DIARY: New times

A quick update since my last entry celebrated 50 days running in a row. Not a remarkable achievement given the recent news that Ron Hill stopped his after 52 years and 39 years. At the time I was not celebrating the streak so much as the consistency. In the coaching system I use with my clients in CE, I break down the three main factors of athletic success to:
  • Consistency
  • Endurance
  • Power (i.e. speed, in our context)
The three factors don't exist in a strict hierarchy as they interrelate dynamically but consistency still comes first as Lydiard memorably said in his 1962 book 'Run to the Top' (not to be confused with the much later 'Running to the Top'). 

Fever, diminishing returns and big changes

Ironic then that a fairly hefty fever robbed me of the next 10 days of training after which I slowly resumed. My 'project' of replicating 2012 training week by week was shifted a bit and I had to make some allowances to rebuilding the body as I did not get sick at all in 2012. Another thing that did not happen in 2012, was the arrival of a second child. Baby Ada was born on the 24th of February. There were nervy moments as I was lying useless on the couch for the week leading up to it but had recovered enough to be of some help in the hospital by the time the date came around. But at least I did not have to worry about trying to fit training in between the trips up and down to Holles Street. Our first few weeks were difficult due to some unexpected news but eventually life settled back into routine and training with it - the last 19 days have seen my runs consistently executed and I kept my annual average at 9.1 km per day for the year versus the measly 5.3 km in 2016, 4.9 km in 2015, 5.5 in 2014 and 5.8 in 2013. In 2012 I had 7 km / day which was all mostly in the first 5 months and the two years previous to that were at 6.3 km / day.  2009 was a record with 8.1 km per day and the injury ravaged 2008 saw only 4.8 km and my first serious year running 3.9 km. Unfortunately a distinct lack of talent on my part means that any drop-off in training results in an embarrassing drop-off in performance. Of course, it's more about what you do with the miles than the miles themselves - in 2007 I could still run an 18:48 5 km off 3.9 km per day average, something I cannot do currently, but I also did 47 races that year. In 2012 it took roughly 100 km per week of high quality running (14.2 km per day) to run 17:28. The returns of training certainly are diminishing - an increase of volume of 275% yielded a 7% increase in time. 

The younger self

Of course, we cannot reduce this way when describing human performance although its the norm in many discussions: I was a younger man then with no responsibilities and no commitments to speak of with oceans of time and less miles on the clock. I exist in a completely different world now and if I could go back and tell my 2008 self a lesson it would be 'spend your time better - you won't have more time than this again until you're too old to spend it on high performance'. Part of this knowledge informs my current drive of training - my physiological peak is fast approaching and I don't intend to keep running 7 days per week indefinitely. The time to do something is now and in the next few years and this means working with the body and the situation I have right now - there's no time to wait for an ideal athletic situation. It'll likely never arise again. But I don't want to spend my entire life walking the tightrope necessary to train without show-stopping injury indefinitely - there's more to life than that. Running needs to play a different role for me when I am a bit older - primarily the coaching aspect. So the aspirations I have long held need to be brought out now or silenced forever in the attempt to scale them. If you knock on one door for too long without getting an answer, it's time to walk over to the neighboring house. 

Because time is not my friend there is the risk of injury as any high performing athlete knows - you may 'walk differently in old age' because you had to gamble high to take home your goals while time was there. My attitude to this is 'I don't have to give my body back when I'm done with it'. The only certainty we have is that we will all decay and die - many today pursue 'optimal' health and while there are attractions and benefits (being able to do more with the days you have), it can be pursued to such a degree that it interferes with life and fills you with fear of 'actually living' (cue the people who look nervously at a bottle of beer or suffer panic attacks when they discover they were given non-gluten free bread by accident). I'm not talking about embracing the rock'n'roll life style of 'dying early and making a pretty corpse' but being optimal still just means 'slowing down the inevitable'. The gamble I am taking is not optimal in terms of 'health' - it is purely a choice made to try and achieve certain objectives while they are still biologically feasible. If that leaves a few battle scars for old age, I don't care, because the goal is not to keep doing this lark forever but to try and achieve something to look back on. Creating memories for old age and closing the circle - being able to say 'all those hours were not for nothing'. 

Our changing roles
Toshihiko Seko said: 'Running is my only girlfriend, I give her everything I have'. I made a different choice some years ago and accept the trade-off although I'm sure every runner sometimes glances enviously at the few who chose running above all else - their only commitment. But perhaps they too glance the other way.

I believe in the aspect of human culture which asks us to revisit the role we play in relation to our peers as we age. This shift in mindset naturally happened with Cillian's birth as you become aware of your primary role in life shifting from serving yourself to serving the next generation. This is not some altruistic notion on my part but purely the selfish and emotional logic of the parent-child relationship: put simply - Cillian is a better investment of time now than I am. He still has all the potential in the world. As a semi-spent force, I will have more value as a teacher than as a performer - or at least I am moving into a decade where this transition happens. I have to get used to not being the 'young warrior send into the field to do battle' but the old man left behind to give counsel and lay out plans. I think we need to embrace this shifting of roles with grace or risk outstaying our welcome in a role where we no longer truly belong. Richard Askwith said that there are more meaningful things you can do than run and he was right. He also said 'you could spend the hours much worse' which is also right.

The whole man
Children, like any dependents, force you to realise that investing all your time on what is still - a self-indulgence - may not be the way to life an entire life. Percy Cerutty, the great coach, knew this and tried to build men who achieved more than athletics and had a wider value to their community. Having spend the last 12 years almost completely immersed in centring everything in life around running, I have come to realise that I need to put an end-date on the pursuit after which time running becomes merely a hobby among many and my energies can be spread more widely over other activities. But for now, I look to Friday...

Near-future - Wicklow Road Championship
With consistency restored it was a pity then that our first big club race of the year - the Wicklow Road Championships was moved from the expected date in late April to 31st of March. Our training had not anticipated 5 km specific training so early and we had to quickly move things around which included adding two interval sessions earlier than planned. Both were very tough, I'll talk about them more on my coaching blog, and I felt that they came 'a bit too early' yet would not have been without them as my steady state is currently not optimal and to compensate I wanted at least the race specific work in the system. 

We're looking at a big presence with 12 runners registered out of the roughly 25 senior members and 40 juniors in the new club and 3 teams (Masters men, Senior men and Senior women) competing. Last year we took 6 medals and have to try and hold ourselves to that standard this year despite missing a few big-hitters (Senior Ladies team, 2nd and 3rd senior woman and 1st and 2nd woman in the F35 category as well as silver in the M45 category).

After that our club always looks to the Wicklow Way Relay and then onwards to Dessie Shorten's new relay (The Relay).