Thursday, 23 August 2012

Leaving The Beaten Track

So much for plans. Ventured out for a run last night. Cousin Ollie’s coming down late on Saturday night for two days so I think I’ll end up bringing my long run forward by 24 hours, as a result of which I brought my Thursday morning run forward to Wednesday evening, which I also did because I’m WFH today and I find the early morning endorphin release isn’t as beneficial when I don’t go into the office, which I normally do on Thursdays only my lift provider’s away today, so… Anyway, I went out for a run.

All the stuff I read when I started getting into this running malarkey suggested mixing up routes and surfaces. I resisted doing so purely because of practicalities and limitations: I live on top of a hill and, whilst there are a few options in terms of which roads I use, the one I’ve settled on is a good one: nice gradient mix, not too busy… although it has meant I’ve settled into a routine of laps and, with or without stopwatch, my body has learnt to pace itself well. It knows what it can achieve when I’m doing four laps, when I’m doing six… all well and good, but I’ve no real idea as to what I can expect it to do in either the 10k or the Half. I have route maps for both but they are mere indications, not least because map reading never was my strong point.

Anyway, Nick hammered the point home again in a series of tweets last week:

“Keep making your body guess”… hmmm… makes sense… I don’t want to, but I know I should…

…so I ventured onto trail last night. Well, onto the field opposite our house, then through to the adjoining fields for a while until I got back onto the road for two laps of my usual route. To some extent I had done something simiar in Devon, but that was pretty genuine grass during the warmest and driest week of the year. Last night it was to start with, but it got less even once I’d left the main field, not least because this hasn’t exactly been the driest of Augusts. Look, it’s as if I drew pretty little doodles running round and round the various fields before heading off onto my usual route, which I stretched by heading to the Primary School and back to ensure I exceeded 10km:

Boy, am I glad I did that!

This was a wake-up call. Having clocked 5’59”/km on Tuesday on a route with even greater climbs, last night only a surge at the end got me down to 6’19”/km. That surge was on tarmac. Until then, I had failed to match recent pace on the softer trail underfoot. Which, I understand, is the main terrain for the TenTenTen.

Was it just about the terrain? I don’t believe so. Out of my comfort zone, my body’s autopilot failed miserably. My legs couldn’t pace themselves on the back of previous runs: as a result, they erred on the side of caution. When I repeat yesterday’s route I will have a better idea and would expect to do better. But first time round, with a significant part of limited brain power trying to figure out pace whilst looking out for slip hazards, speed was always going to suffer. For me, there will be no dress rehearsal of the TenTenTen, whereas it’s Cousins Nats’ and Ollie’s default practice ground. Hopefully I’ll glean something from those around me: furthermore, the Sheffield route is regularly trodden upon by runners and walkers alike, hopefully making it more suitable than a bunch of fields into which only tractors, seagulls, crows and dogwalkers (so presumably dogs, an’all) appear to have ventured recently. That’s got to help… hasn’t it?

As summers go, it’s not been a great one for trail running. Besides, I wanted to ensure I was doing OK on the road before venturing off it, not least from a safety perspective. But if I’m still doing this in a year’s time… who knows, maybe I should spend £35 in Decathlon. For now, the Asics did the job. Look at the state of them now… they’re hardly the shiny new things I brought home last April, eh?

Bless’em… I should probably revert to the old Nike pair I wore in Devon next time! I know these don’t look too bad, especially compared to some of the football boots I’ve brought home over the years – but you’re not meant to get your running shoes dirty! Are you?

So where does this leave me? I am certainly less confident about breaking the hour mark in Sheffield, purely because of the role of trail and of my unfamiliarity with the route. No less confident about completing the 10k: I’m running at least 10km three times a week, I’m in good shape, I can do the ‘completing’ bit. Because of that confidence, however, some of my focus has inevitably shifted to the time and last night reminded me that there is a reason why athletics, as well as Formula 1, takes place on tarmac rather than trail. Not that I feel bad about beating the hour mark looking less likely: last night simply gave me an enhanced appreciation of the importance of those two factors (to which I had referred last month anyway as the two greatest unknowns), reminding me that my regular pace is simply not fast enough to counter-balance their impact. To some extent, it kind of takes off some of the pressure I was beginning to put myself under… But it has no real impact on my plans for the
Bristol Half Marathon, which will be an all-tarmac affair. Moreover, the sad reality is that I can glean a better understanding of the route for the latter than for the Sheffield TenTenTen. When I actually run in Sheffield, I’m sure I’ll recognise every bit of it, for the race is set across parks and woodlands I know and love well… I’m just struggling to get a precise sense of it from afar. Fortunately those kind people at Kandoo Events have posted a couple of videos… hmmm… OK, yes, that seems doable. Besides, one should not underestimate the power of adrenaline. Just watching these clips has brought tears to my eyes. That’s my land, those are my people. I’m training hard, I’m watching what I eat… but, cometh the day, I am sure I can rely on the spirit of those who came before me to rise through the Sheffield soil and inspire me to do myself, and them, justice.
Whatever the terrain, on September 23 I’ll be back on the beaten track. My track. And I’ll be alreight.

Last but not least… by the time I’d got the kids to bed and had figured out that I did actually want to go running, rather than wait for this morning, it was a bit on the dark side. But fear not, my friends: for I am truly gloriously equipped for running out in the country, be it on its narrow roads or in deserted fields, even as the sun finally sets. Indeed, as per previous post, I give myself a decent shot at survival on local B-roads, too. It’s not ideal, of course: but I do make myself as hard to miss as possible. The photo below was taken in Paris, some 50 days (and seven kilos) ago. But fear not: I’m still glowing (in a mardy kind of way). And, to the best of my knowledge, not because of radiation. Either that or the radiation sometimes makes me glow orange or green.

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