One of the difficult balancing acts that I am trying to maintain, and I am guessing this is the same for anyone who runs, is around the whole 'how hard can I push?' issue. From the outset, my aim was simple...be fit enough to run a half marathon - the time is irrelevant. Obviously, I would aim to go well and not simply hobble round in 3 hours but nonetheless, I remember saying to myself 'anything under 2 1/2 hours is fine'. Since then, my competitive spirit has kicked in and every time I run, I am aiming to go either faster or further.
There must come a point, and I have touched on this before, where my body physically cannot go faster, or further, without risking everything by putting undue pressure on. This is what I am struggling with at the moment - I have the training plan and am trying different runs, simply to stop me from doing the same stuff but pushing too hard and, to quote a friend, 'doing myself a mischief'. For instance, I have a 7k run scheduled for this week, but I know if I do the same 7k that I have done in the past, I will be pushing hard, just to shave a few seconds off the 'Personal Best'. I have used inverted commas as for most of this process, every run has been my best...not because I am ace...but because it's the first time I have done the run! So what is wrong with this approach? A number of things:
1) My age... I don't like to hide behind this as an excuse, but it is there in reality. I'm not 25 anymore. Come to think of it, I'm not 35 either...or even 45! Do I really need at my age to be pushing myself just to say I ran 7k 3 seconds faster than I did a few weeks previously? Really? Can I not just enjoy it? (In case you were wondering, the answers to those questions are YES, YES and NO)
2) Injury record - I think it is pretty well documented that I have had my fair share of injuries over the years...and there are still weaknesses in the areas that I have needed treatment for this year. I am still doing my physio exercises to prevent issues in various limbs and muscles, and cannot afford any major setbacks. One muscle tear at this stage would absolutely ruin 4 months of hard work and I am trying everything in my power to avoid this.
It is taking all the above into account that I have settled on doing a number of 'timed runs' lately. This consists of me running in one direction for a set amount of time, turning round and trying to get home in a time less than I got there in...testing stamina and finishing, rather than 'How quickly can I do 10k?' An example of this is my latest run...I'll explain how it works. My plan was for a 45 minute run. In that time, running at a steady 5 minute per kilometre pace, I would hope to run around 9k. Not pushing...definitely not pushing...Steady away, hit the 23 minute mark, turn round and go home. If I'm not back in 45 minutes, I have failed! So - some competitive element, but not trying to break myself (although in reality...I am still thinking 'Can I cover 10k in the time?')
The morning was cool and fresh and there was no wind of any note (stop sniggering...) so I went through the usual routines, got well hydrated and stretched. Overnight, I had felt a couple of twinges in my left calf, so was a little bit edgy about this. With this in mind, I used my calf roller to try and relax the muscle along with some extra stretches. I will see how it goes. Once outside, I flicked the watch timer on and sprinted off along the road. I think I had got about 50 metres when a familiar feeling hit home. The feeling that all sports people have felt - one that has happened to me on football and cricket pitches countless times...the feeling of a muscle that is stretched so tight, it is about to go 'PING'. My worst nightmare...now in the normal world of sensible people, what would be the correct course of action to take? Of course...sack it off, go home. Ice, elevation, stretches and maybe a walk later in the day.
My decision was an easy one - do what I always do...crack on. I know that people will be reading this now and thinking 'muppet' (or worse) but the reality was I decided to slow down a touch, see how it went and after 1 or 2 km, if it was problematic, go home. I always set off at a rate of knots and have recently been covering the first km in really quick times - but today isn't a race, so I decided to slow down. I knew this was the case as the first time checkpoint was about 1:03, and recently I have been doing this in 55/56 seconds. Good...sensible me...and I noticed that while I was taking it steady, with good cadence (170 PPM, short strides) the discomfort subsided. So I carried on...checking off the landmarks and for once, being PLEASED that I am slower than previous runs. As I reached the 2.5km mark, which is for the mathematicians reading this, the halfway point of my favoured 5k run, I was on about 12 minutes 10 seconds, which is a good 30 seconds slower than when I am pushing, and at this point it was decided - crack on with the original plan and up through Langho I went. There was just one moment of hesitation - as I reached The Royal Taj (cracking restaurant!), should I turn left and head up Whinney Lane, get back in the hills and then down from York to Painter Wood? Dodgy calf firmly in mind, I soon put that idea away and carried on. The next km is always the slowest of this particular route - up past St Mary's School and Church is deceptively steep and I did feel that I was actually going so slowly, I wondered if I was walking! That said, the times seemed consistent and I was feeling ok, so I ploughed on into Wilpshire. Just as I reached the old Carr Hall Garden Centre, I noted that the watch was saying 23 minutes - time to turn around and head home. The race was on...there in 23, could I make it home in 22? Well...to be fair, on the way there, I have climbed 115m and descended 21m, so on the way back, it's this in reverse. I know if I can get two or three sub 5 minute kms in, I'll get there and can do this without pushing too hard.
I made it home in 44:14 - so 45 seconds to spare - a total of 9 km, with an average pace of 4:55, which I am happy with, considering my calf was playing up. Fastest km was 4:26 - so nearly 20 seconds slower than when I am pushing. Using technology for analysis is great, so when I look at the last 2km, completed in 9:38, compared to my first 2km, in 9:44, it is clear that I was taking things very steady today - only 6 seconds faster - for a downhill run? In fairness, there are undulations, but overall, it's up there and down home! Next time I do this challenge, I think...as I had 45 seconds to spare, I should run for 23:30 and try to get home within 45 minutes. You never know, I might even get to the magical 10k mark!