I went down to train at Maiden Castle in Durham the morning after the BUCS 10,000m. Inevitably, the first person I saw asked me how it went.
‘Morning Mike. How did BUCS go?’
‘It was terrible.’
‘It wasn’t that good’ said my coach, overhearing us as he walked past.
Indeed… there was no point in pretending it had been anything other than a disaster. We’d decided that even though I’d been struggling with a virus, it was worth taking the gamble that I’d recovered in time to race. Or rather, my coach had never seemed to entertain the idea that I wouldn’t run a race I’d been targeting for a long time. He’d realised that I was going to run anyway and it that he might as well try to get me to think positively about it. I’d warmed up and run a fairly hard mile in 4.35 on the Thursday before the race and didn’t feel too bad. Apparently my coach had thought I sounded like I was breathing more heavily than I should have been, but there wasn’t much point in worrying me about that. I went down to the race thinking that perhaps the time off I’d had might actually benefit me, that the flat feeling in my legs was just nerves.
I realised pretty early on in the race that I didn’t feel right, though, and that all the positive thinking in the world wasn’t going to get me round twenty-five laps particularly fast. When you’re feeling bad and look up to see ’17’ on the lap counter you know it’s going to be a long half hour. I ended up making it round in 8th place in a race that was won in a time thirty seconds slower than I ran for 10,000m last summer, which is obviously pretty frustrating. The race was won by a guy who went into it with a PB over two and a half minutes slower than the best entrant on paper. Running is a pretty unpredictable sport – even without taking races into account, everyone who does a bit of running knows that some days you feel terrible for no logical reason and other days you feel at least nine feet tall even though you’ve been training really hard. You can have bad days but you can also – luckily – have outstanding days. Or at least that’s what you have to tell yourself when you have a total nightmare of a race.
Unfortunately some viruses just cling on longer than others, and sometimes you have to accept that you’ve got about as much chance of sweating them out by continuing to run as you have of curing indigestion by eating a second pizza. You just have to wait, and forget about racing for a while. Fortunately I’ve felt a lot better this week, and I’m back into normal training now. I’m doing the session of two flat out four mile efforts today though so that should be a good measure of whether I’m completely better or not!
The 10,000m is a distance that is rarely run on the track anymore, but one that was a staple of any serious distance runner’s summer plans in the ‘80’s. People seem more concerned with road 10km times now. From what my coach has said about when he was running, though, there was a tendency to distrust road times in favour of the inescapable objectivity of the track. He ran under 30 minutes for 10,000m with someone shouting the lap times out for him on the back straight – as long as he heard 71-point-something he knew he was alright. That takes a particular kind of stubborn relentlessness, but also a huge amount of concentration. The 10,000m seems like a good way of cultivating mental fortitude, and a good exercise in bloodymindedness. I’m planning on heading down to Highgate in June for their ‘10,000m Night of PBs’, so hopefully it will live up to its name…