Friday, 29 September 2017

The Privilege of Pain

I'm knackered.

That dizzying, slightly drunk feeling tiredness that seeps into your being.  Brain a touch slower and limbs, although not drained of energy, lacking a certain co-ordination.

And I'm hungry.
Not quite the fridge hoovering post-race binge, but a nagging, unquenchable emptiness, only quietened with a steady flow of nuts and fruit tea.

The crazy thing is that these are unfamiliar post-training reactions for me.  Last week I managed over twenty hours, including four long trips into the mountains at various speeds and a hilly hundred-miler on the bike.  All of those fitted comfortably within a busy enough working week and usual family fun time without any of the current symptoms.  The difference is that after a year-long absence, the dreaded hill reps have re-commenced.
Doesn't look much but round the corner she steepens and goes on and on.
Today's session really boiled down to just ten minutes and eight seconds; within the context of usual efforts not even a quarter of the initial climb into the mountains.  However, the gut-churning, soul-scraping nature of the intensity generated shock reactions, body unsure how to process unfamiliar stresses.  Those five sets of two-minutes reduced well-honed quads to quivering wrecks and forced heart-rate into the unwelcome and possibly unhealthy reaches, way beyond familiar thresholds.  For the first time in memory, breathing was insufficient, the final rep accompanied by a panicked panting that couldn’t service desperate lungs, like windscreen wipers unable to clear a deluge.

Last night’s dreams were dominated by a recurring theme, a repeat loop of impending dread endlessly culminating at the base of that climb.  As ever with this session, the jog in was taken at a deliberately ponderous pace, accompanied by spurious excuses to further dither.  Any last requests for the condemned man?

And yet I still did it, all alone.

No shared burden with clubmates, milking the motivation of combined suffering.  No coach or trainer bellowing encouragement, adding extrinsic meaning to arbitrary timings.  No reason at all not to back-off a touch, just un-turn the screw, drift to the line instead of the desperate drive, eyes on stalks and bile in the throat.  No reason except desire.

In a relative write-off of a season, a renewed appreciation of health has become dominant.  Sessions like these aren’t a burden to dread, they’re a gateway to happiness and satisfaction, and being able to survive them, to force positive bodily adaption is a privilege.  Fitness is a gift, a combination of hard-work, dedication and particularly at my age, a bit of luck.  I think it was Billy Bland who said that racing was the reward for all the hours of unheralded toil and he was right.  That unique feeling when questions are asked of physical capability and the body has the answers is extremely special.

On Saturday, I’m finally lining up again for a short-course race.  It’ll be 13km of desperately steep terrain, bogged out by incessant rainfall, getting dragged along by the best mountain runners in the country.  It’s going to be hell and I’ll probably get battered.

I can’t wait!

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