Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Why do I run?

Increasing Numbers

Firstly, a big welcome (and thank you) to all my new readers.  As well as blogging more regularly, I've done a fair bit recently in order to try to pull in more readers:
Setting up a twitter account (@ian_elden)
Changing my facebook profile pic to include the web address
Doing some work to get higher up in search engine results, using meta-tags (no I don't really understand them either) and changing the description, etc.

I've also made a concerted attempt to improve the look of the blog, with an overhaul of the design, and adding in some features such as archived posts, and the ability to subscribe, etc. You can also now click on tabs to view my results since 2012 - though I have no idea why you'd want to do that! To be honest that's more for me, so that I have all my race results in one place - but it's there if you're curious. Or just bored. Or possibly beyond help.
Interest is growing. Not massively, but getting there. 

And if the stats provided by the good people of are to be believed, it's working: just over 4000 views now since I began, which equates roughly to 200 readers per post. So not exactly an internet sensation, but a good solid readership, for which I am genuinely grateful.

Whilst many of my posts relate to specific race performances, when I get feedback about my writing it seems to be the thought processes people are more interested in, and it seems my honesty is appreciated too. Perhaps it's comforting if people read in print something they go through themselves? All of which hopefully means that, even when I have no specific race to blog about, there's still some value in my putting down my thoughts on running in general.

I've said this before, but perhaps it's important to do so again given that I have some new readers:
I am NOT an expert! The "advice" I offer consists merely of conclusions I am drawing as I progress through my running journey. That, incidentally, is a truly horrible phrase, but I can't think of an alternative at present.
"Does any of this make sense to you?"

I am not a coach, although it's something I'd love to move into one day. However, I'm fortunate to have friendships with a lot of runners, many of them far more experienced than I am, and much of what I share has been picked up from listening to them. And so, whilst I don't have any qualifications when it comes to running technique, nutrition, weight-loss, race strategy, correct footwear, etc, I do feel I've picked up a certain amount of knowledge - and I like to share my own experiences as well.

Providing you bear this in mind when reading my rambling thoughts, hopefully none of us will come to too much harm.

Injury Update (I know you love 'em)

Not much to report on the actual running front since my last post. Not too worried (yet) about my mystery calf problem, but after 6 days of rest, I was encouraged that I couldn't feel any discomfort at all when walking, and so I tried a 5 mile treadmill run yesterday. The pace was around 7m30 per mile, which feels reassuringly comfortable, but the pain did begin to resurface towards the end. I can't feel it any more, a day and a half later, so a much quicker recovery than last week - but then, I stopped when it started to hurt, unlike last week when I was still 6 miles from home.

Honestly not at all nervous. Not one bit.
Of far bigger concern is the timing of this injury, since on Thursday of this week I am due to go into hospital for MUA (Manipulation Under (general) Anaesthetic) on both hips, in an attempt to make some progress with my more long-term ongoing groin problems, that you'll know all about if you've read previous posts. The theory in brief is that the discomfort I get is a referred pain from the hip joints, possibly due to misalignment, or at least some problem with movement in the area, and this procedure should free up the joints and may confirm this to be the case. I have been told that in the 48hrs afterwards I must do as much running as I can (before the local anaesthetic I am also being given wears off) to see if I get the same old discomfort. If I don't, then the problem has finally been identified. If I do, at least something else has been ruled out, and we move on to look at other possible causes.

So therefore, I have taken the following day off work, and plan to bring forward the weekend's Long Slow Run (LSR) - 20 miles or so. I am obviously now a little concerned that the new calf injury will prevent me from getting the full 20 miles done, but I intend to slow the pace right down (which you're supposed to do anyway for the LSR!) and see what happens. I doubt I'll do much running before then - maybe I'll try club training tomorrow night, but certainly nothing Wednesday, and then I guess I'll just have to see what happens.

Watching a YouTube video of the
MUA procedure was a BAD idea
Having read up a bit more about what the procedure involves, which is never a good idea, I am a little concerned as to what happens after the local anaesthetic wears off. There are suggestions that there will be a fair amount of swelling in the joints, accompanied by some pain, and the recommendation is exactly what you'd expect: rest, ice, elevation (not sure how I'll manage that at work!) and painkillers. This doesn't bode well for reigniting my marathon training, and potentially leaves me with a difficult decision.

Which is the main reason for today's blog. Yep, sorry but I'm afraid all you've really managed to do so far is plough through the introduction.  The other reasons I'm blogging today, in case you're interested, are that a) work is very quiet and b) I'm not running much, so I don't really have anything better to do.


How much time out from training can I get away with? 

Of course, it would be completely pointless to speculate at this stage as to how much my training will be affected by this procedure. So here goes...

