Running through a maelstrom

My previous post was about the ups and downs that I finally accepted were inherent in training, but was written when I was on a crest: I had recently set a 10k PB after years of start-stop efforts, and I was faced with new exciting challenges in my working life, so I could be philosophical about life’s ups and downs. But would my stoicism last through the inevitable trough that would follow?

Surprisingly, it has! My new job involves a long commute three days a week, not leaving any time for running Tuesday to Thursday; shuffling life around this has also impacted my training on the remaining days of the week. As a result, my weekly mileage in the past four weeks (since I started this job) has fallen from 48km / 30mi, which used to be my steady state (i.e. no tapering, rest or peaking) mileage to a very inconsistent 5 – 40km / 3 – 25 mi over the past eight weeks, with the average being just 21 km / 13 mi. Apart from the drop in volume, this inconsistency has meant that I have been unable to follow anything like a structured workout plan, so my runs tend to be just comfortable or long runs, as opposed to targeted workouts.

Unsurprisingly, the pounds have begun to pile back on, my fitness has dropped and my hopes of training for Ashby 20 (a lovely local race held this weekend which I enjoy immensely), dashed: I respect the race far too much to just run it as a training long run, and distrust my self-discipline too much to believe I will set off at anything other than an “overly-optimistic-race-pace-for-two-thirds-of-the-distance“, which is my usual Ashby opening lap pace! Besides, it’s a hugely popular race, with the 1,500 places disappearing within hours of entries opening, so why not give someone the opportunity to run it properly?

And still, I am sanguine. I have now acknowledged that it is natural for these troughs to happen, and have proven to myself that I can get out the other side. I will get used to the new commuting pattern before too long, and I’ll devise a training schedule around it: Adjusting our family life was obviously more important, and I think we are almost there now. In the meantime I take every opportunity I get to get out for a run, even if there is little structure or pattern to what I do: But look, that’s allowed me to enjoy some interesting runs, without worrying about anything else once I was out there: like the cheeky park / trail / towpath run I did on the night at the height of the snowy weather a few weeks ago, when the snow on the ground was so bright that the headtorch was redundant; or the shorter-than-planned long run at dusk on the weekend I made my decision to not run Ashby, which tested my love of running in the dark: I switched the head torch on at the turnaround point to find it was almost out of juice and extremely weak, and I had to make my way along a very muddy towpath, strewn with deep potholes that were after my ankles. Still, I look back to that run now for the tranquillity of running in the half-dark, even if I didn’t feel very tranquil when I was slipping all over the place! The featured image at the top of this post is from that run.

But I am not complacent. As I said, I’m working to establish a new training regime around my current commitments, ideally one that sees me attending Parkruns again. I’ve taken an opportunity to develop my Excel skills in areas I wasn’t so good, and I’m thinking of the changes I’d like to make in version 2.0 of my running log spreadsheet to make it simpler, smoother and easier to use. I’m also reading about running power meters: they seem to be new technology, but they seem to complement the philosophy behind my training and monitoring plans very well, and I am excited about their potential of helping me run more consistently in races – particularly long or hilly ones!

Or perhaps what I need most of all now is a period of managed, gradual change, rather than the raging maelstrom the past three years have been: In that time I have changed job twice, both times also changing the city I worked in (although neither was the city I actually live in); we moved house once, had a baby once and didn’t have a baby twice: So it may not be such a disaster if my running was a bit inconsistent in that period: I still managed to train for and run two marathons, setting a decent PB in Manchester (in terms of improvement from my previous) and then coming within 30” of it in London the year later (which also involved fundraising for charity). I came within 15” of my 5k PB (dating from a time before said maelstrom) and set a new 10k one. I have learnt very, very much about building, following and keeping track of a training plan, and have built a tool that tells me more and that I can rely on more than bespoke, pricey software out there.

So perhaps the one single thing I can do to improve my running regime, isn’t to search for a way to change it: but rather to let life settle and grow some roots; slow things down and allow myself to grow the space for it again. And while that happens just run, whenever I can.

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