It’s now the time when the miles start to mount. The period in January, as part of the Marathon training regime, is where the real hard graft starts as your weekly, and long run, mileage needs to grow to prepare you for the real thing.
I had a particularly enjoyable set of runs this week which opened up a new set of realisations which again mirror something I’ve been reading. Sunday was marked by the usual anticipation in the days before as I looked forward to my favourite long run experience. However, this was threatened by the snow fall on Friday that put paid to the Saturday run and was looking likely to do the same to the Sunday run, as the snow layer (a mere dusting for Northern readers, but for us Londoners we’ll go with a layer) failed to melt as fast as I wanted.
Yet, I hit upon an idea to identify if there was a slight possibility of still getting my long run ‘fix’ on Sunday. Only if a route could be found which would provide the fewest possible chances of running on snow. Running on snow/in icy conditions is a real no no (despite those lovely pictures in running magazines) because the chances of injury dramatically increase and such injuries could take you out for longer than you need to. All that in the pursuit of one long run?
So, I sought out webcams of various points across central London – Marble Arch, Tower Bridge, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus – to identify, yes I really did this. To identify where the snow was already beginning to melt quickest and where local councils efforts at extensive and early gritting had already started to have the desired effect to clear the pavements. Aided by the pollution in central London – which can be relied upon to help keep the temperature at least a degree or two higher than ‘rural’ Crouch End – I was able to identify an opportunity. Pulling together a route on these clearing pavements via mapmyrun it seemed possible to get out on Sunday for the long run and hit the target of 25k our training schedule through the running club demanded.
Somehow managing to enrol a few other running club members in the opportunity of a long run on Sunday was not a problem. Clearly we’re all in the same place wanting to get the long runs in, and knowing it is a vital part of the training certainly helps.
This possibility was being sorely tested as I walked in snow flurries to running club on Sunday morning as Tottenham Lane became encased in an increasingly snowy layer. Optimism and pessimism reigned together as the expectant runners deliberated whether we should go out or not. Was it too snowy, slippy, or stupid to go out in this.
Probably all three, but the timing of our activity was perfect as the snow fell all the way round the 2+ hours we were out seeing Trafalgar Square, Green Park, St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace and changing of the guard all accented and enhanced with snow. Snowfall which had that perfect squeaky crunch which seemed to aid grip, rather than Bambi-like skatey running.
Fantastic, and including an espresso and comfort break near Russell Square to boot. I came away from that run elated and fascinated by the lightness of thought that accompanied it. I had not expected to be able to run, I was able, and my expectations about it where completely exceeded.
I think it was because for that particular run I just focussed on getting round despite the continued snow. Thoughts of tiredness, aches, pain etc were all very much in background, rather than their usual foreground position. And how many times do you honestly get the chance to run in the snow, round central London, whilst racing a series of horse guards up Constitution Hill?
The second experience of this week was slightly different and was one of my toughest Wednesday night sessions for a long time. Two laps of the triangle (Priory Road, Park Road and Tottenham Lane) acting as the ‘rest’ sections for four climbs of Muswell Hill.
The first two climbs and lap of the triangle were horrible, horrendous. Real proper, internal, mind bending pain and discomfort as I struggled up the Hill and then took most of the ‘rest’ lap to recover from the exertions. By about half way down Priory Road I think I just switched my mind off, thought ‘sod it I’m going to do the next two climbs at whatever speed, just to get them done’.
As far as I can now recollect this is when it started to get easier for me. Rhythm seemed better, I felt smoother moving forwards, and, I think, my pace actually picked up. It actually felt like I was running faster on that flat section (this is a misnomer in Crouch End as everywhere appears to have some form of incline!) than I had been on the downhill descent of Muswell Hill. I completed the final two climbs and the rest of the lap and arrived, almost destroyed, back at running club, an hour+ after the run had started.
And the insight I got from these experiences…….?
1) Just enjoying the spectacle of a particular run is something we can lose sight of when we get wrapped up into our training programmes. We can lose too easily just the enjoyment of running because we have an opportunity to, particularly if it is unexpected. Wherever we get with our training, it is important to remember that ultimately at least some it should be enjoyable.
2) Someone else’s plan for your training run can be really helpful. I would never have chosen to do the laps and climbs of Muswell Hill, but I really benefitted from it because it really pushed me to the edge of where I have got to in my running in training for the Marathon. An experience which has given me the confidence to push on and work that little bit harder in future sessions, because I have proved to myself that I can, and there is more I can put into it.
The final insight comes from Robin Harvie from his book ‘Why we run: A story of obsession’. I’m not a fan of all the stuff he’s written in the book, and I’ve mentioned the blood and gore previously, but the following passages really chimed with my experiences this week, particularly the switch in my thinking during lap two of my Muswell Hill odyssey. He writes:
“For runners the task is simple. We just need to rid ourselves of all the symbolism and metaphor in order to become pure kinetic energy. We must unharness ourselves from the rubble that we drag around with us, free ourselves from imagination, and learn, as we did as children, what it is to run with our feet alone” p.84, R. Harvie (2011).
“Pain is hardly the privilege of the elite, and it is the ultimate leveller. If the beauty of the marathon is in part defined by the pain that runners endure, then this is because the marathon offers the possibility of sharing similar states with the elite athletes who inspire us. Regardless of our talent, to have arrived at the start line of a marathon requires strict discipline, a necessary self-regard and focus that excludes all else…[I don’t agree with that last bit]…What unites the athletes of Ancient Greece, Zatopek, and the first time Marathoner is that we have produced a runner from within ourselves through sacrifice and pain, love and care.” pps.151-152, R. Harvie (2011).
I don’t think that’s bad from a run we didn’t have to do, and a horrible one we knew at some point we’d have to do…