Monday, 6 August 2012

The Rewarding Nature Of Doing Nowt!

When I last posted on here, on August 1, I had just returned to exercise (on the bike) having been frustratingly kept resting by a niggle. Probably an overworked stomach muscle, a muscle that had eluded my attention for the previous 36 years. Having cycled without pain on Yorkshire Day, I apprehensively put on my running shoes on August 2. I was worried I’d feel that same muscle, either because there genuinely was something wrong with it or because of a psychosomatic reaction. I do believe that problems often are in the head rather than the body, but that awareness didn’t mean I felt immune to its effects. So I walked out of the door aiming for my first 10km in eight days wondering how my stomach would react and how, for that matter, my legs would cope…

…because, let me tell you, I wasn’t looking forward to running last Thursday. I’d had a long day in the office, I was heading out to the pub around 9pm… I had to push myself a little to fit in a run. Not through shortage of time, simply through loss of rhythm. Something that I have been aware of ever since I embarked on this running malarkey: the fear that I’ll do fine whilst I keep going, but that inertia will also kick in when I’ve been resting. Inertia, in itself, has no negative connotations. Inertia means retaining a “state of rest or its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force”. So, when you’ve got rhythm, inertia means you will retain it, like a disc thrown on the ice where it encounters little or no resistance. But once that disc has lost its velocity, something’s going to have to make it budge again, because it won’t generate energy by itself… As it happens, I got my backside out of the door and embarked on that 10k. With no real expectation of picking up where I’d left off in terms of timing, but relieved that the process was back on.

Well, what happened? Simple: I ran 11.42k in 1h07’13”, breaking the 6’/km barrier for the first time (5k aside) and quite comfortably so at 5’53”. To put things into perspective, my previous best pace on a run longer than 10k had been 6’25”. By not running for a week, rather than running four times a week, I had shaved 32”/km off my best time. Nothing for you to celebrate or analyse, but something I was happy with!

Some of you might be wondering what that all means, whilst others will wonder why I’m surprised, given that all the experts warn you against ‘overtraining’. What it means is simple: resting was good, it allowed me to come back at a pace which makes a sub-hour 10k realistic; it meant my legs did as I told them more than they previously had. As I train for September 23, I’m intentionally running an 11.4k route instead of finding a 10k option because it makes it more likely that there’ll be something left in the tank when I approach the final stages of the TenTenTen. Turns out resting has a larger role to play in this quest than I had figured… although I’m not annoyed about running as frequently as I have done up to now. I had plenty of kilos to shed and I’ve done so – kilos I didn’t want to be carting around with me on the hills of Portishead. Now that I’ve done that bit, I can focus more on timings. In fact, at this rate, I might even start wearing my stopwatch again!

All that said, I did attempt a 5k at lunchtime the following day. Well, it turned out to be a 5k, anyway: I set off for ten, only sixteen hours after Thursday’s effort. I realised early doors that the legs weren’t anywhere near as fresh: they were again stepping down a gear uphill, asking me to put more effort into the run, whereas less than a day earlier the stride had been more natural, my rested legs more responsive. Whereas previously I might have ground out ten kilometres, on Friday I was happy to cut proceedings short. Suddenly the bigger picture was clearer to my untrained eyes and an early finish did not feel like failure.

That was Friday afternoon. I was home alone with the kids over the weekend while Mrs S visited a friend across the Bristol Channel in Wales, looking forward to my Sunday evening long run. ‘Long’ for me, anyway: 15k or so. When I set off last night, I felt good, the way I’d felt good on Thursday. So much so, in fact, that mid-run I decided to tweak the route: instead of an even combination of four laps of the flat section from a nearby roundabout to the school and back and of four circuits of the downhill/uphill section on the other side of the roundabout, I replaced two of the flat sections with an additional ‘hilly lap’. After all, “hills are your friends”, Simon W had told me on Twitter. Now I don’t know Simon W beyond his @mazymixer account, but he tweets about running (amongst other things) so I keep an eye out for comments that may inspire me. Besides, his Twitter page does say
feel free to chat, so I (sometimes) do. Ditto with Martin Brown, only I know a bit more about him thanks to the great article he contributed to the “Yorkshire Post” last May. You don’t need to care about running to be touched by it: but if you do run, if you are in need of an extra shot of energy when running up those friendly hills, Martin’s article is a good one to carry in your mind and in your heart. Last but not least, the fourth member of this Twitter exchange was Nick Marriott, the Twitterblade to whom I turn whenever I have a specific running question. Nick’s my personal running guru. He got a mention on here as far back as May and it’s his blinking fault I have become as friendly with hills as I have…

I kept that Twitter exchange in my mind as I ran 15.59k in 1h37’11”, a pace of 6’14”/km – five seconds per kilometre better than my previous 15k’er, and that was flatter. Back in May I also wrote about the “instantaneous connection between people who have never met before yet who share such vast common ground that even some of the closest friendships cannot boast”. Now, I wouldn’t want to burden Simon, Martin or Nick with that, which I’d actually written with #Twitterblades in mind in the wake of our Wembley defeat against Martin’s Huddersfield Town (Simon’s footballing circles are far loftier), so with people whose shared experiences are more clearly defined than ‘running’. Nevertheless, on a day when all over Britain shoes were dug out of cupboards following Mo Farah’s 10,000m Olympic gold, my inspiration came from three fellas whose achievements I can relate to a teeny weeny bit better… yes, I might have run 5.6km more than Mo yesterday evening, but it did take me 70’ longer! I truly hope that the likes of Farah, Sheffield’s very own (lest the world forgets!) Jessica Ennis and all our other medallists go on to inspire future generations. But, once dreams of Olympic glory are realistically beyond you or behind you, it’s your peers who inspire you, whom you believe when they tell you that “hills are your friends”. So thanks, guys – I hope I can give a little back when you embark on your runs. Hey, I’m a novice here: no marathons on my CV. I don’t even have a CV! All I have is a registration to a 10k in a month and a half’s time, and some hope of one in a month’s time if Mrs S agrees to drive me down to Cheddar Gorge*. But I’m working on it… not to follow in Mo’s footsteps, but to follow in yours and in the millions of folk like you who enjoy their running and sharing their experiences… we’ll leave Mo be and happily settle for that.

*ooops… did I really admit that on the worldwide web? no no no, of course there will be no races before Sheffield!

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