Kill or Cure - a runner’s mentality

I even managed a half decent pic! (c) Barry Cornelius
I had a 10km race this weekend and, as luck would have it, a cold.*

Not a horrific body-shuddering dose of 'flu but a nagging head cold and sore throat that plagued me from Wednesday and was still setting off alarms when I woke up on the morning of the race on Sunday.

I had eased up during the week to compensate on the basis that I had done a great base of six weeks training including a total of 65 miles the week before.

As expected, my mind started to play tricks on me and tell me that I was stuffing up all my training (you can read more about my warped mind here and here). The truth was that I still managed nearly 30 miles including two very good interval sets and two strong 12km runs.

But I still awoke on the day of Bourton 10km with a raw throat and blocked nose. But me and two running buddies headed off in good spirits and my motto for the day was ‘Kill or Cure’ - I was determined to come back with proof that my marathon training was still on track or keel over.

Of course, being an experienced 10k runner I listened to everything I had read and discovered for myself as the race began.

Or at least, that is what I was hoping to write, the reality was that I shot off like a rocket. I smashed out the first kilometre in 3.30 and felt the exhilaration of being in the leading pack before someone appeared to attached weights to my heels and strap on a 30kg pack to my back.

I managed to keep pushing out sub four minute kms but people flowed past me until the halfway point. I even slipped to a couple of 4.01 kms at 6 and 7 but then my marathon training kicked in and I started to claw back some of the people who had overtaken me earlier.

I could feel the cold take hold about 8kms but by then I knew I could hang on and have a good run. l couldn’t push on and really let rip but I managed to find a solid pace. 

I really noticed a difference due to the coaching I have had for three weeks at the Oxford Tri track session. I had a mental checklist of technique checks which made me straighten up and stretch out my stitch.

Someone caught me - another triathlete - with about 400m to go and I hung on for a while but my usual strength had gone I had to let him go. It was a dent to the pride as one of my few highlights is a finishing kick that rarely gets beaten.

I crossed the line in 39.28; a personal best by 13 seconds. Not as good as I had hoped but better than I had feared.

Bourton didn’t kill me but, as I write this and feel like my head is stuffed with cotton wool, it didn’t cure me either.

Now to get fully back on the marathon training and focus on the next race - the 20km Great Northern in Derby. It’s organised by Punishing Events who put on the excellent Ashbourne Duathlon so I am really looking forward to it.

Caution - this post contains traces of sarcasm.

Toad and Id throw stones at my running training

We’ve already taken a trip into how dark and obstructive my mind can be and this week it was up to its old tricks trying to undermine my efforts to have a properly constructed training regime for the London Marathon.

I designated Week Five as an ‘easy’ week - a chance for the body to catch up with the hard work from the weeks before. I racked up nearly 60 miles in Week Four including a long run of 17 miles and my best ever interval session during which I reached such speeds I expect to get a call up to the Justice League any day now.

I started my easy week with a long run of 18 miles. It was a slog but not unenjoyable as I mixed up hills, road running, the Thames towpath and a bit of woodland so the variety made it appealing.

I was in London for work all day Monday and replaced my usual steady run to work and back (17 miles total) with a gentle 5km run in the sun before donning the suit and heading into the big smoke.

On Tuesday I was back in the office and hit the treadmill at lunchtime. I smashed out another very strong interval session, improving again on the pace of the previous week.

Wednesday was a rest day and my brain was already itching to point out that I was easing off. Of course, my conscious mind - the SuperEgo if we want to go down the Freudian route - knew exactly what I was doing and why, but the blasted Id was jumping up-and-down and pulling at threads of doubt.

I tried hard to ignore it but it nagged away - a Larkin toad that refused to be pitchforked and driven off.

Having spent more than a month running on my own I thought it was time to make running a bit social (and a bit competitive) and joined Oxford Tri club at the running track on Thursday night.

Unfortunately it was covered in a thin but ankle-snapping layer of ice which meant that we shared the infield with a variety of other running groups. The coach adapted brilliantly and managed to put in a good technique-building session with base fitness thrown in.

