“Well, how was London ?”
Like many other marathon runners, the end of April for me was spent staring at my feet or the middle distance trying to answer this question without being completely boring or self-obsessed. In any case, the answer for me this year was:
“Bloody awful, thanks for asking”
Given that’s been pretty much the same response for the last 3-4 years, after every marathon I’ve run, I decided to try something radical. That’s right, I read a book about how to be a better runner. There’s lots of these books out, and mugs like me buy them all the time, in the mistaken belief that by tweaking our training, taking a different attitude to races, running with a different posture, eating wholegrain goat yoghurt etc that we’ll remain injury free, enjoy our running, and probably show a clean pair of heels to those pesky Kenyans.
Anyway, this particular mug bought a book called “Run Less, Run Faster”. I was particularly attracted by the first part of the title, as I’ve recently fallen out of love with running, and am keen for us to be reunited as soon as possible. What RL, RF says is this: Stop running so much, do three really good intense sessions a week and spend another 2-3 sessions cross training. Quite how such a message justifies 300 pages of dense text and £8:99 of my cash is anyone’s guess, but I guess that’s just the crazy, mixed up world that we all live in these days.
So, for the last couple of weeks, that’s what my training has been, and, dear reader, I do feel my affection for running generally chumming up a bit. Although I think this is partly due to the significant boredom levels associated with the cross training options. Because once you’ve put yourself through 45 minutes of stationary cycling or rowing machine efforts, then you really know how boring exercise can be.
And so it was with a spring in my step that I started my effort session last Tuesday night, and I fair skipped along to start my:
<1 mile warm up + 4x 800m efforts @ 2:54 off 1min timed recovery + 2 mile cool down>
Now, if you’re a runner, you probably live in justified fear of the 800m effort. It’s just about short enough to be flat out, and just about long enough to leave you coughing blood in the last 200 metres. But, it’s a really good effort session distance for endurance runners, and there’s even a neat little marathon predictor called Yasso 800’s (named after the exceptionally coolly named running coach, Bart Yasso) that says you should do 6 x 800m efforts with limited recoveries as an indicator of marathon pace a few weeks ahead of your race – your average in minutes and seconds will be the likely time you’re capable of in hours and minutes for the marathon. Neat, huh?
So off I set, and warmed up by running to a nearby cinder track, a hidden gem about a mile from where I live. It’s at the edge of a park which itself borders on to a bit of Norwich which, well, hasn’t exactly made its way on to any postcards you’d buy from the tourist board. However, there was sun in the sky, a marked lack of rain, and all was right with the world.
First 800. Had the track to myself, being a firm believer in Yasso 800’s, I took the 2:54 target seriously, got round ok, and absolutely on pace.
As I was walking up to start the second effort, I was joined on the running track by two men in shell-suits carrying golf clubs, a very noisy child, and two even noisier dogs. Stepping on to the infield, they started practising their golf shots*. Fortunately, they weren’t very good at golf, so they weren’t hitting the ball that far, but when they did connect, it was difficult to know if they were going to slice or hook, so running in a circle around them was slightly precarious. In addition, the noisy child decided to exercise the dogs, who in turn decided to exercise themselves in my general direction. All of which gave cause for quite a lot of “Oi, f***ing come back here” from the two men, who would catch up with the dogs eventually and punish them in the way in which only people who shouldn’t have dogs seem to know how. So, second 800m just shaded under 3:00, on account of ducking imaginary “F***in’ Fore” shouts and general distraction.
Third effort was all well until the second bend, when I noticed two more men and possibly the biggest dog I’ve ever seen, up on the bank next to the track. My eyesight’s a bit dodgy these days, and I genuinely thought it was a small horse to start with. Anyway, it, and its minders came down the bank, attached to each other by a chain that you’d normally use to secure a large motorbike. Across the back straight, and onto the infield. The small child stopped screaming. Both of the casual golfers stopped swearing and studied their trainers. And the two previously very lively dogs sauntered over to the back straight, as if to make it clear that their job descriptions did not include the word ‘protection’. Naturally, this modern day reenactment of a spaghetti western slowed me down, as time stood still around me for a moment. As a result – 2:59.
Ans so to the fourth 800m effort. Just as I walked up to the start point, I was joined on the track by an assortment of different sized adults in more shell suits, two toddlers, and a very small quad bike.
“That looks easier than this”, I said, striking up the sort of easy banter that inevitably marks me out as a complete twit, and by which I meant at riding on a quad bike around a running track would be easier than running.
“Well, we can’t get it f***ing going on the f***ing grass”, came back the equally cheery response, slightly mis-interpreting me.
They started the quad bike up, and it made a noise like a drag racer. The recalcitrant dogs pricked up their ears, and on the back straight suddenly made themselves heard again (the dog/horse creature by this stage had moved on, possibly into some sort of Ripley’s Believe it or Not travelling fair). I had a bit of a head start on the first circuit, as the first pilot was the wrong side of obese, and had a toddler on his lap, all of which pretty much hid the quad bike underneath. As I passed them, the dogs looked a bit puzzled and not sure what to make of things. Frankly, I couldn’t blame them – they’d just pitched up for a little light golf and owner punishment action, a new type of scary animal scares them half to death, then some idiot in a running vest comes sweating past, followed by Mr Creosote and Jr Creosote, making a noise like their worst nightmare and with no visible means of support.
The Creosote family had developed some momentum by about 300m, and were steadily gaining on me as I passed half way. Time for a quick Le Mans style change of driver, and the race was truly on. For the new driver was the skinniest member of the family and anxious to impress with his driving skills, throwing doughnuts on the first corner, and in turn convincing the dogs that this was A Thing They Must Chase. So they did, and at 600 metres, the positions were 1) me 2) quad bike 3) Alsatian cross 4) Bulldog, all travelling at well over 10mph. I’m pleased to say that these were the finishing positions as well, or at least they would have been if the two dogs hadn’t been chased in turn by their owners, so instead of attacking the final bend, had carried straight on down the hill towards the ring road. Selfishly, that didn’t concern me, as I checked my time for the effort – the thrill and fear of the chase had resulted in a pleasing 2:49.
I suspect you will struggle to see such an exciting last lap at London 2012 in the 800m, or, frankly, in any other event, and more’s the pity, in my opinion. I would love to see the introduction of lively dogs and/or mini quadbikes in lanes 7 and 8 for some of the heats, at least.
My training plan takes me back to the track next Tuesday. If there’s enough interest, I will hold a badly organised and frustrating lottery to deliver to you some tickets at vastly inflated prices, although I couldn’t guarantee that you’ll get to see exactly the event you want to see when you want to see it or indeed be able to sit near any members of your own family.
But you’ll be able to say you were there.
*the men, obviously