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A taster for some possible future musings.

It’s a great topic.

People talk about the general lack of depth in UK running when they often mean the lack of numbers at the sharp end of elite.

Mo is obviously way out in front, but he is an anomaly. Even on a global scale, the guy is soundly thrashing world class Kenyans, Ethiopians, Eritreans you name it. But behind him there is a significant gulf. I took my girls to watch the UK Trials for World Champs over the summer (the wife had to work on her thesis and I want the girls to experience live athletics wherever possible. Once they start loving it, they will want to see more it, and oh well, if I have to tag along while they go to the events, then that’s a chore I can bear :-)). Anyway, watching Mo win the men’s 5k was like watching a grown up racing against Under 15’s. It was a telling indication that, whilst we may have one or two guys who can run sub 13:30, there aren’t many, and even those couple are a long way behind Mo.

Onto a more marathon-specific point. I like 2:08 as line in the sand. 2:08 is a tough call. I don’t think any amount of training or performance centres will get results down past that level. Sub 2:08 requires something else. Take Japan. Did you know Japan is one of the most successful marathon running countries? (behind Kenya obviously). The depth in Japan is absolutely incredible. And they can’t break 2:08 (often) either. So let’s park that and look at 2:10 or 2:12. Or heck even 2:14. At those paces we should be rolling out dozens of guys in the UK, but we’re not. Things are improving though, after a low point somewhere in the past 10 years. We all know why the number of 2:20 club runners has dropped away of the past 20 or 30 years, I could cover it here, but it’s a post on its own really.

The thing with running a really top level marathon, is that it requires years and years and years (and years and years) of hard focussed training. It requires a special kind of discipline because, whilst you could argue that a top 10k requires all of those things too – and it does, or even a top miler, it does again, but with one difference. With a mile or a 10k, athletes get a number of chances each season to have a go. Marathons are less forgiving. You can really pour your energy and focus into probably 2 marathons in a year. Often something will have prevented perfect preparation for one of those, so that usually leaves one crack at a marathon per year. If it goes badly, and it often does (at least in terms of what an elite might be targeting pre-race) you have to go away, regroup and refocus for another 12 months. A bad 10k, means, look in the race diary, find another one in 6-10 weeks’ time and go again (I’m oversimplifying). Same with miling during track season. In the pre-season, athletes and their coaches will pick probably about half a dozen track races over the year, possibly more if you include over and under distance races, i.e. milers running 800’s and 3k’s, and 5k guys (like Mo) running 1500’s, etc. With the marathon you look at the calendar, line up two, and hope like hell things click on one of those two days.

 When it doesn’t: drawing board. But when it does, oh the sweet nectar of marathon satisfaction. Nothing compares.

But the very nature of the “train and hope” required by the marathon (elites have attested to this too) means that for a perceived “depth” to become apparent over the marathon distance, we really do need a lot of top level runners filtering through and targetting 2:12 or better. Then, even with the paring that went on earlier, sufficient numbers will still come through as “successful attempts” and the top level depth will finally start to grow. It takes time, and dedication. Check back in 5 years.

 

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I’m a simple man and I like simple things. I believe that, in many cases, there is a simple solution and that solution is often the best.

 

Take running technique.

 

There is a well-known distance running coach in the USA who has become known for tinkering with his athlete’s running styles and techniques on a micro-scale. Going down to the level of detail where he is advising a particular athlete on how to position his thumb on each hand while running. These aren’t straight off-the-couch running types either. We are talking about seasoned, experienced fulltime professional athletes. Now whilst all this running doesn’t guarantee them the knowledge to handle any and all running issues themselves, it does guarantee that, over the weeks and weeks and months and months and years and years of regular, consistent, every day running, of 100-mile plus weeks, their bodies will almost certainly have found the optimum technique for them to run in.

 

It may not be the most efficient and, when analysed there may be areas that look ungainly or unusual when compared to other runners or runners who are recognised for having a “good running technique”. But the point is that, this runner’s body will have developed, call it evolving if you want to get philosophical about it, a pretty successful running technique. Otherwise they would not have been able to maintain the consistency, the quantity or the intensity of the running over all those years.

 

Now scale this back from the elite or sub-elite level. It can be applied to runners of any ability, any level and any amount of running experience. Think back to when you were a baby. Ok you don’t remember that, and neither do I, but here’s the deal. You had to learn to walk. That’s the important bit. You had to learn. Nobody taught you to walk. I didn’t teach my two daughters to walk. The closest I could come was maybe to hold their hand while they toddled about. Your body figures it out. Pretty clever really. And I believe it is the same with running.

 

Everybody can run. That’s a fact. Even if it is only for 10 seconds to the other end of the train platform. Our bodies inherently know how to do this. Running 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then half an hour, on a regular basis, and your body will sort itself out – to the best of its physical ability. That bit is important as it pertains to the “style” or perceived “good technique” mentioned earlier. Just because it looks less than perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect for your body. We all know a certain British marathoner, possibly the greatest marathoner the world has known, who has a famously uncomfortable running technique, bobbing head included. Has it held her back? Records suggest not.

 

So get out there, get running and worry about getting fit. Don’t worry about “how to run”. Let your body take care of that.

 

The ability to walk and the ability to run is in-built in all of us. Let it out.

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