Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And now for something completely different...

Just as last year I think my formula of 6 months "on" (specific preparation for competitions) and 6 months "off" (training to keep fit and for enjoyment) worked pretty well, I am going to take a break from structured training until after the summer. This way I give myself a bit of a respite from the pressure of "having" to do such and such workout on a particular day as well as a break to my family who have to put up with my (ever more) occasional bad moods or listlessness.

I would have liked to have finished on a more positive note than a "Personal Worst" time in the Lisbon Half Ironman but actually there is a lot to be positive about. A few years ago I synthesized the phases I had gone through as an athlete in a post as follows:

1. Anger
2. Competition
3. Boom-bust
4. Age denial
5. Long term goal
6. Running for running's sake

Although, at the time, I thought that I had "reached the final stop of my journey", I would add a few more now to that list:

7. De-obsession. How can you de-obsess without obsessing about it? I realized that behind the obsession was a underlying fear that my drive for doing sport would evaporate as suddenly as it appeared and that I would go from Ironman to sofa-man. Once I had recognized this fear I could begin to see how irrational it was. I stopped counting calories and taking supplements and I neither got fat nor slow, if not quite the opposite. Instead, I started to trust myself.

8. Self sufficiency. When I first contacted Jonathan, my (ex-)coach, my main reason was that I needed someone to moderate me, an independent advisor who would reign me back in if I tried to push myself too far too soon. I came to depend on the structure that his training plans provided me like a drug - I'd get very nervous as I was coming to the end of one and would hound him incessantly for the next one - and, in some way, I suppose I used this to externalize the inconvenience my training caused to my family. When Jonathan went to Mexico, I ended up inventing my own training plan for the NYC Marathon that never was and went on to get PB times in 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon as a self-trained athlete. It's not to say that I have nothing left to learn from Jonathan or anyone else for that matter, but I have found it tremendously satisfying to take full responsibility for all aspects of my training. It also helps me be more flexible and to be able to adapt my training to my specific needs in the moment.

9. Holistic approach. I got back into running when I was going through a bad patch, a kind of "mid-life crisis", and it became an extra source of self-esteem and one over which I felt I had more control (for the most part) than with other aspects of my life. That's the beauty of a sporting challenge: it depends almost entirely on you and no-one can question the validity of the result. In real life, of course, things are never quite so cut and dried. Sporting achievements definitely carry over into other arenas but - unless you happen to be a professional athlete - it is probably not a good idea for everything else to revolve around them. How can you dedicate the necessary time and energy to training without it being a number one priority that everything else has to fit around? As long as there is a reasonable upper limit to the time and energy required, in practice it doesn't come into conflict with anything else and there will always be an opportunity to fit it in even if you allow it to be pushed around by other priorities. The implication is that you have to limit your ambition accordingly. In my case, this means NO Ironman (at least until the kids have left home...) and I might even have to accept not being able to compete at my full potential in Half Ironmans but at least I have found a way to fit competitive Marathon training in with the rest of my life. By the same token, I also seem to have found a way to not allow the disappointments bleed into my family or my work life but rather to see them as an opportunity from which to learn.

Having just said that I am taking a break from competition, I have in fact got a 5K race this Sunday where I live (assuming I can actually walk by then). Taking part in a local race is very different from spending months specifically preparing for it.

I've also bought a "doggie jogger" leash for the dog so that we can go running together. Hopefully it will help her to be calmer in the house and - who knows - we might even end up establishing some kind of canine-human bond, it has been known to happen. I also want to take advantage of the temporary relaxation of my regime to go on cycle rides with my neighbour, to run alongside the kids on their bikes, to play "padel" (a kind of cross between real tennis and squash), to go on rambling runs with colleagues at lunchtime, to go hiking, to commute to work, etc.

This seems like a good moment to make a "cut" and, as I have done with two previous volumes of this blog, make myself a book using Blog2Print. Here's to volume 4...

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