Friday thoughts #5: Icons


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THE Cookie, no relation to Mount Cookie

Whenever I look back at my most recent races I always have one or two training runs I have done which I see as being pivotal in my preparation. During the race I draw on the experience of these runs and use them to push me on.

They are my iconic training runs. These aren’t always runs where I flow or have great days out. They are runs where I suffer like a middle-aged man being forced to listen to the Top 40 charts. And I know what that feels like. Alas.

For these memorable runs, the ingredients tend to be that they are a) long, b) a mental challenge and c) leave me feeling like I have given my all. That I have earned the right to be on the start line and my chances of achieving my goals have been enhanced by these runs.

I could identify a run like this for all of my recent races. I’ll share my most recent three here:

27 Peaks for Rocky Raccoon – December 2016
Paul G had challenged me to get a certain amount of ascent over a marathon. As I do when I get my plan from him on a Sunday, I looked at the long run and started thinking about how – 6 days later – I would tackle the challenge.

On Croy Hill there is a peak call Mount Cookie. A couple of facts about Mount Cookie, 1) it is not a mountain and 2) it is not named after THE Cookie

Mount Cookie is great viewing point on Croy Hill and can be approached from 3 angles. Each is around 1km long and has between 250-300 feet of climbing. There are no flat sections of note. It is all up, or all down. The terrain is slightly different on each ascent too.

To train both mind and body I decided to do this climb from each angle 9 times, which x3 was to be 27 ascents (and descents) and to run it at a consistent pace throughout. Once I set my mind to this kind of thing I don’t want to give up, even in training. I verbalised my plan and told a few folks what I was doing. To offer support one or two of them told me to “just get drunk and enjoy myself” and “to get a f***ing life.”

It was torture. I started in the dark and daylight started to rise about halfway in. My legs burned towards the end, my quads hurt for a couple of days after but my mind was massively helped by the test. When I was racing the last 7 miles at Rocky Raccoon, trying to hold off a fast closing Ronnie Delzer, I channelled this run.

Picking up for Tooting – September 2016
I was coming to the end of my training block ahead of Tooting Bec. I had a commitment with Hoka in Edinburgh. I had to be there early. And I had to do a 34 mile run. Oh, and I had to do a tempo set in the run for 30 mins, close to the end.

This was two weeks before Tooting.

I got out of bed at 4:02am and was running for 4:32am. I caught the 08:44am train from Linlithgow to Edinburgh with loads of time to spare. I had a shower at Run and Become and was blagging my way through trainer talk with customers by 10am no problem. I even offered my own, worn, smelly and sweaty shoes to someone to try. They refused. Not sure why.

I absolutely nailed every facet of this run. I was immersed in my determination. I ran brilliantly on the pick-up and the feeling of achievement was palpable. Eóin Lennon also gave me the best sourdough ever that day.

That run gave me so much confidence that I had the strength in my legs to do something special at Tooting that I went relaxed. I knew I was ready. I’d controlled what I could. A brilliant way to go into the taper.

The ATRX xVI for the West Highland Way – May 2016
The ATRX (Antonine Trail Race 10k) route was designed by me. I have never run the race as I direct it. It is an intentionally tough route – demonstrated by the fact that no-one has broken 40 mins on it – and we have had some fast runners on there. It takes in over 1,000 feet of climbing over 10k and is never steep enough to justify walking, but always tough enough to hurt.

In fact, this run was payback for every runner who has ever told me they hated me after the 10k race. When they say hate in my head they are thanking me. They just haven’t got through that change curve yet.

In preparation for the West Highland Way I needed to get some climbing in and mimic the course conditions. The challenge was I didn’t have the time to get to the top half of the WHW for training. I decided to do the ATRX route 6 times to get ready. Whilst not exactly the Barkley, this is a mind-f***. I was never more than 2 miles from my house.

By doing the loops I was able to both practice my racing and eating plan. I dropped a bag with drink and food at the start and refuelled every loop. I was lucky in that a few mates joined me for a couple of loops, which helped stave off the battle in the mental side. Going out on the 6th loop was a big barrier. I could walk home in 5 mins, or go and get those extra miles, those extra climbs. There was no choice. In the end, 37 miles was done and I was spent. I ran it ahead of my planned WHW pace to bring on fatigue and I felt the effort for sure. But it worked.

By sharing these I hope you too can identify your iconic runs, the ones you channel when the going gets tough. Or, perhaps you go find, make and do one. It really helps me to have moments I can look back on with pride. When you are in a race and things get on top of you, knowing you have climbed these proverbial, or in some cases, real, mountains will act as a spur. Believe me, I know. I have done it and will do it again (and again and again).

This is the 5th in a series of weekly blogs I will be doing on running hints and tips till I run dry of ideas. Last week’s is here. Give it a share, a comment or just through a snowball at my window in winter if I have wasted your time. If you have a subject you’d like me to cover get your people to call my people and we will see what we can do. Or just drop me a line.  

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Katherine says:

    thanks James, this was a great read. All the more because I have a really hard long run tomorrow, the last biggie before a really long hard race. I am bricking it, dreading it but also kind of looking forward to it in a sick way because I know if I complete it tomorrow, I will be as ready as I can be. I find multiple loops of short things close to home very difficult so I can’t imagine running up and down THAT hill that many times! Good lord! Still, as you say, well worth it.

    1. You’ll be ace. Go crush that long run tomorrow and enjoy the taper when it comes.

  2. Gareth says:

    Another great read. I have a couple Im gonna use tomorrow, not quite on your scale but enough to lend me belief in myself and I think thats half the battle

  3. Michelle says:

    Loved this james. As my training is progressing i am already finding myself referring to previous training runs to push myself on or give myself a mental talking to. Or just to reflect on the progress ive made. Hopefully i will have a nice bank of them for Coniston in June.

    1. Thanks Michelle! Good luck with the rest of your training. June is not far away now 🙂

  4. Robert O Donnell says:

    Great read James. I have been up Mount Cookie 28 times -………… this year!

    1. It’s a braw place to be, Robert. The views this morning were spectacular.

  5. Robert O Donnell says:

    Great read James. I have been up Mount Cookie 28 timeps -………… this year!

  6. Robert O Donnell says:

    Really enjoy your wee pieces . Could you maybe share some of those spare endorphins!

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