I've had one week of no running, due to the aforementioned calf problem. This in itself has probably been no bad thing - I suspect I struggled at the Tarpley 20 due to tired legs following too big an increase in mileage AND trying to hit PBs every time I ran. If the LSR goes well on Friday, I think I can consider myself back on track, with no great harm done. BUT, if as I expect, my calf doesn't allow me to complete the 20, then this will be two LSRs I've missed. Then, once the anaesthetic wears off, there's the very real possibility of having to miss a few more sessions due to the pain. Oakley 20 fast approaches - the last of my build-up races for London - and then I will need to consider my taper. I've learnt to my cost once before that to sacrifice the taper to make up for lost training is NOT the answer!

In all probability, any residual discomfort from the hospital procedure will have completely disappeared by marathon race-day, and I'm sure the calf will be absolutely fine by then too. The big question therefore is not whether or not I will be able to run on April 26th, but will I have missed too much training to be able to have a half decent race - or even to get round: I am still too much of marathon novice to be certain of completing. It's clear to me that I need to have a decent race at Oakley, so that psychologically I can put Tarpley 20 to one side. (You can read my account of this race here: Tarpley 20: You Win Some, You Lose Some - as if you haven't got anything better to do.)

I really hope I will be running Oakley 20:
a well-respected marathon build-up race
If I can't manage Oakley, then at the very least I'll need to try to get in a decent 20 mile run the following weekend. I won't make the same mistake of trying to get a quick time - I have to accept that I'm not yet ready to convert a promising HM time into the kind of 20 mile result that might be expected of me. But I do want to try something close to marathon pace, just because I know I need that confidence boost.

Deferring London?

There is of course the option to defer London until next year. If I were a seasoned marathon runner, keen to target the distance to get specific times, this would probably be the logical thing to do. If ultimately my consultant does fix the problem, there there is every chance that I will be able to maintain my current trajectory of improvement over the remainder of the year, and commence marathon training next January as a better, stronger, quicker runner. I could almost certainly do better in 2016 than I will this year, even if all goes well this week and I'm able to get back on track with the training.

Another positive to deferring - and the main reason why I genuinely wouldn't be too distraught if I had to pull out this time around - is that I could then, after properly resting to sort out both old and new injuries, begin to re-focus my training on the shorter distance work that I much prefer.

So, I could really concentrate on improving my 5km times, in preparation for the forthcoming series of KH fixtures I enjoy so much. This speedwork would also help me with my 5 mile and 10km times, increasing the likelihood of going sub 40mins for 10km, and maybe edging closer to the magic 30 minute mark for 5 miles.

I have talked before about the importance for me in getting sub 7 minute mile pace nailed for longer races (10 miles and HM) - and having done so, I'm now looking to get this closer to 6m30 pace, with a 65min 10 mile race definitely possible this year, and maybe a 1hr25 HM too. But for shorter distances, my key aim is now 6 minute miles.

The Bupa 10km: run by the London Marathon people,
and with a similar big-race atmosphere.
This would mean getting around 18m30 for a 5km - a time I think I'm not far off achieving now, on the right day and on the right course (always so many variables/excuses!) It's definitely there for me if I do some structured speedwork, which I've been neglecting somewhat during marathon training. For 5 miles, if you can go sub 30mins, then you're not going to be far off the leaders - certainly in the local races I tend to compete in. And if I can then learn to hold on for another 1.2miles at that pace, I'm looking at a 10km of around 37 minutes: again, quick enough to secure a top ten finish at most local races, and even somewhere around the top 300 for a big national race like the Bupa 10000: considering I came 1453rd last year there, I think I'd take 300th quite happily!

You can get these pace bands to help you keep
on track as you race - although some runners enjoy
the diversion that mental calculations can bring.
Incidentally, when calculating a finish time based on a particular pace, I tend to factor in a sprint finish. Not for a marathon - that's beyond me, at least currently - but certainly for all other distances up to and including HM, I always anticipate the last part to be my quickest. So if I raced at 6min mile pace for a 10km (6.2miles) that gives a finish time of 37m12 : but I would certainly hope to pick up speed for the last 0.2 miles, even if only for OCD-related reasons, so that I could get under 37mins.

Clearly, given that my current 10km PB is 41m50, I am getting ahead of myself somewhat. It's a fine line between belief and over confidence, not to mention arrogance, but with a good period of injury-free, distance specific training, I don't see why I can't manage these kind of times at some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future. I need to set myself difficult targets, to remain driven and motivated. I may never hit them, but I have to believe that I might, and that's what keeps me working hard. And it all boils down to one simple, self-motivational mantra, that I apply all the time:

Why not me?

In other words, why shouldn't it be me competing up near the front? The beauty of running is that it doesn't require any particular skill. The best footballers, for example, have a certain grace and poise on the ball that, no matter how hard I practised, I would never be able to match. To be a good cricketer, you need exquisite timing (batsmen) or extraordinary accuracy and consistency (bowling.) But to run, well - what do you really need? All the factors that go towards making quick runners, they're all things you can pretty much control yourself.

