June 2021 – Keep on running

This month’s theme is running. It’s not an activity I particularly enjoy, and in true reflection of my normal approach to running we’ll avoid talking about it as much we can.

An update first. It’s been a rollercoaster month in Jeremy’s triathlon world. During May I realised I was putting too much pressure on myself, and it wasn’t doing me any good. Triathlon had become an additional stress, and it had turned from being a fun hobby into an all-consuming part of life. The pressure was coming from the fact that there were big races looming which were 2022 European and World Championship qualifiers, and I just didn’t feel ready. It took some time for me to put things into perspective. Eventually, I was able to remind myself that my involvement in the GB Age Group team had started out as a goal as I approached a big birthday. I simply wanted to make the team, wear the GB kit and enjoy the experience. At no time had I thought that I needed to make the team each year thereafter. Once I’d got that cleared up, the fun and enjoyment returned. Well, for a few days at least.

Over the last month I’ve done a few triathlons, with the biggest and scariest being Leeds on 6th June. It’s a huge event. There were over 3,000 competitors and it’s the UK Championships for the standard, or Olympic distance. The weekend culminated with the men’s and women’s elite races televised on BBC2 using much of the same course and forming part of the World Series. It starred the Brownlee brothers amongst others. It was also a qualifier for the 2022 Age Group World Championship team. Therefore, lots of reason to feel the pressure.

A few days before the event it was confirmed that this year’s Age Group World Championships in Canada would not go ahead, and my place would be carried over to 2022 – a huge relief on many levels. It meant I could go to Leeds with no pressure, and just enjoy the event and the atmosphere. That’s what ‘Coach Ali’ told me.

He then went on to say to me “you’re going to train hard all week, no tapering (this means taking it easy before a big event), and then treat the race as one seriously hard training session”. My alarm was due to go off at 4:15am on the Sunday morning, but in hindsight I didn’t need it. I’d been awake for what felt like most of the night, and I arrived in Leeds tired and apprehensive of what was to come. The Elites describe Leeds as the hardest course of the World Series, and it didn’t disappoint. It was lumpy (hilly), bumpy (road surfaces), fast, furious and full on. Ali had said “Red line it” and I did. After finishing the bike section, I started the 10km run only to find that there was a long, gruelling hill that I’d have to do 3 times. I very nearly quit at that point.

In a race or training session, and when you’re finding it hard, a good approach is to break the remaining activity down into chunks and just focus on the next section. A useful gauge as to how hard you’re finding things is the size of these chunks. It could be laps, kilometres or key landmarks. On this run my chunks were simply as far as the next turn, and there were lots of those ☹. It became 45 mins of sheer misery. I crossed the finish line, which happened to be a steep 30m ramp, and almost collapsed.

‘Coach Ali’ greeted me and said: “Well, that was a great training session”.

My response was something along the lines of:

…………. Heavy breathing …………… Was ………….  more heavy breathing …………   it ?”.

Triathlon Focus – The Run

The mid-year appraisal season is just starting. If I were do a mid-year appraisal of my Triathlon progress for the first half of the year, how would it read? It might be something along the following lines:

  • Consistent hard work and commitment despite all the pandemic led restrictions and personal challenges
  • The swimming is going well, and being able to get back to 2019 levels of performance is a great result considering all of the time that the pools have been closed
  • Excellent progress on the bike, and the change in approach is showing early signs of working
  • Running in training continues to be a weakness and there are no clear indications of improvement despite all the opportunity to run during lockdown. Must do better

Is that a fair appraisal? Should I be improving my run speed? Let’s dig into this a little more.

On face value my run speed has not increased, and you could argue that I’ve got slower. In 2019 BC (Before Covid) I achieved Personal Bests in 5k and 10k, and I’d got faster overall. I was working on my weaknesses by focusing more on the running, and less on the bike.

In 2021 I’ve been running less, and when I do, a lot of it is at an easy pace. This has been driven by ‘Coach Ali’ who is pushing for me to swim and bike better so that I’m fresh for the run. A lot of the running that I now do is straight off the back of a bike or swim session so that I can improve how I run when tired. When it comes to a race, it’s not necessarily the case that the best runner wins. It’s the person that has managed their effort levels and is freshest for the run. A poorer runner can outperform a better runner by managing this.

Is the appraisal of my running fair? I don’t think it is. In a triathlon, early in May, when I started the run, I felt very comfortable and ran as fast as I ever have in a triathlon, and that was off the back of good swim and bike sections. Therefore, the approach seems to be working. I’m building on my strengths and in doing so my area of weakness is improving.

Links to work

I’ve been working long enough now to know what my strengths and weaknesses are. The dilemma is whether I should be building on my strengths, or addressing my weaknesses? We must be careful that we don’t spend all of our effort in addressing our weaknesses to the detriment of our strengths. To an extent we are who we are and trying to change our traits or personalities to be someone different is not helpful in the long term. We need to recognise what it is that makes us unique, listen to the feedback, and look for ways in which we can continually improve, without losing those things that make us stand out.

Back to the world of triathlon and running. I’ve said that running is my weakness. I’m of a stocky, heavier build, and this doesn’t lend itself to long distance running. I could try and address this by heavy dieting and trying to make myself as light and as lean as possible, but then I’d lose the upper body strength I have for the swimming, and the leg strength for the cycling. By trying too hard to address this perceived weakness, I compromise other areas of strength.

So, in the work environment, recognise your both your strengths and weaknesses and work on all of these in a complimentary way. 

Ideas for Getting Active

As I said earlier, during May my hobby had lost its enjoyment. It’s hard to carry on doing something if we don’t enjoy it.

I’ve found that there are two types of fun when it comes to physical exercise – ‘Type 1 Fun’ and ‘Type 2 Fun’. Type 1 fun comprises those activities that you enjoy whilst it’s happening. Type 2 fun is something that you look back on as fun after it’s happened. I think we need both types to lead healthier and more active lives.

I love swimming and cycling and these are definitely Type 1 fun activities for me. As soon as I’m on my bike I start smiling and enjoying myself. Running is usually a Type 2 activity in that it can often feel a slog, but I feel great as soon as I’ve completed a run as all the happy endorphins are released. I could refer to running as a ‘Type 2A’ activity, as I think there’s a ‘Type 2B’.

In my experience, ‘Type 2B’ is an activity that is challenging and pushes you very hard. Often these are events that you’ve worked up to and see as a personal challenge or achievement.

A great example of what I’d call a ‘Type 2B’ challenge would be the Group Change Three Peaks or Isle of Wight Challenges. Long, hard activities that push you right out of your comfort zone, but when looked back on there is a deep sense of satisfaction, pride and enjoyment that stays with you for a long time.  

Find yourself plenty of Type 1 activities that are instantly satisfying – walking, swimming, gym sessions etc. But also set yourself a harder challenge that you can work towards, which will push you, but which will be immensely satisfying once done. I can’t wait for the next Group Change Challenge. Whenever it is, count me in 

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