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23rd February 2015

February 2015 ‘Tipping the Scales’

endurance mind, extreme marathons

From the title you could be forgiven for thinking this blog was about burning off the Christmas fudge with some solid miles after a festive period of over indulgence. While many of us may be thinking of the new year in terms of burning off the excesses and getting back down to our racing weight (what is racing weight anyway?) and preparing for the exciting challenges ahead, I am talking about ‘tipping the scales’ of another kind. Like 99% of runners out there balancing family, work, running and life in general is a frantic operation at best with rest and recovery typically the overlooked variable.

It is often advised to runners just starting out to train for time rather than miles. Well I am a true ‘time trainer’ rather than ‘mile mule’. Over the years my training partners, coach, physio have trained in miles. They run for distance and pace using their GPS or latest phone app. On the contrary I run to time and feeling. Without meaning to sound arrogant or big headed I am bloody good at it! Whether it is squeezing training into a set time, judging a set route or estimating distance I am pretty damn good.

I offer no apologies for the cliché but for me, as it is many of you I’m sure, time is literally of the essence. I am governed by it. Run by it. Constrained by it. And at times, liberated by it.

Fitting running in around a full time job, my wonderful children and the demands of daily life is tricky at the best of times and I am as creative as any person at being able to squeeze in a session at even the most tightly constrained moment. Whether it is ushering the students out of the changing rooms at the end of lunchtime to squeeze in my second run, dropping my eldest at a party and taking off with my youngest in the pushchair round the streets or leaving minutes early before a family outing and meeting the car en-route or getting dropped off after an outing to trot the last few miles home. My training is meticulously planned but the exact logistics are rather more flexible. I believe in the mantra if you want to do it you will find the time. About 8 years ago, living in Essex I developed an informal agreement with a local bus driver who would stop as he passed me as I trotted my way home from work. Some days managing 8miles, some a bit less. The aghast faces of passengers on the bus as I jumped on to stand at the front in my shorts and vest will live with me forever.

To me running is how I balance my life. I know time is a common reason for not being able to train (note I do not use the word excuse). But I like to think we can turn this on its head. How long have I have got rather than how far. 25 minutes sounds like a great workout in your diary in contrary to 2 and half or three miles where you might find the reason to forgo the workout in favor of a the tempting hot brew during a hard day. However, here lies a contradiction. When your resources are being drained in so many other areas, exercise or training can be a stressor. Physically and mentally. When I was at University, the legendary long distance coach George Gandy insisted his athletes reduced volume and intensity during exam periods to prevent injury and burnout. In contradiction, I would maintain or even push myself further and typically followed this path throughout my years of running in times of stress as a form of release, consciously or not.

I hit January with a spring in my step buoyed by the prospects of an exciting year ahead and building on 2014 where I believe I have learnt so much and have so much more to give. I have learnt from past mistakes and didn’t go gung ho into training and push myself any further than my plan. On the contrary I rather too religiously stuck to it. With the Pilgrims challenge and Thames trot on the early season agenda training was solid and steady. I nailed the ‘rough and tumble’ 10miles scheduled into my peak week after two back to back long runs and felt I was in good shape, ready to build in my specific work for my first ‘A’ race in spring. An impending school inspection and increased work demands, children’s illness, my own sniffles, traveling. The scales were toppling as I burned the metaphoric candle at both ends. The body eventually held its hands up in surrender and I’ve needed to back off from running for a few weeks reigniting relationships with the pool and my turbo to maintain my cardio-fitness and nurse the body for the year ahead.

Unfortunately, I had to forgo my opening ultra’s of 2015 which was incredibly frustrating as I had been building a solid base ready for my specific training and was excited at competing in my sponsors opening event The Pilgrim’s Challenge on the North downs Way. However, with every disappointment an opportunity can be found and instead of ploughing through the treacle of the churned up downs I offered my support instead. With a young family, heavy training schedule and full time job, taking weekends away racing or even training have to be balanced. Supporting at an event has always been something I have wanted to do but these time constraints have limited those opportunities to supporting my twin brother Justin or coach Rod Viggers during their pursuits on rare occasions. However, having already ‘booked’ this weekend in this was a great opportunity to be on the other side.

Each time I pass a check point in a race I make it my mission to take in a deep breath and exhale a little ‘thanks’ (which at times extends only to a high pitched squeal I’m sure only dogs can hear). I have a little reputation for not stopping at checkpoints. Merely because I carry what I need. But at minimum I try and offer a smile for the hours these amazing volunteers give to us, all too often in the most extreme conditions. I’m not going to apologize for my gushing at these unsung hero’s of our races. Over the years they have literally saved me from a state of medical emergency, changed my long term race nutrition plan by willing me to try something different as I bottomed out in an ultra after vomiting for hours and given me that extra spark to drive the remaining miles with cowbells ringing and rousing chants amongst fires and fairy lights in the darkness ringing in my ears. So while the second half of January did not go quite as planned I had a quite fantastic two days supporting other athletes out there in the snow, wind, rain and cold and hopefully helping one or two overcome their race demons to drive them towards the finish line.

Significantly, this wasn’t the only great thing I took from this weekend’s break from racing. A lecture from the inspirational Andy Mouncey made me reflect significantly on my approach to life and races. I think at times we are all guilty of ploughing on ignoring warning signals until something negative happens and we are stopped in our tracks. However, when do we actually sit down look back and formalize those trigger points in order to learn for the future? I’m guilty as charged. But 2015 is a new year and teacher or student I am always learning.

I am looking forward to my schedule and my specific build up to my first ‘A’ race of the year in the Highland Fling with planned trips to Snowdonia and the coast, and several ultra’s and ‘shorties’ en-route.

From an athlete governed by time, we must take time out. To plan, rest, recover, organise or balance. A few minutes or a day off here, could save hours or weeks later. Whether you are leaving January with a smile, or putting a big cross through it we still have 11 months to go in 2015. We’ve got changed and not even got to the field yet for our warm up in this lesson. But hopefully we have already learn’t something. I certainly have. Good luck.

………….. Nathan Montague

Previous Post

17th February 2015

My Pilgrim Challenge Experience: A View From The Hall