I didn’t anticipate that 8 weeks of hard marathon training would finish where it all began, sitting in a bar with a bunch of friends from Sportswolrd. My first day of training for Copenhagen was the MSB 5K, a race that shouldn’t have gone as well as it did. I’d just ran a disappointing time in the Portaloise 5K the previous day and gone out for a few drinks in Ranelagh that night. Now looking back on the two bookends of the marathon campaign I got the run life balance right on both nights. Like a good run, a good night out is a decision you will rarely regret.
With the above story in mind, and as this is the last blog before the race I wanted to start with one point. I won’t write about running life balance because I have figured out. I write about it because it helps me to figure it out. No one has got it all together, and certainly not me. If you try to adopt anything I have written about for yourself, go slow and be kind to yourself. Becoming a better runner is an ongoing practice. You just have to hope you get the balance correct before time catches up on you ????. The worst thing you could do is try to be perfect, all at once. That would be a surefire route to burnout.
Now about the running. During the 8 weeks of training, I’ve raced every weekend bar one. Highlights were the Sonia 10 miler in Cobh and the Ahakista 10K, both showing County Cork, a place I’ve become fond of running in. The period also included the lows National 10K and National road Relays and the highs of Gowran Masters. Experiencing a range of emotions that covers both the negative and positive side of the spectrum is a part of being a human being on this planet. Crazy, I know. In running and life, some days are an ocean and some days are the sky.
Often in running there’s huge a barricade keeping you out the danger, but your brain is lying to you. The reason I say that your brain is lying to you is that when you run, particularly when you run hard, your brain sets limits for your performance, but those limits are not your real limits. Your real limits lie somewhere beyond the picture your brain paints for you. And one of the ways that your brain keeps you on the safe side of those limits is by creating expectations about how it thinks you’re supposed to be feeling. And those expectations don’t usually match the reality of what is going on in your body. When you’re running hard, your brain sends you these expectations of discomfort that make you hurt more than the reality of how your legs actually feel. Your brain wants you to think that your limits are in one place when your limits are really somewhere beyond that mental fence that your brain has put up. I’m getting better at figuring this stuff out by embracing the pains of racing, whilst listening to my body.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading ‘The Passion Paradox’ a guide to going all in, finding success, and discovering the benefits of an unbalanced life. In the book, it describes how psychologists break passion down into two types. Harmonious passion is when you are enthusiastic about something because you love doing it. Obsessive passion is when you are excited about an endeavour because you love the external validation and recognition it brings. This is the difference between loving running (harmonious passion) and loving all the kudos, likes, and buzz your runs bring(obsessive passion). Research shows that the former is associated with lasting performance and overall life satisfaction; whereas the latter is associated with anxiety, depression, and burnout.
One of the main findings in the book is that many people start out with harmonious passion and then subtly, often without even realizing it, shift toward obsessive passion. While no one’s passion is purely harmonious—it’s human nature to feel good when something you do is well-received—it’s important to keep the majority of your passion focused on the work itself.
Being focused on external results that you can’t control creates a volatile and fragile sense of self, the consequence of which is often burnout. It’s no surprise that a big part of harmonious passion is coming back to the activity you love; especially when you notice yourself craving external validation. Most importantly it gives you something other than yourself to focus on when the racing gets tough and your brain starts to say no. Who or what am I doing this for? When the happiness from all of the areas are equally derived then your level of happiness will be the maximum. If you aren’t in the moment, you are either looking forward to uncertainty, or back to pain and regret, which is no good.
I had better write about some running this week.
The Leinster Masters & Novice road championships took place today in Gowran, Co. Kilkenny. The course is made up of 1,500M laps, which provided spectators with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the racing. The Women’s races were 3,000m with 2 laps and the Men’s races were 6,000m consisting of 4 laps. Gowran AC has hosted this event on a bank holiday Monday with a great organisation for many years now.
On the morning of the race, I drove up from Waterford via the scenic route that morning. After a nice weekend away I was so relaxed arriving in Gowran. I haven’t felt so good before a race in years. No aches or niggles and super fresh. I greeted Emily by saying I think I’m going to win this today. Her advice was good as always. Sit behind the leaders and push with half a lap to go.
At 12.30 it was game time. We become what we think about most often. I was solely focused on sitting in 2nd until the last lap. I wasn’t letting anyone past, nor was I exerting too much effort. The pace felt really easy but on the 3rd lap I noticed there was still a bunch of guys in the running.
