Most of the discussion about how to improve distance running standards assumes that the problem essentially comes down to training harder. From the conversations I’ve had with my coach, and from reading Charlie Spedding’s book, though, much of the difference seems to come down to focus. In an e-mail, Charlie told me ‘I think a lot of people from my generation like to say that your generation don’t train hard enough, but I really don’t know if that is true. For all I know, you might be training too hard’.
The ‘focus’ and ‘commitment’ Charlie writes about are not the same thing as ‘motivation’, which today seems to be characterised primarily by Nike adverts, ‘running playlists’ on itunes and youtube videos – that is, things that last about three minutes. The ‘focus’ Charlie refers to requires a bit more time. It means deciding what you want to do and then getting on with it. It means deciding to run twice a day, and accepting that running will become the punctuation to your day, the two bookends between which everything else fits. My flatmates used to correct me when I told them I’d meet them later because I “had to go for a run.” “You want to go for a run”, they’d say. They got bored of correcting me eventually. You don’t need music or slogans to motivate you if you accept that you’re going to go out every time you wake up and whenever you get home at the end of the day; it just happens. The ‘focus’ Charlie is talking about is different and is, I think, lacking from a lot of people’s training. As he puts it in his book, before he changed his mindset, ‘although I had an attitude that made me diligent in my training, it wasn’t the same thing as having an attitude that would make me successful in my running.’ Luckily, Charlie’s advice about focus and commitment happens to involve going to the pub.
This is an exercise anyone can do (you don’t have to be in a pub, but it helps). It makes you accountable to yourself, and it gives you something to refer back to. And it’s pretty simple. Get yourself a pad of paper and write “What do I want?”, “Why do I want it?” and “How much do I want it?” If you don’t know the answers to those questions, Charlie reckons, you’re unlikely to get the most out of yourself competitively. I’ve done my own version for this summer, but it’s not going on here. It’s one thing being accountable to yourself and quite another to make yourself accountable to eightlane message board posters! Having target races doesn’t mean that you don’t run other races, or that you don’t run the other races hard, but that you aim to really put pressure on yourself in the races where you want to get results.
I made the pilgrimage down to Sutton Coldfield this week for the national twelve stage road relays, running a pretty lonely 11th leg 48 seconds slower than my coach ran in April 1981, and identical to the second to Dougie’s time on leg nine. We’ve clearly been spending too much time running together in the meadows and, as our mate Mark puts it, ‘become physiologically the same bloke’. We were eight seconds apart at the Scottish road relays, too. I suppose it’s not a problem if we keep running the same times, but we could do with both running a bit quicker in the next few weeks. The twelve stage has more or less remained the same whilst the rest of the running landscape has changed around it – a tent city gradually appearing in the morning, with club flags competing for space around the changeover area, then runners battling for over four hours for their teams. As one of the Costorphine AC runners put it, ‘I don’t want to hear of any example of anyone being able to remember their own name within ten minutes of finishing a leg!’
Training wise this week was fairly similar again, although it should be noted that according to my coach’s diary the winter lasted even longer in 1981 than it did this year. His entry for the 24th of April is ‘5 miles alone – deep snow!’ He ran 78 miles, I ran 73. The previous week I ran 84, he ran 94. I’ve listed my last two weeks below for anyone interested.
Sunday: 11 miles including long leg at Scottish road relays.
Monday: AM 6 miles steady PM 6 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 4.5 miles steady. PM 9 miles including 8 x 1km in under three minutes with one minute recovery.
Wednesday: 10 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 5 miles steady. PM 10 miles acceleration run. First mile in 6.30, then 10 seconds faster per mile.
Friday: AM 6 miles steady. PM 6 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 6 miles steady. PM 4.5 miles steady.
Sunday: 18 miles steady with Dougie.
Monday: AM 6 miles steady. PM 6 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 4.5 miles steady. PM 9 miles including 5 x 1km (100 jog recovery), 1 mile hard on the track.
Wednesday: 6 miles steady. (Didn’t get out until 10pm, due to having to hand in 7,000 words of essay on Thursday!)
Thursday: AM 5 miles including 10 mins of 100m hard every 30 seconds. PM 5 miles steady.
Friday: 3 miles easy.
Saturday: 10 miles including leg in 12 stage relays.