Sometimes, the key to moving forwards, is to look back. Let me explain….
Despite running a PB at the Bath Half last Sunday, I’m having a wobble. Possibly more of an earthquake. 5 weeks today, London will be done. And I’m beginning to doubt my ability to run 26.2 miles inside 8mm pace. It feels like an impossible quest. I just don’t think I’ve done enough work. The catalyst has been missing the last few days of training, including today’s 20 miler thanks to a stinking cold and a complete lack of ability to breathe. I also missed half of the week before Bath with another bug, and consequently, I’ve lost that all important continuity.
To counter all that though, when I am running, I’m probably hitting my best times in training. Ever. And there are still 5 weeks to go. That gives me another 3 big weeks in which to bank as much running goodness as I possibly can, before lowering the intensity to taper. Urgh, is it possible to be struck down with maranoia this far out??
The voice of reason
I was having this conversation with a very logical friend, who suggested that I compare my build up to that of Edinburgh marathon last Spring. Sounds sensible. So, 5 hours later, I surfaced from deep within the depths of Strava. Getting a little side tracked, I also found my Map My Run account from pre 2014. Oh god!
Here’s what I learnt….
I started running in 2008 when a friend from University asked if I wanted to run the Bristol half marathon with her. I’d retired from elite gymnastics and had started ‘jogging’ around the block, mostly as a way to try and lose my post gymnastics retirement weight. I had no idea how far a half marathon was, but not one to ever say no, I was in.
To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about the race, other than going for a Wagamamas with friends afterwards. I know that I did very little training and I definitely didn’t have a GPS watch. Come to think of it, I still had a Samsung flip phone that certainly wasn’t ‘smart’. Funnily enough, I do remember the race being really tough and I finished in a time of 2:18:33. But most importantly, I was hooked!
Incidentally, there are some VERY questionable and hideous photos from that race, that because I’m not willing to spend £29.90 on, you can see here!
Learning from mistakes
When I looked back at my racing history, the Great West Run in 2014 is the first race I remember training properly for. And by properly, I mean that I’d actually ran some miles progressing my distance to double figures. I still had no clue about pacing, or interval training, or that running all of your training miles at one pace isn’t necessarily conducive to getting faster. Which is why, when my training had mostly been around 9-10 minute mile pace and I hit my fastest EVER mile straight from the gun, it’s no surprise that the rest of the race looked like this…..
To be honest, it’s a miracle that I managed to hold on for as long as I did. I do remember thinking how surprisingly well things were going after the first couple of miles when I was still with the 1.45 pacer and breathing like an absolute steam train! Considering I blew up spectacularly at mile 10 and was alternating running and walking, I still ran a 5 minute PB. That’s how crazy fast I went out. What a way to spend your 28th birthday!
The point of bringing this up, is that it made me realise how far I’ve come. And how much I’ve learnt. By contrast to the Great West Run blow out, my pacing at Bath was bang on. I was in control for the majority of time albeit uncomfortable, and I ran a negative split. Finally, I understand what paces I can sustain for different distances which meant that I didn’t go out almost 3 minutes per mile too fast!! And that progression has only come from experience. From failing, picking myself up, learning from my mistakes and trying again.
Great West Run (2014)
Bath Half (2019)
Focussing on my strengths
So what does all this mean about my plans for that BQ, sub 3.30, in London? Looking back at how I’ve built up to my last two marathons, as well as some key halves has given me confidence in three critical things.
Firstly, after my Great West Run disaster, I’ve turned my pacing ability into a real strength. Sometimes to my detriment, in that I’ve finished races with too much still in the tank. So, if I decide to commit to 8mm, I’m reasonably confident in my ability to hold that pace…… the bigger question will be, have I done enough training to make that physically possible?
Which leads me onto the second. My ability to prepare meticulously, and peak at the right time. Through trial and error, I’ve got good at bringing out the best in myself and knowing exactly what I need to do in order to be ‘race ready’. And when I look back, that has always happened in the last 4-6 weeks. So I’m not sure why I’m panicking yet. By my own track record, I still have time.
And finally, my ability to be bloody minded. I’m under no illusion that I’ve set a REALLY tough goal. What I do know about myself though, is that even when my body is telling me to slow down, or stop, my brain is too busy finding people ahead of me and picking them off to listen! And unless I’ve completely blown up, it happens on such a subconscious level that I’m powerless to stop it. Like I’m somehow tethered to the race so tightly that I’m being dragged along.
Moving Forwards (hopefully at 8mm pace!!)
So, the more I force myself to think rationally, the more reassured I am that I don’t need to be making any big decisions yet. I have three more weeks of key preparation first. And then, whatever happens, I can say that I’ve given it my all. Whether it’s job done, or part of the learning experience, I’m going to make sure I enjoy it.
While the past can’t predict the future, looking backwards in this instance has certainly given me the confidence to keep moving forwards. I have 35 days left to turn things around. It’s game on London, game on.