With 1.5 laps to go I decided to push to a little and see who came with me. A couple of the lads hung on, and the rest fell back. When we reached the bell it was a great feeling to be in the lead. I was careful not to show my hand too early as Emily had advised. I waited until we reached the top of the second hill and then made the run for home. I was starting to get tired, there was one never a moment of doubt, I wanted the win and got to the downhill section just in time. It was nice to get the victory. The race suited me down to the ground. The slow early pace and fast finish played into my hands. I did 6 more laps whilst watching the other teams bring home a boatload of medals. Happy with that 3.15 pace for the 6K and 15K for the day.
I just ran up to training and did 15K averaging about 4.21s
It’s nice to be tapering down as runs can often become a bit boring. My last longish run was 20K at 4.23 pace
Easy again with 15K at 4.29s
Easy 10K at 4.29s followed by a massage with Michael O’Grady. When you have taken Friday off it feels hard to hold back. I spent most of the day helping out with the race preparation. Probably a bit more time on my feet than I should have done.
Super Sunday with all the matches and then there was the Terenure 5 Mile. It’s great to get to run in the clubs own race. The support is better than you will find anywhere. I would say that I preferred running through Terenure on Marathon day as the pace was easier than Sunday.
I missed my normal pre-race ritual as we had to be there early to help with the kid’s races. I was doing the under 12 girls with Lisa. We were advised that they would start fast. I dismissed that. How fast can an 11-year-old be? pretty fast. Even with a 50-meter lead myself and Lisa were pushing hard to keep up with them. Glad to have that over and done with I dd my warm up around the course and got in the zone.
After the success of Monday, I was confident of running the same pace again, albeit over 8K, not 6K. My tactic was to sit on Karol (number 1) for 6 K and then see how I felt. Unfortunately, the race didn’t go to plan. The pace was very fast and I felt tired from the start. Excuses aside I think the combination of getting travel vaccines and the hard race on Monday caught up with me. I got some advice from Levale man Denis McCall after the race ‘run your own race’ and he was probably right. I should have gone out at 3.15 and tried to pick up some time.
Of all the tips I’ve shared about race-day performance, the most important in my book is to hone your pacing strategy. It’s the one thing you can control, and it also carries a lot of weight on the journey toward breaking records. One of the reasons I would promote this method is because runners tend to get mentally confused and emotional invested in numbers. Let’s say you look down at your watch at kilometre one and see a pace that, in your mind, is a way to fast. Your mind will think you’ve made a mistake, which puts a metaphorical weight on your shoulders. Then you see at kilometre 3 that you’ve slowed down climbing a hill, adding more weight. Rather than tuning into your body and letting it guide you to a personal record, you’re focused on trying to please your mental numbers keeper.
Sunday was my best performance on that course with 3.17 averages. I wanted to finish by saying thank you to all the race committee members, stewards, helpers and especially Michael Cunningham for all the hours put in over the past few months. It really is one of the best races out there for the average runner. The one thing I’d like to see more of next year is more good club runners. Top quality attracts more top quality men and women.
I envision myself running my whole life but I’d never really thought about how the “mechanics” of ageing would affect my running. There are a number of physiological differences between me now and when I did my first marathon at 27 but what you’re able to do at any given age does depend somewhat on your physical health. But it depends even more on your mindset. The thoughts and beliefs you have at any age are very powerful. Henry Ford said, “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right. Which one are you?”
My plan is to run 2.28 or 2.29 in Berlin in September. I didn’t want to peak for this race or lose too much weight yet, but I’m in better shape than I was for Dublin last October, despite not hitting target mileage. I always maintain a calf injury lost me 2-3 minutes on Dublin. My form suggests 2.34 time is doable which is 3.40 kilometres. That seems infinitely more doable at this point than 3.31 kilometres which I would need for 2.28. The course is flat though but not Berline flat
As I sit here not my plan is to go out in 78 and try and come home in 76 with a hard push for the last 10K. That may change over the next few days or even on the plane on Saturday. Once the gun goes I’ll give it 100% and stick to the plan until the bitter end. There may be some sadness, and joy, and elation, and satisfaction, and gratitude beyond belief. But all of it is just like the weather, that spins around the planet. It won’t sit on me long enough to kill me. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll come back stronger. There’s so much more I can do to prepare well for Berlin.
See you in 7 days or so with the race report. Let’s hope that the weather lasts