We are entering that most dangerous of time for a runner. We are reviewing our accomplishments for the year and beginning to plot, plan and scheme for 2014.
We enter the deadly realm of the ‘New Year’s Resolution’. We set ourselves targets for the coming year and although most folk have forgotten about their resolutions pretty quickly, we runners are a breed apart. They stick with us and guide our actions even when deep down we know that we are heading down a dangerous path.
Now, I am not against a good target or two. They keep the motivation up and give us something to aim for. It is just that we need to give a bit of thought to the way we frame our desires.
I want to share with you 3 resoloutions that I have made in the past that have led to disaster and how with a bit of thought, I could have kept a bit of perspective and stayed healthy.
Resolution 1 – I am going to do the Cross Bay half-marathon this year.
That seemed like a reasonable thing to aim for. I was running well and putting in a few miles. I entered nice and early told everyone about it. I was running pretty well and then about 2 months out from race day, I got a bit of a niggle in my right calf. I backed off and about 5 weeks from race day, I resumed training fully only to have the problem recur.
I had fallen into a classic trap. I had all my race eggs in one basket. I had attached so much importance to the event that my perspective on its importance had vanished. The more I talk to runners, the more I see this. In retrospect, I had pushed myself a little bit harder in training than I should have and then not given myself recovery time. All I could think about was whether I would be firing on race day. I came back too soon and didn’t make it to the start line.
The feeling in the pit of my stomache was dreadful. The sense of relief when I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to run was immense. It was like a weight off the shoulders. I had been running with fear as a companion for a while. The really stupid thing was that I did the same thing the year after and failed to make the start line again.
Aim for a race by all means but don’t build it up into something it isn’t. There will be a race next week and the week after that if you need it. When I started barefoot running, I finally made it to the start line on the 3rd attempt. I had entered and almost forgotten about it. It was important but not overly so. When it came, I just took it in my stride.
Resolution 2 – I am going to run a sub 40 minute 10k
My 10k pb is 38:02 mins and I was 20 years old when I ran it. 25 years later, I do still think that I have another sub 40 minute in me. About 7 years ago, I ran a couple of sub 40s and a couple of 1hr 28min half marathons. My method was simple. I used speed training.
I figured that there was no point in running slow, I already knew how to do that. What I needed to do was practice running fast. I followed a 12 week prgramme from Runner’s World and cracked it. However, I broke down with injury very soon afterwards. My calves couldn’t cope.
When I started to barefoot and my calves were feeling great, I started to dream again. Before I knew it, I was beginning to time runs and judge against my old self. I have a loop of about 2.5 miles that I run regularly and know good split times for every feature of the route.
I was flying and with 400 yrds to go was looking at my watch. Not a record but not far off. My new pitter-patter style was eating up the ground but I was tiring. 200 yds to go and I slipped into my old style and began to drive off from my toes. I felt my calf with about 20yds to go and in the last 3 strides it went completely.
Bang – and that was that. I stood at the end. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
But, it is easy to do. I was seduced by the lure of a 40 minute 10k. I had fallen hook, line and sinker.
The solution is not to run slow. That would rob me of the joy of feeling the speed. I am no class athlete but it is all relative. I love the thrill of running quickly. I just need to do it without attaching more importance than I should to an abritrary number. Some line in the sand that I had drawn.
I now add speed to my runs but with more control and it is more about maintaining form than throwing my head back and thrashing at it with wild abandon. I still feel the challenge and the speed but am not willing to put myself out for months for a couple of seconds here or there.
Resolution 3 – I am going to run 1000 miles this year.
We all love the mileage and I am no exception. 1000 miles seems such a reasonable thing to aim for. It is only about 20 miles per week. That is about my average. When I hit 20 miles per week consistently, I can feel myself becoming that young runner again.
In the 10 years prior to barefooting, I didn’t make it to 1000 miles once. I always broke down for some reason or other. A contributing factor was this thing that I seemed to carry around with me all the time. If for some reason, I missed a run, I felt compelled to make up the mileage and ended up running without recovery time. I could do it for a while but sooner or later, I broke down.
If I was returning from injury, I would get back up to 20 miles per week as soon as possible and break down again. I still made the same resolution year after year. I didn’t say it out loud but it was still there in the background niggling away at me.
1000 miles simply isn’t enough. I plan to run many, many thousands of miles. The thing that has changed is the timescale. It has extended to the rest of my life. I plan to be a runner into my dotage.
I am not going to be dictated by another arbritrary line in the sand that I have drawn for myself. I need some motivation to get me out of the door but there have been times when running would not have been a good idea and I have given it a miss. My solution is to be wise enough and live to run another day.
Now don’t get any notions about a lack of desire. It is still burning bright. I love to run long and I love to run fast. I crave the butterflies in my stomache when you do something on the edge. I might find myself in a position where I am willing to push myself close to the edge and risk hurting myself.
I am a runner and a competitor and there will be times when I think that it is worth the risk. But I am not going to give it away cheaply by setting myself sloppy targets or following a plan designed for someone else.
My new year’s resolutions therefore are:
- Enter a few events rather than a single one and do the ones that feel right at the time. I am not going to put all my eggs in one race’s basket.
- Add some speed work to my runs and concentrate on maintaining form rather than speed. When the form starts to go, the speedwork ends.
- Run the miles that feel right. Be prepared to go with the flow and live to run another day if needed.
………..and most important: …Sod all that:
If I am racing and can feel the wind on my face and it is joyous then I am going to give myself over to it and fly. I have the rest of my life to be a runner and will be a long time dead. There are times when the risk is worth it. I wouldn’t want to end up taking myself too seriously now would I.
Happy new year everyone. I hope 2014 brings you joy on the trail!