Redefining Speed

“I don’t have to run faster than the psychotic-maniac-vampire-cannibal, I just have to run faster than whoever is with me when the psychotic-maniac-vampire-cannibal starts chasing us.”

– Jim Benton

2013 has been a great year of running for me. I’ve loved every moment I’ve spent in my running shoes and have discovered many new things about me, as well as the world around me. Above all else, I want to keep that passion alive. I want to still be running when I’m 70 years old and I still love every second of it.

But as it is, I’m not 70 yet and I know there’s more speed in my legs than I have been able to squeeze out of them so far. You see, the distance part of distance running has always come easy to me – I love my weekly long runs more than any other workout and can happily spend several hours out on the trails. However, when my training plan calls for a “5km Tempo Run” or “10 x 1 minute strides, 1 minute off”, or even just a “8km Fartlek run”, all my best intentions fly out the front door with me. The honest truth is that I usually end up figuring out how many kilometres I’m supposed to cover in that particular workout and then I go and do that distance a little faster than normal. In my world, this has so far sufficed to place a tick against any speed workout in my running journal.

And to be fair, my training strategy of endless hilly trail running combined with my narcoleptic approach to speed workouts has gotten me quite far in the past. Sometimes, I even got there reasonably fast!

Having owned up to the fact that speedwork is the Achilles heel of my training, it’s only logical that 2014 shall be the year in which I focus on speed. I’m not necessarily saying that I want to run much faster (although that would be nice too, thank you very much!). Instead, I simply want to focus on getting my speedwork and training paces right (and then see what happens).

I’m a big fan of the McMillan running calculator and the personalised training plans. Given that they provide me with the exact paces at which I should be running each workout, I’m all out of excuses really. I shall make a conscious effort to become more disciplined about my training paces and training intervals while preparing for my next target race (the Inverness Half Marathon). There, I’ve said it.

Besides, if everything else fails, all of this can go down as a cleverly disguised excuse to indulge in some retail therapy. After all, wannabe speedsters need at least one pair for racing flats, right?

1385127_617660878276784_1771514566_n

Advertisements

Forward Momentum

I’ve read somewhere that the body needs at least half a day of recovery per mile run in a race, which would imply that it takes less than two weeks to physically recover from a marathon – which strikes me as a rather simplistic and optimistic estimate! Personally, it makes much more sense to me to to simply accept that recovery needs as long as it takes…

It’s been sixteen days since I ran my first (almost) marathon, and I have enjoyed the recovery almost more than the training itself. I’ve been out running wild and free on most days, with no regard for speed, pace, distance or elevation covered. It’s been a wonderful time to indulge in zen running at its finest.

Today, however, I felt a shift in the gears. For the first time, there was some genuine power in my legs and I felt like running fast. This was the first easy run since the marathon during which my pace had naturally, unnoticeably and comfortably dropped back to well below the 9-minute mile mark.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that today I also suddenly felt the urge to start training again and thought seriously about racing. When I got home, I scanned the horizon for my next potential target race. I’ve identified two serious contenders: I could revisit my favourite race distance and shoot for a new half-marathon PB at the Inverness Half Marathon, or aim for redemption by tackling the Rome Marathon – both of which are in March.

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

–          Theodore Roosevelt

In that spirit, I’ll sleep on it tonight, brew over some training plans and triangulate them with my diary tomorrow and make a decision by the end of the week. I can’t help by marvel at how natural all this has been and that both my body and mind found the perfect time to make it known that recovery is over. It’s time to get serious about running again…

Decisions,_decisions

My Great Scottish Run

Nine years ago, the Great Scottish Run was the first Half-Marathon I ever participated in. So when I found myself waiting in the starting pens for the gun to go off on Sunday, it was a special experience in many ways; a trip down memory lane, as well as a realisation of how far I have come.

Moreover, the Great Scottish Run was also my last race before I shall attempt the classic run from Marathon to Athens in November. As such, it was a dress rehearsal for my actual target race, and in many ways “just a long run”. With my training having gone as splendidly as it has, I was quietly confident in my ability to last the distance.

With the race day nerves firmly in check, I was able to just soak in and absorb the electric atmosphere. And boy, it was amazing! The biggest sporting event in Scotland held in its largest city, filled with people who were generous in showing their support of the race by lining the streets and making a plethora of cheerful noise. The event also added fuel to the national hype which is progressively building ahead of the Commonwealth Games, which come next year will be hosted in the very same city through which we trotted. Mortal runners got to line up behind some inspirational and well-known Scottish athletes, but the cherry on top of the icing on the atmosphere cake came in the form of none other than the legendary Haile Gebrselassie, who is of course and without a doubt one of the best distance runners in the world.

