Saturday, 21 March 2015

Dreams, Beliefs and Talismen

Dreaming is easy, especially for me. It starts in a beguilingly simple way with a hard nosed ambition - to be the best that I can be.
It builds, of course, into a voyage of discovering what "the best" actually is. And then I dream - what if I could be "that good"?
Fast forward through Paris 2011 (lessons) and 2012 (joy and lessons) to London 2014 (more lessons) and a new vision of "the best" has formed with the certainty that I can do it - run a sub 2 55 marathon in London 2015.
And it's on.
Form, weight and resulting speed - that's the formula. Add liberal amounts of visioning, discipline, intelligent adaptation of training and utter belief - and there it is.
Proof points are Nene Valley 10 in December (where I ran with belief and came home with a Good for Age % over 3% higher than my previous best ever), and Newton's Fraction last Sunday (running with utter belief again to bring home a PB on a hilly course - a better performance ).
Both races have two significant common denominators
1. They were led out for me by the talisman - James Skinner and Gareth Williams.
2. I trained, slept, woke and raced with absolute belief - fuelled from within and on going great support from Tania (racing on some beer & wine is not textbook, but when it is part of a gorgeous evening then it's good in my books)
Now it gets scary, as it is there to be done - and what a wonderful double edged feeling that is. Fuel for belief, and fuel for the nervous anticipation.
It will be a tumultuous next 5 weeks. Such is the stuff of iconic performances.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A time of Sadness and Tributes

Peter's name appeared on the phone screen - 12:18 on Sat 29th November. It was the closest I have ever come to "Stop all the clocks ..."
I knew as I read the name on the screen what the call would tell me, and I was right. Peter's friend of decades, and my influential mentor for 10+ years - Tony Lomax - passed to a better world that morning.
Our last conversation was over a year ago - one of the rare moments of lucidity in Tony's post seizure world before he embarked on aggressive treatment for his brain tumour. Thoughts of Tony were never far away - a man of Scouse/Irish wit and intellect and passion and fierce loyalty. What a tremendous man to have learned from.
I agoinised for months about how to wish him well - what is well for a man with a terminal tumour and who lost his wife just over a year previously to cancer also?
Tears and beers - a good way to remember Tony. More of those next Friday when I attend his funeral and then fly to Kerry for a weekend with my family.
Then my good friend and fellow runner, Richard, loses his brother Chris - "expected but tough" is such an understatement from Richard, and a superb testament to the character he exudes.

The Joy of Old Technology

One of the most joyous experiences in life for me is when deeply held belief and conviction get a tangible reminder they may be founded on more than just vain hope.
Having spent much of the summer sorting out niggles, and working hard and moving house - taking on an Autumn marathon ceased to be a good idea. Therefore, I resolved to focus on London '15 and train with that in mind.
This brought the Great Eastern into focus, as I had 6 weeks or so to get into shape for a PB run and a good finish to the racing season. It was not to be, 2 weeks of running a temperature resulted in 2 weeks of lost training. I ran GER, pacing Matt & Ed to significant PB's of 1 36 - a great way to run with puropse and not race too hard when not fit to do so.
The only race left in the frame for a benchmark run was the Nene Valley 10 - flat, fast enough, a good test. Ok - lets put it in the brain plan, enter on the day, just like James was planning to do. The Gods smile in less than obvious ways.
On the Friday before the race, I broke the strap on my Polar - and I posted it back to Polar UK to fix it on Sat. That evening, I could not find my Garmin 305 - oops, no ability to set and monitor pace I thought.
Then, a cunning plan emerges as I find my 15 year old Casio sports wrist watch with timer. I think Gareth is running, so I could track him from a safe distance, then monitor my pace at Mile markers with my sports watch - Old Technology!
My, how well it worked. I used Gareth as my hare, found my rhythm after a while, never worried about pace bar checking at mile markers, and just ran smoothly & consistently hard.
I finished in 1 03 27, just 53 seconds behing Gareth. I could see him until just after half way, and by then I had warmed up and was in my rhythm. What a pacer.
I walked away, and cooled down with James Skinner - happy with a good run I thought. Then I remembered a warm up with Simn Fell & Philippa, and realised I was in one of my favourite places on a cold Sunday morning - in the company of runners who are rather good! I enjoy that, and I feed from their quality.
Fast forward to Thursday night. As we leave the Committee meeting, Brian congratulates me on a good run - 78.6% Good for Age. Hmmm, thats not bad I think. Brian mentions it may be one of my best runs. Hmmm, I think.
Analysis on Fetcheveryone reveals the best % run ever by 3% - 78.75% vs a previous best of 75.66% at Paris '12. Then, I get brave and check what that translates to as a marathon performance - app 2 55 30. Hmmm.
Here I am, in the depth of winter, running faster than I ever have. Why?
Many factors, yet 3 stand out. Long term focus on what it requires to improve; James dragging me to the 5k on Wed and guiding meto a few quality sessions in recent weeks; I am at my lightest ever racing weight - same as Paris '12. Each of these has been hard fought, and they are delivering results.
What next I ask. Thats easy. A drink, then a good sleep and some running tomorrow. And a big thank you to old technology, Gareth and James. See you both on Friday evening.

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.