I spent fifteen months in Ethiopia being told by the runners there that the most important attribute for a runner to have was not speed, or endurance, or anything like that; it was patience. This is unsurprising in a context in which people often had to wait years for a race ‘outside’ of Ethiopia. It’s a lesson I think I’m going to have to learn.
Ethiopia was a fascinating experience. I ran in some incredibly beautiful places, and as part of my fieldwork I also travelled to China, Istanbul, Nairobi and Cape Town. I learnt a huge amount about running there, but in a way my own running suffered. I need, it seems, a series of races to get me into shape and keep me interested. Without that motivation I will quite happily run every day, and train pretty hard, but I won’t be race fit.
That’s the conclusion my coach and I came to at the weekend anyway, after I struggled round the Scottish National Mud-Wading Championships in 40th place. The conditions in Falkirk certainly didn’t help. As my coach pointed out, my ‘running style is suited to conditions like that like a giraffe is to running on ice,’ but it was nonetheless a wake-up call. Two years ago I was 7th.
I’ve actually had a decent ten or so weeks of training, but getting back to the sort of form I was in a couple of years ago when I ran 49.37 for 10 miles is going to be a case of months, not weeks I think. My coach has started calling it ‘the long road back to respectability,’ which seems to be represented by a sub-50 10 mile race, ‘and, hopefully, beyond.’
There are two elements to this. Going Back to Basics, and Keeping it Interesting.
Going Back to Basics
And so to my coach’s 1983 training diaries again for inspiration. We pick a week from the same time of year and copy it. This week, for instance, is ninety miles including the following:
Sunday: 2 hours.
Tuesday: AM: 4 miles flat out. PM: 4 miles flat out on the same course.
Thursday: Track session of (800, 1200, 1600) x 2.
Simple. Over the years I’ve learnt that I run best off about ninety miles a week, with a long run of two hours, an interval session and a session of more sustained, fast running. Whenever I’ve been able to do that for a sustained period of time I’ve ended up in good shape. It’s not often been possible, for various reasons including illness, injury and travel, but when it has it has worked. The ideal – when there are no distractions and no injuries to deal with – is that it becomes boring, according to my coach. And so to the next part of the plan.
Keeping It Interesting
Living in Edinburgh it shouldn’t really be possible to complain of being bored by the training options, especially when your job is writing and you can always train in the daylight if you want to. From my flat I can be in Holyrood Park, in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, within two and a half minutes. In twelve and a half I can be running on the beach at Portobello, having only crossed one road. I can get right up into the Pentland Hills on a long run. And yet I repeatedly get into the habit of just running countless laps of the same park, then wondering why I am getting bored. Well, not any more.
The plan, then, is to keep it as simple as possible, whilst also keeping it interesting. Every now and then we will even incorporate one of the sessions I’ve bought back with me from Ethiopia (examples include ‘fifty minutes of two minutes fast, thirty seconds faster’). And every few weeks or so, my girlfriend and I will go to Luing for a writing-running retreat. There’s something fun about training on an island small enough that you can visit every bay before breakfast, and the views of Mull and roaring waves will never get boring.
To respectability! (and beyond?)
Michael Crawley is one of our sponsored athletes, and focuses primarily on the roads. He is also an ESRC-funded PhD student at Edinburgh University, studying the culture of long-distance running in Ethiopia.