Given that I have no time for any form of recovery post-race, I couldn’t afford to race this run, so instead I decided to just have fun on the run and let everyone around me do the racing. I paid attention to the scenery, offered words of encouragement to fellow runners, hollered and waved at all those who cheered us on and tried to look gracefully aloof for any camera I spotted.

I stubbornly ignored my watch until just after the 10 km marker, at which point I noticed a young man who was slowing down. I pulled up next to him and stayed for a little chat, during which I found out that he’d never ran a half-marathon before and was deflated by the realisation that his goal of a sub 1:50 half-marathon was slipping out of his reach. I figured that if he had never before encountered a rough patch on a run, how was he supposed to know that they don’t tend to last? Therefore, I promised him that I’d do my best to pace him to his goal, an offer which lit up his face and instantly lifted his posture and pace.

For the second half of the half-marathon, I kept an eye on the time and my newly adopted running disciple and offered much feedback and encouragement, all while keeping up my earlier endeavours of hollering, waving, cheering and general admiring of the scenery.

Not only did the great Haile win the race, he did so by smashing the course record. In fact, he’s run the fastest half marathon ever on Scottish soil, his legendary status well and truly maintained.

Personally, I skipped across the finish line about 45 minutes after the elite runners, clocking an official time of 1:48, a certain determined young man nipping right at my heels. In hindsight, I realise that of course I ran his race for him in the end, but it was a wonderful and rewarding experience. My genuine delight for him to have achieved his goal eclipsed my own finish of the race. As these things go, we lost sight of each other in the t-shirt area and that marked the end of our journey together.

“If you can’t win, make the fellow in front of you break the record.”

– Author sadly unknown

I don’t even want to say too much about my time in the race, as this was never a goal to begin with. The aim was to prepare for Athens, to stay comfortable, and to enjoy the experience. Still, 1:48 is only nine minutes off my personal best, and I can honestly say that I have never felt so physically comfortable in a race before.

Most importantly, my run of the Great Scottish Run 2013 was without a doubt the most fun I have ever had in a race.

I can’t wait to line up at the start line of my next adventure and run a marathon from Marathon!

Great Scottish Run

A Map of my Weekend

Here’s what I’ll be doing this Sunday:

BoS-Great-Scottish-Run-2013-HM-Course-Map

But before I embark on this 21.1km journey on Sunday morning, I should really try to clear the cobwebs off my road racing mentality. The starting gun signalling the beginning of the last big race I participated in went off well over 18 months ago, so I expect to be a little rusty when it comes to remembering the intricacies of race-day etiquette.

The Great Scottish Run has a special place in my heart, as back in 2004 it was the first half-marathon I ever tackled and it was an amazing experience. This year, it is special not just by virtue of being a trip down memory lane; it is also my dress rehearsal race for November, when I will attempt to retrace the footsteps of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens.

I can’t wait to get started!

Half a Dilemma

My next half marathon is creeping up on me with the stealthy determination of a lynx stalking its prey. The race is next week, and it’s ready to pounce.

The thing is, I’m ready too. I’m so ready. My training has been going amazing well, I am (as per usual) injury free and I’m probably fitter than I have ever been in my life. If the stars align for me come race day, I could even challenge my previous half marathon personal best of 1:39:56 to a duel at dawn.

So what’s the dilemma?

This is one race I must not, well, how can I put this, race at all. I can certainly run it, but I must not expend more energy than I would do on a normal long run. My first marathon is a mere five weeks away, you see, and it’s also prowling around in the shadows that surround me.

The day after the half marathon will mark the beginning of two of the toughest training weeks I have ever subjected myself to, and I don’t intend to run them while physically recovering from an act of inanity caused by a runaway ego.

So as it is, my head and heart are trapped out on the battlefield where the armies commandeered by the devil and angel from my shoulders are flashing their respecitve “Run Girl, Run!” and “Slow and Steady” t-shirts in front of each other’s faces. And I fear that this is a mere skirmish, as the real war will not begin until 11am next Sunday.

Right now, I’m still planning on running the half marathon in under two hours. Should I have a really bad day and have to rough it out, anything longer than that is not a disaster, as it’s still a long run that’ll just slot in with my marathon training.

For the first time in my life I will run a race where crossing that finish line too fast would be the real calamity. I have one final weapon up my sleeve, or rather, waiting for me at the finish line. If my ego and I cross the said finish line in under 1:45 (or, heaven forbid, storm into my own history books with a new PB), I have a loyal friend awaiting me with a cold fish, ready to slap some retrospective sense into me.

It seems to me that the duel at dawn will be fought primarily between my head and heart next Sunday. Wish me luck!

finish