At about this time of year I am normally packing my season away in a box and thinking about what I am going to do over the winter. But this year I have extended my season, or to be more accurate, I have re-opened my season.
After I ran Race to The Stones in July I didn’t have any other events in the diary. Three ultras felt like enough, beside which my feet were in shreds. A rest was on the cards.
August was taken up with a variety of things. First we had to get Matilda and her friend to Pony Club Camp. Just two-girls, two ponies and a tent for a week, but it felt like a full military deployment. Then we had the all-important Race to The Stones barbecue. And of course we had our family summer holiday. This year we went to the south of Spain.
Although I kept exercising throughout, my mind was focused on other things and there was no structure or purpose to my training. The result was that my weight and my fitness went in opposite direction, both heading the wrong way.
If you allow yourself to put on weight and let your fitness ebb away slowly enough, you don’t notice the change. The realisation starts when you can’t find a T-shirt to run in that doesn’t show your spare tyre.
But my “Road to Damasacus” moment came on a run while we were on holiday in Spain. It was hot and I was working quite hard, I would have guessed my pace was about 8.15 minute per mile, but my watch was showing my pace as 9 minutes a mile. In my state of denial I convinced myself that it was because I had an English watch and the GPS didn’t work properly in Spain. But I knew.
The evidence that sealed the case, if any were needed, came when I got on the scales after returning from holiday. If they could talk the scales would have said: “One at a time please” before showing me a number I haven’t seen for a few years. That was it. Enough! Time to take myself in hand.
So on the day after the August Bank Holiday, I declared my season open again and entered The Clarendon Half Marathon in early October. I got my bike out, dusted off my swimming gear and I went to it.
I started training six days a week with the priority being running and in particular speed training and tempo running. I swam and cycled as cross training. I find that my run fitness rockets if I swim and bike on non-running days. At the same time I seriously cleaned up my diet.
It only took a week before I noticed the early signs of improvement. As the end of September got nearer my numbers were improving and I had shed about 10 lbs. I am sure my training was paying dividends, but I am convinced that it was the weight loss that made the real difference.
I have been doing parkrun for about a year but during that time I have never been at peak running fitness. Recently I have been trying to go to parkrun every Saturday as it provides a good benchmark of progress as well as a really enjoyable social run with friends.
Going into September I had a best time of 23.26 mins. One Saturday near the end of September I forgot my watch (which was working again by now!) so just ran to feel. I didn’t think I was hammering it, but nor was I holding back. I took 20 seconds off my best time.
The following week I went back with my watch on with the aim of seeing what I could do if I gave it some beans. The answer, I took more than another minute of my parkrun PB which now stands at 22.05 mins. The previous week I had run a fantastic 10k in Andover in aid of the local food bank and come home in 46.30mins. (confession: I think the course was a bit short). Things were on the up.
Last weekend I ran the Clarendon Half – a hilly and muddy 13.1 miles from Broughton to Winchester. I had no real plans to chase a time until my Race to The Stones partner-in-crime, Neville, asked me on the start line what my target was. From nowhere I said:
That was based on nothing. No science, no course recce and certainly no thought. Top of the head stuff! The look on Nev’s face told me that I was being a bit ambitious given the profile of the course, but he was polite enough not to say so. And anyway, it was too late, I had said it.
It actually turned out to be the best thing that happened. My pace and progress during the race was always tantalisingly close to a 2 hour run, so when I was tempted to walk the hills I thought better of it. I had to answer to Nev at the finish line!!
The most satisfying part was that moment when I thought I was dropping off the pace and I touched the accelerator and for the first time in eighteen months something actually happened! My training and weight loss had made a real difference.
Always one to leave things to the last-minute, I sneaked over the finish line with 26 seconds to spare for a 1.59.34mins finish. On that course and given were I was five weeks earlier, I was thrilled.
So that, in a rather large nutshell, is why I am continuing my season. I am enjoying my training and I am especially enjoying being a slightly faster runner again and I am not ready to go into winter hibernation.
Next up is a step back in time to when I was at school. I have joined the local Athletics Club so that I can race in the Hampshire Cross Country League over the winter. For some people cross-country brings on flashbacks of cold wet torture from their schooldays. I have all kinds of great memories of running cross-country at school. It’s where I discovered my love of running, so I am quite excited to get out there.
Sods Law, the first race is at Farley Mount in Winchester which is the site of the biggest hill in the Clarendon Half. At least I should know the course!