As you progress through your running career – and I use the term ‘career’ in the loosest possible sense – you begin to accrue a set of times over various distances (5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon) that you’d be happy to utter in polite company.
As someone who’s been running semi-competitively for about five years, I’m some way towards achieving this. There’s that decent performance at the Eastleigh 10K, a surprisingly swift half marathon in Magaluf and, finally, a sub-3 marathon in Milton Keynes.
Having run sub-3 – an achievement that prompted an extended, 12-month victory lap – I feel it’s time for me to focus on the less-lauded distance of 10 miles. And where better to do it than at the Simplyhealth Great South Run? My current PB of 1:06:05, achieved a few years ago at the hilly Dorking 10, feels like something of a low-hanging fruit. I ought to be able to go quicker than that and am eyeing a time beginning with 1:03.
My training plan
Hitting that target works out at an average of about 6:15min/miles. Sustaining that pace won’t be easy so I’ve tailored my training plan to include a challenging mix of speed and endurance. I’ll be running 35 miles a week, concentrating on quality running (read: gut-wrenchingly hard) over quantity (read: nice and easy). These quality runs will include tempo efforts, which will be run roughly at race pace, and interval training, run at faster than race pace but only for short amounts of time.
Alongside the midweek road outings, I’ll be attempting to get in some long runs on the North Downs Way. It’s my favourite place to run: quiet, picturesque and a world away from the traffic-filled streets of south London. I also believe that off-road running is kinder on the body than all that pavement pounding.
In the spirit of the late, great Bruce Tulloh – Runner’s World’s former coaching editor who died earlier this year – I’ll be casting off my shoes once a week for a barefoot run around the local park. Barefoot running has become something of a dirty word, but done sensibly (i.e. on soft surfaces over a short distance), I believe it can encourage good running form.
To remind myself of my shortcomings as a runner, I’ll be signing up to some club runner-filled races, such as the Elmore 7, where finishing in the top half will be an achievement. Those kind of races – just like the fiercely competitive Surrey cross-country league – are always a good wake-up call.
I’ll be supplementing my running with two weekly swimming sessions, a low-impact activity that I find hugely enjoyable. I live close to Brockwell lido, south London, and love swimming there during the spring and summer. During the winter, when the water temperature plummets to 5C, I migrate south to the heated waters of Brixton Rec. I’ll also be finding time to do some strength and conditioning work.
To some extent, I believe that muscle can replace mileage. Unfortunately, runners tend to have the upper-body strength of emaciated toddlers. While I’m not looking to become Arnie, I’ll be building core strength through a cycle of bodyweight exercises – burpees, planks, squats – and a couple of kettlebell swings.
My hope is that by improving my time over 10 miles, I’ll become a quicker runner over a variety of distances. The speed endurance required to run quickly over 10 miles should help to bring down my half marathon and marathon times. That’s the theory, anyway.
For the past few years, I’ve had a slight niggle on my left ankle. I’ve seen a physio about it and apparently it has something to do with my ligaments. I’m excited to see if acupuncture – one of the therapies covered by my Simplyhealth Active Plan – can finally help to rid me of any pain.
Having stepped away from regular, competitive racing over the past year, I feel as though my batteries have been fully recharged. I’m ready to push myself again and am looking forward to the months of hard training ahead. If I can get a 10-mile time I’m proud of, it will all have been worth it.