going for a run? I am, as often as possible and for all these great reasons.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Things Live Forever ...

"Things live forever, not in years, but in the moments in which they happen" - Rosie Swale Pope
Rosie holds the record for the longest unsupported run ever - over 20,000 miles in 1789 days, and her book "Just a Little Run Around the World" is a gem.

Rosie talks and writes about running as a metaphor for life, which resonates deeply with me.

There are many moments from my running life that do and will live forever. Indeed, there are several from last Saturday in the heat, physically painful but so wonderfully meaningful in how they opened up moments of clarity & reflection.
The highlight was the pause for shade and respite under a tree during the ascent to Crookstone Moor:
- We may and must dream, but we can always make now so much better by accepting and making the most of what is around us

I drank in the views, fresh air, peace and tranquility. It was quite beautiful and touching. Granted, a little bit of temporary pain had been inflicted on myself in the process of getting there over the preceding 10 hours, but here was a reward worth all that and more.

That moment is indeed timeless, and it is so life giving. I am richer in experience and insight. Not bad for a brutal day in the fells :-)

Now its time to recover and refocus. I have my Good for Age place in London 2014. Time to plan and dream all over, and seek out new things to live forever ....