What a journey it has been. Running for 140 of the last 148 weeks after almost 10-years plagued with injury. That in itself would have seemed like a pipe dream just a few years ago.
Consistency brought about performance improvements. It started with accepting I was a 36:40 10-km runner in 2015, before improving in 2016 (35:18) and breaking my PB by the years end (34:20). The dream goal of a sub-34-minute 10-km came in 2017 (33:46), in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and in the presence of my uncle and brother.
Walk Away or Roll the Dice Once More
‘Step away now’, I thought. ‘But you’re only beginning to be able to train at a good level. Give it one more year. You can break 33 or get close to it. Be the best you can be’.
And so, on I trudged through the snow of 2017-2018 and was rewarded with more than one cancelled race. Running 16:20 from the front in a Christmas park run, the only glimmer of hope in a bleak winter. Then there was dealing with and eradicating my achilles pain in the spring of 2018. Rehab complete, running 16:10 for 5-km was a satisfying return on my cross-training investment. In September of this year, I was moving better than ever. I put together arguably the best phase of training in my running career. At times, effortless and more often, enjoyable. This 9-weeks of almost monastic discipline was the icing on 3 years of consistent effort.
This table is representative of a normal training week over the past 12-months. Videos of some of this training are available at the end of the blog.
A Bridge Too Far
A little over 3-weeks ago, I ran the Leeds Abbey Dash 10-km. Starting with a conservative 3:20 min-km pace for the first 3-km. I felt comfortable, too comfortable. That pace had been engrained in my legs through 14-months of 80-second lap sessions on the track and 3-km efforts on a Saturday. Although the effort was comfortable, the second half of the race slowly began to grind me down. Three more kilometres at 3:25 min-km pace. Eventually finishing the last kilometre in 3:50 for a 35-minute 10-km. Fitter and slower than ever.
I knew the 9-week phase had left its mark in terms of fatigue and a 1-week taper wasn’t enough to remove the clamp. I just hoped, I hadn’t already peaked in training. I drew confidence from my ease in the first half of the race. I cut the volume in training and increased the speed. I started to feel better. Last Sunday, I started the Doncaster 10-km in similar fashion but by 6-km the same fate I experienced in Leeds was beginning to unfold. I stepped off the road. Dragging myself to another 35-minute 10-km is no longer a point I need to prove.
And so it is, I’ve come full circle back to my youth. Back to working that bit too hard. Back to wanting it that bit too much. The absence of injury allows for the possibility of over-work. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 I was happy to be there. I knew what it was like not to be apart of racing for so long. My aim was always to be fresh enough to enjoy races and get the most from myself. But as is the case for many athletes, the faster I ran, the more I began to see a need to work harder to improve. Subtly, the aim shifts towards improving your training diaries. Taking part in the race is a given, it is now all about how fast you can do it.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
The 16-months since my last PB in Sydney has included the highest volume and quality of training I have ever done. It is initially difficult to accept not having anything (performance wise) to show for it. It is a sizeable investment without return. This is perhaps one of the greatest lessons in sport and life. You can’t always get what you want, no matter how much you might try. It is perhaps also what makes sport so intriguing, not being certain of the outcome.
Where To From Here
It is tempting to go along with the narrative: don’t give up, you’re almost there, one or two refinements. That message is appropriate sometimes but other times it no longer serves a purpose. It has been a great 3-years but also a long 3-years. Training for a goal with such personal meaning has been great but it is not all good. Training at this level is all consuming, 7-days a week and comes at some personal cost. Even when you’re off, you’re never off. The need to balance work and training, in order to get the maximum from yourself, means that most of the training above is complete in isolation.
I need to let this kind of running go for now. I’m fit, healthy and pain free. The plan is to join a social running club and attempt to break the 3-hour marathon barrier next year. Train maybe 5-days but not 7. Non-runners might not see that as winding down. Seasoned runners will know that it is easier to train for a sub-3-hour marathon compared to a sub-33-minute 10-km. As the miles clock up and the fun of racing returns, I’m sure another 10-km best is possible. But if not, I’m OK with that too. Physically, I’m better than ever but mentally, my race is run.
Dare I give myself permission to say: I’ve been the best that I could be.
Cheers for reading.
A Few Thank-You’s
The last leg of this journey has been the most challenging.
My house-mate Tom has seen me every morning at 6AM with a weighted vest doing my exercises. He’s driven me to my last 3 races, held my gear and supported me. When I wanted to give up during the last 12-months, he wouldn’t hear of it. He does all this in his unassuming way and doesn’t see it as much, but it has meant the world.
My friend Tim has been a big support. An ex-rugby player, he came to some of my gym sessions to gain some knowledge for his new pursuits of triathlon and running. Seeing what his company meant to me, he soon began rearranging work and train journeys to do the warm-up for my sessions with me. He ran at the upper end of his physiology on morning runs and long runs so I would have company at least for part of my runs. It kept me going.
My first coach, friend and mentor Gerry, has sent me motivational messages every week. Andy Hobdell down in London has sent me sessions for over a year now. Thanks guys.
Finally, thank you to plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathy, medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints), tibilias posterior syndrome, IT band syndrome, calcaneal bone odema, a navicular block and any others I’ve forgotten. Thank you for the resilience you taught me but also for the knowledge you provoked me to seek and the role you have played in my career.
Videos from Project 33
Video 1 of 4: Tempo running as part of park run on Saturday mornings.
Video 2: Hill reps up the steps of Roundhay park, after park run, and before a 3-km effort at 3:20 min-km pace.
Video 3: Squats at the gym (3 x 6 reps @ 95 kg)
Video 4: Strength with movement. Bounds at the track prior to a session.