The month of February means only one thing, it’s time for indoor competition. It is a time for the sprinters to show off the benefits of their winter gym work and a time for middle distance runners to get in out of the cold and wet for a change. Last Saturday was my first indoor race in seven years, my first track race as a full time athlete and my first time racing in a proper indoor stadium.
After my last cross country race in Antrim at the start of January, I was glad the many distractions of Christmas were over and I could get back into proper training at my base in Teddington. Knowing that I have a busy six months coming up, I had eased back over the Christmas period. I was still putting in hundred plus mile weeks but I also fell victim to my mum’s home baking. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have no self-control when it comes to junk food, if it’s in the house I’ll find it and eat it. So after returning to Teddington I knew I would have a tough four weeks ahead of me, getting back to fitness. The plan was to slowly get down towards my ideal racing weight whilst getting speed into my legs for the first time in a number of years.
The main focus of each week became the Saturday morning session where I would travel up to the Lee Valley indoor track to meet with Andy, my coach and a few other athletes. The Sunday morning runs were cut back to 15miles at a steady pace (usually 90mins), a big change from the relatively fast 20milers (1hr 45mins) I’m used to. The Tuesday sessions and Thursday tempos became more about recovery and maintenance rather than trying to improve. By the end of January I was amazed at how far I had come. On the 1st February a 1km time trial was on the cards, a session I doubt you would see on many marathon training schedules. Five laps later, I had a new 1km pb (2.24.1) and had gone through 800m half a second slower than my pb, a time I had set 9 years ago when I was 18. I was hitting times that I never thought I could and was looking forward to my first indoor race – a 3km at the UK national championships.
The world indoors 3km qualifying time is 7.52. Given the times I was hitting in training, I was confident that I was more than able to hit sub 7.50 given the right race. Looking at the start list to the UK championships 3km, it was clear that the field was stacked. The top middle distance runners in the UK would be in the race and with the stadium sold out there would be plenty of people watching. With the race scheduled to start at six in the evening, I had all day to try and control the nerves. After a manic start with elbows flying and a few spikes in the shin, the race settled down. However, it settled down too much and after going through 800m in 2.12 we were well off 7.52 pace. At 2km we were still down, at around 5.26. If I wanted to get the time I needed a 2.26 last km, an unlikely proposition given I had already been surging throughout the race and was starting to hurt. But if you never try, then you will never know. I pushed on taking the lead. Two laps later I wasn’t making any ground on the time and I knew that sub 7.52 wasn’t happening. The head went down, I realised how dry my throat was, how painful my legs were and that’s when others made their move. I finished 6th in 8.09. While this was twelve seconds faster than I have ever ran 3km before I was still extremely disappointed. I know, my coach knows and anyone who has seen me training in the past few weeks knows that I am capable of so much more. I don’t know if I will get the chance for another 3km race before this indoor season is over which is disappointing.
This morning I ran with an athlete who has been to multiple world cross country championships and he said something that has stuck in my mind – ‘In order to move mountains a man must first carry small stones’. Sometimes after a disappointment, like last weekend, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. It is easy to get distracted, lose the head and lose a few weeks of training feeling sorry for oneself. My mountain is the Olympic marathon, that has always been and still is the end goal. The 3km last weekend is quite simply a small stone, a hurdle I need to encounter in order to improve my marathon time. Granted the race was slower than what I wanted, but I came 6th against the best middle distance athletes in the UK at a much shorter distance than what I’m used to, in my first indoor race, in which I executed extremely poor race tactics. In 12 weeks, I’ll be racing my first track 10km in Stanford, California. While I may not have hit the time I wanted in a 3km race yet, I am fit, injury free and improving every week. So until next time, keep working hard, race well and continue to prepare for the summer races that are coming.