Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Normalised Abnormality

Knowledge is supposedly power and in a permanently tracked, logged and digitized world, the accumulation of highly detailed training data is remarkably easy.  Unfortunately, that information in isolation is fairly useless, whilst actually utilising it for positive fitness advances is where the real skill lies.  I'm no Strava head.  No Garmin tracks my progress and even the heart rate monitor is only dusted off for tempo work.  That's why, when it comes to retaining the details I prefer the low-tech, less-is-more, old school written diary approach.  Every session completed over the last few years is scrawled and stored allowing a glance back whenever required in order to spot patterns and emulate previous successes.

It's astounding sometimes, perusing the sheer volume of previous efforts, accumulated hours of sweat, grimaces and grins.  Times when training has been completed in spite of fifteen-hour work days, squeezed in long before dawn or way post-dusk.  Memories of discovering new running routes in stormy darkness around unknown cities, of white-outs and soupy fog on featureless moorland, hunching behind boulders in uncompromising mountains with frozen hands turning bezel, following bearings into gale-force storms.  A lifetime of exercise has brought me to my current state, of continual learning, trial and error, stupid mistakes repeated or rectified, and the diaries are always there to help arrange the pieces of the puzzle.
The diary! A record smashing race on Saturday followed by 1100+m of ascent/descent on Sunday and then a 3:19, 24 miler through the mountains on Monday.  Snuck in a cheeky 12 minute plank too for the core!  Normalised abnormality.
Recently, whilst prepping for the Garmin Mourne Skyline race this coming weekend I was perusing the preparation that saw me carve minutes off the course record in 2015.  Much has changed since then, a shift towards longer efforts, a few Ultras, increasing mileages and schedules that would've seemed preposterous just a couple of years ago.  Longer races have demanded more robust legs, and the mental fortitude that only accumulates through over-extension and survival, normalising the abnormal.  A few years back a triple Slieve Donard in sub 3:30 was a pipe dream, last week a weather battered sub 3:10 triple was just one of four mountain runs, totalling sixty miles and over 9000m of ascent, along with several weights sessions and some lovely turbo-trainer recovery time.

It feels like a new realm has been entered, a place where extreme aspirations have become everyday, the auto-pilot of training certainty dragging me further into the hills on a more regular basis.  Running was originally a response to limited bike training time following the birth of our first child, a form of exercise that could satiate the need to suffer and release those endorphins in a condensed format.  Now it's come full-circle, with up to fifteen hours spent on foot per week and latterly even some recovery sessions accompanied by Rowan, the now seven year-old, pushing his own Parkrun PB.  This realm may bring success, desired race results have certainly facilitated the drive but pushing the body has its own intrinsic rewards, as well as dangers.

Injury has been a constant companion accompanying this bodily transformation.  The classic error of the over-enthusiastic runner, pushing too-hard too-soon, over-extending an underdeveloped physiology and rushing the return from enforced lay-offs.  I'd hazard that a majority of people reading this have been through the same cycle, runners are notoriously stupid when it comes to rest and recovery, just ask any physio.  Regardless of the result this Saturday, the process of preparation has been revealing, an inner-strength blossoming through months of injury, and hopefully I've developed the sense to take a few days off afterwards.  I'm sat here suffering with a cold that has predictably struck at the worst possible time, maybe a timely bodily response guaranteeing a genuine taper period.

The season is nearly over.  Like many of you I'll soon be formulating plans for next year, picturing that perfect winter of base miles, idyllic journeys over frozen peaks and crisp mornings in the forests.  This realm of possibilities has a magnetic draw and I want to see where it takes me next, but that can only happen if finally unhindered by injury.  Overtraining needs to be viewed as a form of self-harm, it never ends well, yet resting when feeling strong can be as hard, if not harder than training when feeling unfit.

It's all there in the diaries, all the evidence of past screw-ups is down in black and white.  Time to grab a cuppa, read up and make a fool-proof plan for 2018.

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