Regular readers will know I’m a sprinter. I was the kid at primary school who could “run a bit”, and it sort of went on from there. That’s not to say I’ve never dallied with the false gods of distance running, though. I’ve been there and (literally) got the t-shirts.
In my early 30’s I had an accident that badly damaged my lower back. It was far too unstable to allow me to train. Before, I was running 200 and 400 metres back then, and having a little bit of success. I had about 18 months during which time I didn’t/couldn’t run at all, and I began to wave my track career bye-bye.
By coincidence, this was the time that the mass “jogging” boom was taking off. I was never interested on running marathons, but as therapy I ran a bit off off-road stuff. It was a difficult transition even discounting the instability in my back, and the many times it failed me. Physiologically, I learned, I was one mass of “fast twitch” muscle fibres, largely useless for sustained endurance. I persevered however, greatly helped by having a local running partner who was a medical man, and one of the kindest people it’s ever been my fortune to know.
Alan encouraged me to enter a number of 10k road races. They and the training for them became the “new me”. As I recall, I was training almost every day, and certainly trained on Christmas Day on more than one occasion. Just to tick the box, I entered a half-marathon while at my best, and ran just shy of 75 minutes. I now realise that was pretty good, though that particular race was full of great runners and I was well down the field. It’s only nowadays that I’ve come to realise than my 100 metres and half marathon bests make a pair of times not that many other runners will have achieved! However, if I am honest, I think it’s true to say I hated every one of those races.
However, After about six years, my running tailed off a lot. I began to suffer chronic shin soreness, and simply could not do it. I began riding a bike for fitness. That’s maybe a story for another time.
Funny, but part of me simply didn’t miss the running. It wasn’t that I was enjoying not training – I was out on the bike most mornings around dawn from Easter to September. It was mostly that I’d never subjugated those fast twitch fibres. I reckon there were few, if any, able to stay with me in the last 200m of a 10k or half marathon, so I knew they still worked. And in very great part, I really hated hearing myself suffering as I ran.
Fast forward to last month. My sprint season as a 60 year old went reasonably well, thanks for asking. I intentionally passed on going to the European Masters in Turkey at the end of August for a number of reasons, but I had two races booked for September. These were to be followed by a month of “active rest” before winter training. Then, two unconnected things happened. I fell over hard in the garden and damaged the scaphoid bone in my left wrist, and my two end of season competitions both got cancelled. Running and gym-type exercise was almost impossible with the bad wrist, so I decided to make the most of it and take my month off a little earlier than planned, with the pay-off that I could then also start winter training earlier than at first scheduled.
However, by the time most of September had passed, it was clear that older bones heal slowly. Winter training had been going to start with a properly organised regime of weight training and circuit training. Impossible, when you can only grip properly with one hand, and have limited mobility in one wrist as well as no grip. It was then that a former work colleague suggested I reorganised things and included the local Parkrun in my training, while the wrist carried on healing. It was the nudge I needed. Rationally, I can use it to do some aerobic work, as an investment in some more sprint-specific speed-endurance training later in the winter.
At the time of writing this, I’ve run all of three Parkruns. That is to say, my local one, three times. I find the whole concept and organisation of the Parkrun thing really superb. The technical back up that gives you your results and analysis within a couple of hours of finishing puts many much bigger events I know to shame. And although these days I am in no way a morning-person, I do also love the fact that by 10am, training for the day is all done and dusted.
My local event starts close to the River Medway, and is basically a pancake flat, out and back course on the riverside path, save for the ascent and descent of a large, high-level bridge at the mid point, plus a 400 metre steadily uphill finish section. I ran cautiously in my first outing. It was possibly the first time in ten years I’d run more than a couple of consecutive miles. I lived through it, and in week two I ran over two minutes faster. My latest run was a minute faster still.
As a park-runner finishing well down the overall field of 200+ (mostly) happy, smiling faces, I’d like to say I’ve had a great time on each run. I’d like to, but it would be a lie. A lifetime of mostly pandering to the old fast-twitch fibres means I’m suffering. Heart rate is up at levels I seldom see in sprint training these days, and for almost all of the five kilometres run, I hear myself suffering. I comfort myself with the assertion that I’m doing it as a means to a different end to others taking part, and most certainly not for fun!
We’ll see where it leads, eh?