Training, what’s it good for?

It’s tempting to think you understand what the latest training round will throw at you.

That as an ‘experienced’ runner (6th marathon in London in April) you understand what you need to put yourself through, how you need to prepare to be ready come race day.

Ha! You poor deluded fool.

As much as you think you’ve got it, something usually comes along to challenge those certainties, those things you thought you’d got, understood, and could deal with.
I’ve been struggling with an injury since early January that feels like it has set me back. I’ve found the small number of training runs I have managed to do in this time incredibly difficult. They have required considerable effort to keep me going, have proved painful and uncomfortable, and have taught me yet another very important lesson that I’ll come to later.

The biggest challenge has been accepting that I can’t perform at a level I have attained before, and that I will have to run at a pace that leaves me staring hard at the backs of other runners who seem to wondrously ease away from me no matter how much effort I put in. Hills, my usual running ‘annus horriblis’ have multiplied these feelings particularly harshly as a struggle to traverse inclines that have formerly presented little problems to me.

Being brutally honest, this has been f$@?ing hard to take. Really f$@?ing hard to take.

All because I’ve let my ego rule me during this period.

Ego? Yep, like too much running kit, it’s there for everyone.

It’s left me incredibly frustrated, doubting my own abilities, and at war with myself over why I feel so damn tired after the long training runs where I’m running shorter distances than I’m used to at this stage in my training programme. How I can’t hit the race pace I’ve run before, or fallen back through a group of runners whilst on the longer training runs.

However, as I get the injury sorted and the pain in my ankle slowly subsides to a dull, but persistent ache, an important lesson becomes clearer to me.

Not just the one that is about getting proper advice and assessment of ‘niggles’ so that they don’t become full blown injuries, but a bigger lesson.

A lesson which means that:

There are occasions where your ego has to accept that your body can only go so far, do so much, or achieve only a modest improvement on its last performance.
This is particularly the case when coming back from injury/niggle that has required hours of some really dull rehabilitation via cricket and golf ball rolling, and hot and cold treatment. My peroneus injury is showing significant signs of improvement because of this, alongside a proper assessment, acupuncture, and wrapping of my ankle/foot in a large elastic band. There is light at the end of the tunnel and it has shown me a different perspective to my training. This perspective is one that highlights that your progress must be relative to where your fitness is at the time, not where you think ‘it should be’, or how you think you should be able to perform.

The irony with the current situation is that I was probably at my fittest ever prior to this injury and had come into my latest training period feeling my most confident ever. Yes, that’s been knocked and I will come back from it, and I will run an exceptional marathon come April, but I also have become clear that this is yet again an important part of my training. Another lesson learnt about how I work WITH my body to achieve my running aims. Yes that training is about cajoling, persuading, demanding performance from my body at the correct time as this is what you’ll have to do at those times when the marathon (or whatever race is your aim) gets really hard, but it is also about listening to your body and responding accordingly rather than carrying on regardless.

This got me thinking about other useful aspects of training for a marathon. Yes it’s about building up to the distance, practicing pacing, learning just how bloody far the target distance can be but it’s also about some other things you don’t always find in running magazines, or those ‘how to’ books.

So here are a few other pointers on what training’s good for….

  • Practicing your breakfast routine for race day. Given you don’t usually live on the race route what exactly are you going to fuel with on the morning of the race and by eating that prior to the longest training runs, how does that make you feel at the start (sick? Bloated? Tired?) and how well does it fuel your long run efforts. How easy is it to prepare, consume and then be ready to leave for the race. If the race is away from home requiring an overnight stay will your host/hotel be able to provide it or do you need to take ingredients with you and how will you prepare that pre-race snack.
  • Have you tested your chafing prevention routine? Is application of preventative mechanisms really going to work equally well on a warm spring day, rainy day, or cold, freezing day? Where is prevention really needed and what is essentially, wasteful smearing?
  • What is your preferred post-run snack? Test it out so you know what to pack on race day.
  • What will be your warm-up routine be on race day? Unfortunately many of the parks where the longer runs start don’t yet have unending supplies of rollers, or power plates, or will even be dry enough to lie, or stretch on come race day. Identify the key warm-up exercises you need to be able to do to be race ready on the day, and what kit might you need to take with you to be able to do them – good luck getting the Power plate on the bus though!
  • Start testing , food, gel, and drink refuelling options early. See how your stomach reacts even on the shorter runs – poor reactions are always best dealt with at home rather than in the cramped toilet of that greasy spoon you’d always sworn you’d never visit. Equally notice how well they refuel YOU, not anyone else, or what the marketing blurb claims. Make sure you find them easy to consume whilst running and practice that routine including the water that usually must accompany them.
  • Deal with blisters early – if you’re getting these in the shorter training runs then you could suffer dramatically in the race. Get an assessment of your running shoes, check out your lace tying to see if you need to ‘lock’ your foot into the shoe, review your socks, but test these out in these training runs.

So what’s training good for?

Abso-bloody-lutely everything.

Bring on the flat hills – this body’s ready for them.

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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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