Progress, what progress?

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved with my running so far.  It was never my intention when I first entered the Crouch End 10k in 2008 to find myself six years later just over a month away from my fifth marathon.  I’ve invested a lot of time in this, and been supported superbly by my wife and kids, friends and relatives in that time.  I’ve run with some great people through the running club and had some amusing scrapes on training runs.  It’s even benefited my cricketing fitness – though not my run scoring, yet.

However, I was struck on Sunday after completing the 35km and really suffering in the last 5km that I wasn’t sure what progress I have actually made.  Surely I thought, in my fifth year of marathon training, this should be getting a bit easier now.  This was because I had in my eyes made some simple mistakes about my fuelling during the run and had as a result left me under fuelled for the last sections and feeling like I was running in an old diving suit with the lead weighted shoes.  This is stuff I’ve written about before, and I’ve learnt specific practical things to do on previous training runs to mitigate these experiences.

The most obvious measure of progress is time.  In setting out to complete a race each of us has some idea of a target finish time or goal – under five hours, get under my personal best time, get round before the sweeper lorries come out.  Incidentally for London they have a series of trucks which follow up the rear of the race obliterating the specially marked blue lines that provide the most effective race line.  All some form of time-based targets which give some idea of ‘progress’ made.

My times have improved I have a PB of 3hrs 42mins set in Brighton in 2012 down over two marathons from 4hr 19mins in my first in 2010.  Last year, my first London Marathon courtesy of a Synergy Running Club place was completed in 3hrs 48mins (see here for a dissection of how I got round and the decisions I made). 

All progress of some kind, but quite a hollow and empty sense of progress that only holds until the next time you race and try to beat/match that time.  Is progress only about beating it, or is there something else to be had from the efforts you invest in what is essentially a quite barmy way of spending your time – particularly on a Sunday morning. 

Oh I’m going to run into central London, run along the Thames, dodge a few tourists, and return to where I started pretty puffed out, but potentially sated by some free endorphins to then repeat the exercise next week over a slightly different route distance.  This I will repeat for up to 4-5 months to ready me for a race organised by someone else which usually starts and finishes in two completely different locations.  For which, I will usually receive a medal (metal or wood), some form of clothing to remember the event by, and a bag full of items and flyers of which I will probably only use half.  I may have a few celebratory photos taken, and then buy some of those through the official race photo company after receiving innumerable emails.  But have I made any progress?  Initially I thought I was being too cynical, too demanding.

Yet what I began to realise is that in each training run, in each race you complete, over whatever distance, there is always progress.  Almost irrespective of the time you finish in, some progress has been made (you can remind me that I wrote this after any future race I run when I say I’m disappointed with my time).

There’s the progress of running further than you ever have before.  There’s feeling better physically/mentally at the end of a run than you have before.  You’ve enjoyed yourself during the run – however short that period was before you lapsed back into unadulterated pain.  That niggle that usually comes up wasn’t quite so worrying this time.  You can really feel you’re coming back from injury now.  The hills weren’t as lung-bustingly tough this time.  I didn’t fall over this time.  I kept to my target pace.  I just ran for the sheer hell of it.  It was great just keeping an eye out for the scenery.  I finally cracked the route and went the right way for once.  Hornsey Rise seemed manageable.  You’re disappointed that the long run is only 19km this week.

For me the progress was how I’ve felt in the days post-run. Physically it’s been much improved, recovery has been quicker despite feeling the most tired (more tired than after at least two previous marathons) post-run on Sunday than for a very long time.

Of course, the ginger and lemongrass Martini, two glasses of red wine and a 2.30am bedtime the night before weren’t a perfect prelude to Sunday’s long run, but progress for David Bedford, the runner, was allegedly switching to Pina Coladas from lager on the night of the very first London Marathon.  So I’ll hold on to progress in whatever form it takes.  Focus on yours, and run with it…

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About Simon Tanner

Seven time marathon runner, having run Brighton x5 and London x2, finally got a London ballot place after 7 consecutive attempts. I try to write about things I'm going through / have gone through in training to help others attain their running goals.
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