There are some things in life that cannot be rushed. Taking the time to cook a good home cooked meal or perhaps sitting down to relax and read your new book. Certain things quite simply, require time. And so it is, with fitness. Having had numerous injuries over the years, I know this from repeated personal experience. It is never easy, trying to regain the fitness you know you once had. Every run feels like more of a struggle than what it should be. The times you hit in reps are nowhere near what you know you are capable of running. Yet, you continue to plug away, day after day, in the hope that soon, everything will begin to click once more.
I returned home after the European championship marathon last month, knowing that I was not at my peak level of fitness. Far from it. However, there were definite positives to take from my run in Berlin. So, when I sat down with my coach, Andy, to work out the racing plan for the next phase, I was keen to race again and soon. With the Copenhagen half marathon, being held in mid-September, it was the perfect opportunity to track how my fitness was progressing. It was the scene of my half marathon personal best of 62.09, set back at the 2014 World half marathon championships. The course, as I remembered it, was flat and fast and I had good memories of the race. I knew that I was not in the same sort of shape that I was in 2014, but still, there would be no excuse for not running fast.
I arrived at the hotel two days before the race, late into the night. There is always a moment of nervousness when checking in. Who will I be sharing with this time? Will I have lucked out and have a room to myself (which is rarely the case)? And so it was, that five minutes later, I was tip-toeing into my hotel room in the pitch dark for fear of waking my roommate. I have been in his position before, lying asleep, thinking that I have the room to myself, when some unknown athlete turns up at the door. The next morning, we began to talk. His name was Abraham Cheroben and after a little googling, it turns out his half personal best was a pedestrian 58.40. He is the third fastest human ever to run the distance. As roommates come, they do not get much faster.
The field for the elite race was stacked, on both the male and female sides. I knew where my fitness was and that I would be nowhere near the front end. I was just hopeful that a group would form at my pace, once the race got going. The plan was to go through 5k at 15.00 – 15.15 pace, hold until 10k and then reassess how the body felt for the second half. As the race got underway, I was sitting with the two lead woman and their pacemakers. Knowing they would finish in 65/66minutes, I was hoping to sit with them until halfway and then push on. Passing through 5k in 15.04, the pace was spot on and I was feeling comfortable. By the time I got to 7k, however, it was a different story. It felt like someone had turned the energy dial down to zero. It was not painful, I was not tired. There was quite simply, nothing there. It is a feeling that I have had rarely in training over the years, but never so acute and never in a racing situation. The action of running in itself felt alien to me. It was all I could do to keep moving forward. I struggled on, kilometre after kilometre. The thought of stopping was strong. It was not an enjoyable experience. And then, like the click of the fingers, I could run again. The last 4k, I ran at steady three minute pace. I finished in a painful, slow 66.53. In a race, where I had been hoping to at least break 64 minutes, to call it disappointing is too weak a word.
Returning to fitness is always difficult. It can at times feel like a constant uphill battle. But I believe that I was ready to race again. There is no point training well all year round, if there is no racing result to back it up. Racing is, after all, what we do the training for. I left Copenhagen embarrassed, with more questions than answers. Why all my energy suddenly left me, I do not know. With an appointment with a nutritionist next week, hopefully she might have some answers for me. What I do know, is that I have more training to do and more miles to run. Hopefully things will fall into place once more, and I will be back running times, that I know I am capable. Until that time, there is more work to be done.