Some people have told me that I'm lucky to be the "right build" for running. They weren't telling me that when I was nearly 15 stone. I have to work hard to keep the "right build" - I'm certainly no longer naturally skinny, even if I was in my younger days. So it comes down to the right diet. Which is down to me.

What else? - well, there's no substitute for miles under your belt - the more you train, the better you'll become: although with the caveat that after a while you'll need to start mixing up the training sessions a bit otherwise you'll simply plateau, and no longer see much improvement. But that's fine, because that's all under your control too. Try some targeted training: there's nothing like a 1km rep session for improving your 5km times. Push yourself out of your comfort zone from time to time. Hate hills? Do a hill session. Enter a hilly race. Find a distance tough? Keep doing it. Enter loads of races at that distance. Get a good one under your belt. Never give up.

There's a caveat to this last point too, though. Find what distances you're good at, and the ones you enjoy the most. There's no shame in concentrating on those. If you look at the very best runners, say on RunBritain for example, most of them specialise in a few distances. They're not all trying to get quick 5kms AND sub 3hr marathons. Some will, but many work out their strengths, and tailor their training towards them.

Wise words from the bespectacled one.
So much of this running lark is in your head. It's to do with determination and belief. And hard work. If it came easily, practically anyone could get on the podium. Of course, some people physically can't do this. They may have a medical condition, or an incurable injury, that prevents them from getting any quicker. But I'm fortunate, that doesn't apply to me. So I need to be grateful for this - there's absolutely nothing stopping me. It comes down to how much I want it, and how hard I'm prepared to work to achieve it.

Of course, you could argue that it's all pretty pointless, since at the age of 40, I'm not exactly going to make Team GB at the next Olympics. But perhaps I may become one of the better 40 year olds around? Important to choose realistic, attainable goals - but then, who's to say what is realistic long term? Until I peak - and I firmly believe I'm some way off peaking - there's no knowing what I may be able to achieve.

As I said earlier, a fine line between belief and over-confidence/arrogance. I hope I haven't crossed it. But -whilst I've entitled this section "why not me?" - I could just as easily have entitled it
"why not you?" And that's the point.

Other Reasons for Running

I want to mention briefly those people for whom the enjoyment of running is not driven by the level of performance. I know many people - some very good friends amongst them - for whom running is all about the social aspect of things. They enjoy nothing more than a gentler paced run chatting with other like-minded runners. Or maybe running in fancy dress. Their reason for running is of course no less valid than mine - indeed, given that they always seem to run with a big smile on their face, you could easily argue that it's them, not me, who have the right idea.

Only another 100km to go: The Race to the Stones Ultra.
Crazy. Seriously crazy.

It doesn't always have to be serious

Similarly, I know a number of ultra-runners, who are driven by distance, not time. By their own admission, most of them are completely nuts - but in a nice way. At no point during this or any of my blogs do I want to suggest that my reasons for running are in some way more valid than those of others. Clearly not.

But equally, I make no apology for being competitive. And it is genuinely a question of being competitive against myself, against my own PBs and targets. Yes, if I come into the finishing straight of a race and can see someone just ahead, I'll do my best to try to catch them - but it's the time I'm more interested in, and if I'm improving, I'm happy.

So: To defer, or not to defer?

So given all this, why do I think it's unlikely that I will defer? Bottom line - because I really think this will be my last attempt to train for and run a marathon: if not forever, then certainly for a long time. Precisely because of the reasons I've just discussed. It's not the type of running I really love. I am extremely lucky to have bagged a place in London this year, but I'm not sure I want to defer and then lost the first part of next year going through the whole process again. And unfortunately, that is undeniably the way I have come to view marathon training: that you're losing 3-4 months of the racing year just for one day (albeit a fantastic one to be involved in.)

So, unless I physically can't set off from Blackheath in 7 weeks time, then I suspect I'll be there. Maybe with a downgraded expectation, but there nonetheless. I'll try my best to enjoy the experience more this time around. Soak up the atmosphere. Appreciate the amazing support. Hopefully not cramp up this time, and to finish strongly down the Mall. I won't ignore the medal this year, and I will get my official finish photo taken (I stomped off in a hissy fit last time. Well, limped off.) In short (!) I'll really try hard to embrace the day.

And then, once it's done, I can put it to bed, and go back to doing what I really enjoy doing.
Competing for Fun. Hence the title of this blog. See, who said this wasn't all properly thought out?

Thanks so much for reading - congratulations for making it to the end. Next blog will be about my attempts at a 20 mile LSR following whatever horrors my consultant inflicts upon me this week.
I'll do my best to keep it light!

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