Monday, 30 April 2018

Turning a Corner

I’ll often refer to corners when I’m speaking about progression. I use it as a way of persevering through bad times. When going through a bad time it’s so easy to just give in, but, a bit like the child asking ‘are we nearly there yet’, I’ve always got through by referring to the statement, ‘keep going as you never know what’s round the next corner’. Corny as that might sound it’s also often true, good times have always followed bad, just sometimes it’s a long road up to the next corner. Turning a corner to me often means my running has been in the doldrums for a while and suddenly, not without a lot of background work, I’m suddenly flying high again, or at least I’ve managed to take off.

Last time I turned a corner was back in 2010, when after a few years of solid but not particularly spectacular performances, I suddenly found myself around the top of the M45 rankings and twice a runner up at British Masters Championships, plus I was running times I would have been proud of in my 30s. I had a couple of decent enough years to follow that but the last three or four have been a bit rubbish, form wise. True I’ve managed some decent results and even won the odd thing, but in all that time I’ve not felt the sweet spot you feel when you’re running well.

Today I feel like I’ve turned a corner. Don’t get me wrong I’m not running spectacular times but I’m beginning to get that sweet feeling of running well. I’m probably actually taking a long sweeping corner rather than having turned one, but I feel I’m on the way back and it’s about time.

It’s two months since I last wrote a blog, that was following my 4th place in the 10 mile BMAF champs. I certainly didn’t feel the sweet spot that day but I felt strong and it encouraged me to keep training hard. In fact it encouraged me to train harder because I thought I was still lacking something. I knew I needed to add some extra miles and some tougher quality sessions if I was to progress from that point, and that’s exactly what I did. There was no rocket science involved or a sudden seeing the light moment, it was purely that I needed to push myself harder to achieve success.

At the time my longest run for years was about 9.5 miles, I wanted to push this up and I have. I haven’t quite got as far as I wanted, my body starts asking if we’re nearly there yet as we get to 11 miles, I’m conscious that I don’t want to get injured so I’ve only managed to coax it along as far as 12.5. Not enough, I know, but I’m hopeful that if I can keep coaxing that will get longer. The main thing I’ve changed is that I’m doing more reps per session and many of these have been longer reps than I’ve been doing for years.

I’m almost loath to share my training because, although it’s hard for me, in fact I feel this is the hardest I’ve trained over a sustained period since I trained for the marathon in 2002/2003, I know there are many others who train harder than me, especially some of the best guys in my age group. So I’ll just give you a taster of what sort of training I’ve been doing. My longer runs haven’t changed much, as I said previously I’ve struggled to get them beyond 11 miles, but I am doing them more frequently in the week, instead of just the one long run. The biggest difference for me is that I’ve upped the overall distance covered in my quality sessions from a 6 mile session to something more like 9-11 miles, by doing more and longer reps. Stuff like 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 min reps all off 1 minute recovery, or 8 x 5 mins off 1 min or other sessions with reps of 8 mins, 10 mins, 15 mins or even 2 x 20 mins. All of these were designed to improve my mental strength as much as my physical strength. Up to the change I’d generally been doing short reps of 1 min, 2 min or 3 min with the occasional 5 min rep. I don’t believe they prepared me mentally enough for races in distance longer than 5k, which was fine as I wasn’t racing further than 5k for the last three years, however now I’d set my sights on longer races I needed to toughen up my mind.  

And it worked, I had no desire, over the past three years, to run a 10k having struggled with pace in them the last time I was running them, but I recently ran a 10k and although it was a slow time, albeit on a slow course, I felt I got stronger as the race went on and mentally I was totally committed to pushing to the finish, this was the old Rog in action. That served as a confidence booster and I knew I was ready for a decent time over a shorter course. I’d gone through 5k in 18:02 and pushed hard in the second half, so I knew I could go under 18 mins for a 5k, a time I hadn’t bettered for two years.

But I wasn’t planning a 5k, as my friends know I love a road relay and the BMAF road relay was coming up. I felt I had an outside chance of making the Salford team, but the team is so strong it was always an outside chance and as it turned out I didn’t make the cut. Still I could still go down and run in the B team and use it as another booster to my confidence for the longer races to come.

Obviously it wasn’t so important to ease down to run a B team leg as it would have been for an A team leg, particularly as I was the only member of that B team so nobody was relying on me. Hence I chose not to ease off and kept up the big mileage. Then the day before the relays I was offered a number swap for the Mid Cheshire 5k, taking place that night. I thought about it, why not, here was a chance to do a meaningful race and I could still go down to Birmingham on the Saturday for my solitary run, but I hadn’t really eased off, in fact I hadn’t rested for 13 days. Oh well, I should still get under 18 minutes and that would really boost my confidence. So I decided to do it.

I’m glad I did, I ended up running 17:13 for second M50, my fastest time for three years, which currently has me sitting 10th in the UK M50 rankings and a huge boost to my confidence. The downside being that my leg muscles were feeling a bit tender afterwards. I therefore took the decision not to go to Birmingham where attempting to run a fast 3 miles could cause injury, particularly as I wasn’t letting anybody down as the only man in the team, the team wouldn’t finish anyway. So I stayed home and did a long slow run to try to ease the muscles.

I’m now looking at what races I should do before I take a rest towards the end of June.   

I should add here that as well as the changes I’ve made to my run training I’m also carrying out a consistent 30 minute strength session, generally four days a week, and I’ve also devised a warm up routine and warm down routine intended to strengthen those areas where I’ve always had a weakness. Back in December I was starting to get a few knee niggles, a recurring problem that I’ve had since 1991 and which has been the primary reason I couldn’t do longer runs, as they tended to make the knee tender. Well my good friend Jacqui Tudor has helped me out enormously here, when I was staying at the Tudors on a training weekend with Rob she showed me an exercise to help strengthen my knee. I’ve been doing that exercise daily pre and post run and I’ve had no knee pain for at least a couple of months.

It’s all good, let’s hope it gets better.

Written by Roger Alsop

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