The weekend is all about racing.

You want to improve, put a bib on your chest and get racing….

There are thousands of training programs out there on the inter-web and tucked away in coaches clipboards, all aim for one thing,  an improvement of running times and/or distance. Personally I feel one of the most useful activities is often over looked, that is lining up with fellow runners with a bib on your chest and pushing yourself to breaking point and beyond.

Racing serves many purposes but the main one is to help cement the fact that are improving and give you your next goal to work towards, people,  if you are a runner you must have goals, no goals you morph into the dark side and start ‘jogging‘ or worse get taken by the lycra posse and you find yourself sitting in cafe’s discussing the best way to shave your legs while drinking a frothy, light, soya frappacino with extra crème, ye gods !!

Goals do not even need to be faster or longer, as we mature they may be just to get within a certain time or distance of a previous PB, it doesn’t matter what the goal is  it just needs to be there.  My old friend Jon ‘TB’ Phillips resets his goals each season and chases ‘season bests’ which works as you have a new baseline each year and this is then adjusted after your first race. PB’s can also be chased but with a ‘within X seconds/minutes’ if have moved over the top of the PB hill and are travelling down the other side and back to the pack, literally.

Time and distance really aren’t the measuring sticks of course it’s still good old fashioned ‘pain time’ and how long you can stomach it. I’ve mentioned before I feel the elite athletes train as hard as us , well probably a tad harder of course given all their free time, but the real difference is their ability to spend more time in the ‘pain box’, tucked up in the foetal position ! As we age the body of course degrades and performance suffers but mentally I believe we find it harder to justify the ‘pain time’, I feel there really is a finite time we can spend in the pain box and when you’ve used it up it just gets too hard to open the door, so you loiter outside  pretending to try the door.

Tim Noakes  ( https://thenoakesfoundation.org/prof-noakes ) also adheres to this and reckons the top elite athletes only have so many world class marathon times in them before they can no longer reach the dizzy heights they once scaled. Runners like Alberto Salazar pushed themselves beyond what their bodies could cope with and ultimately ended their own careers prematurely. Salazar’s competitive decline is often attributed to the stress on his body from the famous “Duel in the Sun” with Beardsley. Salazar recounts falling into a “more-is-better” mindset which led him to reason that if 120 miles per week yielded a certain level of success, then 180 miles (290 km) or even 200 miles (320 km) would bring even better results. This intense and grueling regimen of such extremely long distances led to a breakdown of his immune system, and he found himself frequently sick, injured, and otherwise unable to continue training.

So why spend time in the pain box at all ? Because like all good things you need to work for them. You want to run faster, or longer, you need to put in the hard yards because distance only gets you so far, excuse the pun. Distance is a big part of improving due to the cardio improvement gained even on slow long distance runs but adding pace (and pain) is the icing on the cake or was that the cherry on top? You get the picture, distance is the foundation of improvement , while pace, and pain,  are the finishing touches.  This is where the bib on the chest comes in. You can push yourself in training but to really go to that next level you need competition or a PB to attack, you never run as fast as you run in competition.

What happens with no running goals ? Eventually I feel you would stagnate and one day find yourself dressed in lycra in a coffee shop , clip-clopping around in your funny cycling shoes and generally annoying all other patrons. This is not a good outcome for anybody bar the local bike shop. My friend Ryan is experiencing this feeling at the moment as he struggles with the daily lunchtime run. I worked with Ryan for many years and he did not show the smallest interest in running, actually any exercise really. Since I moved on he has found himself and running, lost a load of weight and I’ve even ran with him on many occasions. Lately though he has struggled with the weekly lunchtime runs and started to find the pace and distance are stagnating, along with his interest. His runs are all at a good pace for his current standard and he pushes himself but I feel he is stuck in the ‘not easy but not really hard pace’. This pace is dangerous because he is not giving his body time to recover , as there are no real slow recovery runs but he is not pushing himself to gain the cardio benefits of time in the pain box.  Thus over time when you start to see little improvement you lose interest. I have challenged him to run a 5k time trial once a week and measure progress. I feel just adding this one run to his weekly schedule will be enough to maybe get the competitive juices flowing and move him towards putting a bib on his chest.

Of course the current parkrun explosion is a perfect place for young Ryan to wet his competitive urges. ( http://www.parkrun.com/ ). Started in the UK in 2004 with 13 runners it has morphed into a free weekly event attracting many thousands of runners, globally.  Here you can go and race (although it’s not about racing more about participating but they record your times online) with other like minded runners and have your time recorded and available on the internet, giving you a target for next week. The mood is relaxed and inviting compared to the more intimidating ‘proper‘ races. It is built as a stepping stone to initially attract people back to running and then to prepare them to move on to the more competitive arena of paid entry and longer distances. I have a smorgasbord of parkruns available in the Perth area, at last count more than 16 I think and climbing.  There’s even a parkrun ultra where a bunch of crazy runners start at 8am on Saturday morning and run each parkrun in the Perth area, transported between each one by bus. It takes nearly 24 hours and I can’t imagine the aroma on that bus towards the end of the event, it would be challenging I suspect.  Luckily this year it clashed with Rottnest so I missed it but there are rumours they may move the date next year, I’d better getter my Brut deodorant ordered as this event sounds right up my street, literally. !