It was really enjoyable and confirmed to me that I need a bit of company on my training journey.

Friday and Saturday were both ‘off days’ as I completed my rest week. The spiteful side of my brain continued to throw insults at me, telling me that ‘I’d be unfit next week’, that 'my dream of breaking 3.15 at London was disappearing with each lazy day' but I ignored it and rested up anyway.

I totalled just 30 miles for the week but it's difficult to know how much good it did me as I am suffering a bit of a bad back now. It’s not running-related and doesn’t interfere with training but it makes sitting at a desk almost literally a pain in the backside.

Runner hunger - I was like a newly made vampire

I learned a major lesson about long distance running this week - the stomach is as important as the legs.

Week Four begun with two dawning realisations:
  1. the hard work was really beginning
  2. marathon training cannot be all silver lining and no cloud

My long run started on Sunday with leaden legs and it’s the first of the training schedule that I haven’t really enjoyed. I covered 25km and chose a hillier profile than before but it felt like a slog from very early on.

I did get the benefit of some beautiful frosty weather and it was nice to explore some old trails around Youlbury Scout Camp and Boars Hill that I hadn’t seen for a few years. A major advantage of running early is that frozen ground means you can get deeper off-road than might be made impassable by shoe-sucking mud just a few hours after the sun comes up..

But I couldn't work out quite why I was devoid of energy later in the route. My legs plodded and my shoulders drooped - I couldn’t keep any meaningful pace going .and started to feel a bit confused about how far I’d been and what I had to do next.

I got home, snarfed a huge bowl of porridge and got down to the serious business of being Hulk to my boys’ Spiderman and Wolverine, Dragon advisor to my daughter and chief picture-hanger of the Bradbrook household.

But the hunger never left me. I started to understand how Walkers feel as they try to take chunks out of  Rick Grimes and his crew and how newly ‘made’ Vampires inevitably go on an insatiable blood-sucking spree before settling down with a feisty young lady such as Buffy Summers or Sookie Stackhouse.

I didn’t actually develop a taste for human flesh but if one of my kids’ hands had fallen in my mouth I may not have been able to help myself. As the day wore on I was unable to  combat the hunger and treats snuck into my mouthy with growing frequency. Kit Kats, Mars Bars, 9 Bars, Haribo - it was all stuffed in without ever filling the aching hole in my gut.

On Sunday evening I caught up with an old friend - Emma-Kate Lidbury, who is a professional triathlete living and training in San Francisco.

When I told her how I was feeling  and she heard the shame in my voice and saw the guilt in my face, her first question was "what did you eat on the run?" Her second question was "what did you eat after the run?"

My answers of "Nothing" and "Porridge" drew a knowing chuckle. "Your body needs fuel Malc. Fuel to work and fuel to recover."

Of course, I know this. Or at least I used to. I've done a marathon before and cycled long distances but this time it seemed to sneak up on me.

I need carbohydrates for fuelling the run and protein for helping my muscles recover and crucially I need the carbs after an hour running and every 30 minutes thereafter and the protein straight after a run.

Monday morning came and the hunger still nawed away at me so straight away I ordered a race fuel package from Lucozade and a protein recovery package from Osmo Nutrition

Why those two? Well, Lucozade is the official sponsor of the London Marathon this year so it seems sensible to train with the products I will be using on the day and Osmo is recommended by Emma-Kate. She has been racing at the top level for more than nine years now and the report she gave me of the way Osmo Nutrition products help her made it a no-brainer.

Friday was my son's birthday so I was up early and left for work later. I don' t have anything to eat before running to work but this time I was up early and left a bit later than usual so by the time I was 3km away from work I was bonking badly. I grabbed a Lucozade gel from my rucksack and the results felt instantaneous which leads me to believe there must be a substantial psychosomatic effect.

As a result the hunger did not stay with me all day and I managed a run home. It felt a satisfying end to a week that had started badly. I had done a great treadmill session on Thursday - my best ever - so there was still plenty of sliver lining in Week Four.