By my early thirties, I had fallen in love with running. My life revolved around training and racing. I obsessed about gear; I bought every magazine, read every book, studied training regimes and could recite the mantras of Lydiard, Cerutty and Stampfl. One training philosophy advocated ‘periodisation’ which basically meant breaking the year down into recovery, training and racing cycles. I confess never got this. What I was supposed to do in the recovery phase? If I was fit, I should be out running. If I was out running, why wasn’t I putting effort in? If the sun was shining, why wouldn’t you just run?
All I knew was the harder I trained, the faster I raced, the better my PBs. If all was good, why stop? The coaches preaching periodisation suggested November and December were a time to slow down, eat, drink and be normal. I’m glad I ignored them.
I’m not sure at the height of my obsession I knowingly ignored the wisdom of the best coaches in the world on the basis that my methods worked better, and you or your own coach might well think I’m mad but when I look back, as I get older, as I come to terms with never running another PB, as my body yells at me to stop, my refusal to go into that pre-planned recovery phase feels like the right decision. I look at a running career largely fulfilled. I’m glad I never saved myself for the summer.
Maybe if you’re an elite athlete, with fine margins, with access to recovery and nutrition and sports science, it can be healthy to back off for a while. If you’re being paid to race and train and can manage life in fine detail, I can see a couple of months off might make sense. But, if you’re an ‘ordinary Joe’, with a family, with a job, then my advice is to grab every moment while you can. My cycling buddies, who never race, talk about backing off in the winter. What’s ‘winter’ when you don’t race?
So my mantra, maybe with a health warning, is to train and race like there’s no tomorrow. When you’re fit and healthy, train hard and get on the start line. One day, periodisation will be forced on you; unsociable hours, demanding kids and creaking joints will force inactivity. One day, you’ll be 51. Don’t wait for the summer!
Robert started running when he was 17. His first race was the iconic Barnsley 6 (just over 10kms). His time was just under 49 minutes. In his early thirties, he set his PB for 10kms at 31’20’’. Over a similar time frame, he went from the back three of the school cross country to 130th in the National and from sports day shot put to a Yorkshire vest in the Inter Counties 20 mile championship. After more than 30 years running, he remains passionate about the sport, (perhaps slightly less) fiercely competitive and much troubled by the inevitability of slowing down. He talks about training, racing and a life on the roads.