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Connection perfection

I’ve written about the speed work I’ve been running as part of my recent training – this has been repetitions of around twenty seconds of strides/sprints, either on the flat or up the single local steep hill.

I’ve enjoyed this aspect of training and the incremental nature of it, slowly improving over time. I’ve tried not to push myself, both at the outset of the session (gradually building up to the right pace over a few initial reps), and through not overdoing the number of reps; my concern is the fear of injury through short burst intensive, explosive effort.

This week I ran a series of strides on the flat straight section of path by the river. As I neared my goal I had an idea: instead of pushing myself a few reps further, why not move on to the hilly bit and sprint a few times up there too?

A ten minute jog later I was at the foot of the hill and I raced up it a handful of times before heading home. It was a brilliant workout, I felt stretched further than I had before, testing my leg muscles in slightly different ways.

As I trotted back home, I felt incredibly clever to have put these two sessions together in such an effective way. Congratulations to my big brain! But really, was it all that clever? Surely it was staring me in the face all this time anyway, if anything I was slow to realise it. 

It wasn’t clever, it was just creative. 

There’s a famous Steve Jobs quote about creativity, he said:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things.

My training plan from the off was always to mix up the runs – long runs, speed work, hill climbs, tempo and goal pace runs. But always on different days, there was no room for cross-breeding any of these together. But training needs learning, it needs reflection, it needs to iterate towards a goal safely (to prevent injury) and reflectively (to avoid aggravating any oncoming injury).

And now I realise my plan lacks the creativity, adaptability, and learning that life needs. We are all creative people, and the connection between things is what we use to create. So let’s go, let’s explore these connections, put the prescriptive training plan in the blender and see what comes out. Big brains unite!

Better in the long run

There comes a time in our meticulously detailed training plans where up looms the “extra long run with a big hill in the middle”. The one you do on a Sunday and haven’t properly recovered from it halfway through the following week.

So here I am, today is the day. Or rather, Sunday was the day. The Big Hill awaits. It’s another early start and another tiptoe out of the front door. I imagine most of the sensible people in the street are still fast asleep, a well-earned hangover patiently waiting for them when they wake up. And years of practice have taught me that is generally the correct approach to weekend mornings.

But not for me, not today. I set out at a reasonable pace before reminding myself how far I was going to go. The route I was taking was a familiar one for the locals – it’s an out and back with a big loop at the furthest point and a high bridge over the main road to constitute the Big Hill. This would need tackling twice, once in each direction. 

As the sun began to warm the world, I left the familiar river behind and ran into the countryside, past fields, hedges, rabbits, and the occasional other runner. This was a different, braver route, and we knew it – a knowing nod between runners that we had taken on a bigger challenge this morning. 

I wasn’t sure how long the loop was at the end and had wondered whether I’d need to do it twice to get my distance up, however once was more than enough and I trotted home, back over the Big Hill with some slight grief, to a total distance of 13km.

By far my furthest run this year, but more importantly was how consistent my km splits were. Getting much better than earlier weeks, I had a variance today of 15 seconds between my fastest and slowest laps. 

So the question now is, how far should I be going on these long runs? That was probably about right for me with my goal I discussed last week. No doubt I’ll have a complete change of heart in a week or two and set out to go even further with even more hills – I must be careful though. Better to have a hangover on a Sunday morning than an injury!

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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