OK – so in my last post I said that I did a track session which was worthy in itself of a bit of sharing – with a few more lessons experienced in this area I thought it was worth a bit of airtime, so here goes …
So – the track session. The weather was appalling, the wind was howling down the home straight, the rain was lashing through the flood lights and the water jumps were being slowly clogged by leaves and flailing debris … Just your average night down at Monkton Stadium.
My legs were sore before we even started – usual tightness kicking in and they felt painful to run on but this is track night – in many ways its what we train for. Still, I was miserable. The coach set the session and I was paddling about still trying to fasten my shoes with frozen hands and before I knew it the rest of the group were lined up o the start.
“Hard 300, float the home-straight, steady though – no joggy, joggy! Annnnndddd go!!”
WTF!!! And off we go – straight into the rep – the group split a bit and I was a couple of meters back from the front pair … steady the straight … Im thinking we’d be re-grouping, but no – straight in they went. Eh? That’s not right? We never do that?
I follow and do the same – hammer round the 300, steady into the home straight, lose another couple of metres … Repeat … Im now in no mans land yet, being absolutely battered by brutal Great British weather but banging out the 300s.
It suddenly occurs to me after the fourth rep that I don’t know how many reps we’re doing. And this is where it gets interesting … up to this point the session felt do-able and OK but now I didn’t know how may reps I had to do and the whole thing started to look different, a hell of a lot more painful and a hell of a lot more lonely.
But that wasn’t really where it ended – every time I came round for my next rep I was shouting at my coach “how many reps” to which he was replying “7”, then “8” … Etc and giving me the call of the one I was on, not what I needed to hear which was how many more.
Im still running around this track in this brutal weather and I started to think differently again about the session … Now I started to think – is this it? Is this the session? Am I gonna just keep running around this track until I collapse? Is that the point? Are we trying to find a limit? And actually … would I just keep running around this thing until my coach tells me to stop??? What the hell am I doing?
Yet I carried on, and on, and on. And at rep 10 I get told 2 more to go, which I do and absolutely fall apart at the end of the 12th and drag my battered ass down the home straight at a crawl feeling like Ive just done one of the hardest sessions ever. Im done, mentally and physically Im done in. And what happens when I get to the end of the home straight? Well theres 4 x 200 with 200 float to do yet – which I didn’t know about. And ‘broken’ I do them and duly fall apart again at the end of the last one … more to come? No, that was it, session and mental test over.
So here’s the reflection.
What if the session was to just keep running round the track til I couldn’t run any further? How do you set the pace for that?
When would that be? Cos I thought I was done at the end of the 300s and proceeded to do another 4 x 200 after I was ‘done’. Do you have to set some sort of limit? You can stop once you’ve done 5ks worth and your pace drops below 5k pace? If your reps and your steady are the same pace then its over? If your reps are slower than your steady you’re done?
Why are we so limiting in our approach to sessions?
I used to do a lot of weight lifting – the way we set sessions then was to say choose a weight you think you can lift for 10 reps. You know its right if you can barely push out the 10th rep – if its easy to, keep going until failure and put the weights up for the next set, don’t stop at 10.
When did you last go down the track and say “tonight, Im doing 10 x 400 in 80s and if I can do the 10th in 76, then Ill keep going until I can’t run one in 80” …
So theres a theory out there which Ive contemplated a bit called the ‘Central Governor Theory’ by Tim Noakes (offve the Lore of Running) which basically says you physical exertion is entirely regulated by your brain – and its your brain that slows you down to protect you for the exertion, and that as a result of this – you can always physically do more than your brain thinks you can. Its what explains the fact that you’re often completely wasted in a race but then when you have the finish line in sight and your brain knows you’re not gonna kill yourself it lets you sprint finish ….. or something along those lines – theres a good insight on it here at runners connect.
Sounds fair enough. So whats this got to do with my track session?
Well in the track session – before I thought about the fact that I didn’t know how many reps there were I was fine, once I went into panic mode about not knowing, I wasn’t and then when I thought the session was about a mental test I looked at it differently, then when I thought I was done with the session and done in completely my coach threw me 4 x 200 which I did and they weren’t poor – they were quality reps – on a ‘spent’ body.
I said there had been a few more examples which had come along to test this out for me though …
1) Brass Monkey blow out … Chipped along at 6:05 pace for half the Brass Monkey – nice and comfortable but then literally hit the wall at about mile 7-8 and sunk, I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t injured, but I literally couldn’t get my legs to go round – they felt entirely disconnected from my CNS – almost like I was running on someone else’s. And it wasn’t the will that had gone – that was entirely still there, I just felt completely out of control of my body.
Why the seeming shut down? Fuel, simple as that – I was out of fuel from a piss poor preparation and it seems my Central Governor maybe knew it and shut me down so that I wouldn’t do myself any damage. The day after – physically I was fine, emotionally broken in disappointment and mentally exhausted still from a 6mile battle of wills with my legs to get me home, but I hadn’t hurt myself nearly as much as it felt like I had the day before.
2) Motoring on a mud bath … this weekend I ran the Northerns X Country – and to say it was muddy would actually be some sort of compliment – it was a foot of quagmire shite that no sane person with any respect for their ankles would put themselves any where near … yet I and thousands of others who’d struggled to walk over it – ran on it – actually went fk it – I am wearing spikes and a club vest and deep heat and teeny shorts in winter and I am gonna run on this shite – try and stop me – it may try to steal my shoes in the process but you bet I will get over it as quickly as I can ……………….
The Central Governor is going ballistic with me at this point as I do have some sort of respect for my ankles, but no, he doesn’t make me fall over and take me out of the challenge, somehow he knows that physically this is actually do-able, it might not look like it, and it might not be done with any particular grace but it is … and so we go, we go slower, but we go, and when the finish is in sight – somehow you still throw caution to the wind even further and pull out at least a few extra long strides to speed into that finish in some sort of mud encrusted style.
So – enough waffle, whats the moral of the reflection? Well it’s maybe just as simple as not setting that limiting factor, that limiting assumption that’s stopping you, that hill that looks too steep to run hard, that last rep, that extra rep, that pace quicker than you’d normally run at … the governor will protect you when you really can’t so don’t be afraid of really trying.