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The ghost of fitness past

With the years piling on, it feels I’m more susceptible to injury. I have a 10k race in a few weeks and my goal is to get a personal best for it. My record is a little under 47 minutes which I set it the first time I ran it, twelve years ago. That race, that younger version of myself turned up in a pair of trainers and a football training top after only doing a handful of warm up runs in the previous few weeks.

Who would’ve thought that chipper, sprightly young chap, skipping up hills, smiling with the other runners, would turn into my arch-nemesis. The person I’ve set out to destroy! Well, not destroy per se, I don’t want to create an inescapable time loop and be forever trapped within the grandfather paradox, ripping apart the entirety of space time and obliterating our dimension forever. It’s just that me’s time I’d like to destroy.

Time paradoxes aside then, what did my former self have that I don’t? Relative youth brings relative resilience – I recall regularly heading out on a run after only a couple of quad stretches and be generally ok the next day or two.

Running now takes a bit more prep to get into. I’ve discovered dynamic stretching and have been doing that every run this year. I go through a couple of moves to progressively warm up the muscles in my legs and hips and then when I leave the house I walk for a bit before breaking into a run.

Walk! I can imagine the younger self laughing at that. Bit of a waste of time walking isn’t it? If you go out for a run for an hour it should take an hour. Not an hour and twenty minutes because you need a walk before and after.

But it helps. As does gradually building up the heart rate through some light jogging and different drills, after about 5-10 minutes I’m good to go.

At the end I stop where I’m finished and walk back home to cool down. My former being wouldn’t appreciate this either, runs start and finish at your front door, and not a centimetre before!

So far I’ve been injury free (apart from a couple of niggles along the way that cleared through rest and some lighter training) and without wanting to jinx anything I feel in good shape for the upcoming race. The real question is whether I’ve achieved the right levels of fitness to finally beat that sinister being, that evil genius, that ghost of races past, that… me!

An uphill struggle

Generally speaking, rivers are flat. They’re not of course, they flow downwards so must have some slight gradient to them, but for my purposes, the one I run round is flat. The only hilly parts are the bridges, and even they’re not that long, steep, or particularly frequent. 

So while I count myself extremely lucky to live so close to a great and (mostly) peaceful river, nestled in parkland and lined with venerable trees, I don’t get that much hill training in my weekly running activities. 

This isn’t a problem, is it? Hills are horrible at the best of times and should be avoided where possible, right?! Well, yes and no. I have a 10k race later in the year I’m training for and that is a particularly hilly thing. In fact there is very little in the way of flat at all on the course. 

So I need to bring hill-work into my training. But where to find a hill? There is one nearby. It’s a short steep path leading up a large mound not far from the river. It’s probably not even 10 meters tall, but perfect for some fast paced repeats up and down it, an activity guaranteed to raise the heart rate to the top of the scale. 

I set out this week for the hill, around a 15 minute jog away – unlike the strides the other day, this time I went first thing in the morning to avoid other people. It’s not that I mind other people, it’s seeing people when I’m absolutely exhausted, bright red-faced and gasping for oxygen, repeating the activity that’s putting me in that state over and over again.   

I once tried this hill repeat training on afternoon of the first day of the school summer holidays and the top of the mound was packed full of newly liberated school children who cheered me on every time I reached the top. I went three rounds of that and gave up as more and more people were joining in. 

This morning there was a chap mowing the grass at the top, looking very disappointed at the amount of litter lying around. He cleared away a couple of glass bottles and then I assume he shredded the rest of it with his mower. 

I managed 10 fast reps before jogging back home. It was tough but I felt good, and ultimately I could have done a couple more. I decided not to overdo it and will return in a couple of weeks to build on todays effort. In the meantime I’ll be back running in the comfort of the flat (very slightly sloping) river and the occasional hump backed bridge reminding me the importance of running hills as part of the training.

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