How did it end up like this? Regular readers will know that with five weeks until race day at the Manchester Half Marathon I expected to be on top of my game – fast, strong, absorbing the effects of a gruelling high mileage schedule, and ready to attempt to smash a one hour fifteen half. Equally, regular readers will know about the setbacks, the illness, the contemplation on setting targets, the injury – it hasn’t been a classic Phil training block.
With only five weeks to go now, there isn’t time to be contemplative. We’ve got to put some sort of plan together to get me to race day and try and do something. We’re at the point in the film where almost all is lost, and our heroes have to cross a rickety rope bridge to save the day.
This might be a common scenario for many runners – we all set out with the best intentions but sometimes it just doesn’t happen, whether like me you are beset by illness and injury, or the scale of the task of training for a big distance you haven’t completed before psychologically intimidates you and prevents you from doing the work. Either way, you get to a point where you’ve decided you are still going to run and need to work out how to do it in the limited time available.
One of the reasons I write these posts is to chart the progress and success of my training. It helps me to think about the process, to track how far I’ve come from the start of a block, and to compare differences from one training block to the other.
Ever since I’ve started writing these, they have always been massive successes. I started writing a once a week blog series for twenty weeks for the Manchester Marathon in 2015, and then again in 2016. Two perfect training blocks and two perfect races meant that I rarely had to write about any difficulties.
This training block has been incredibly difficult for me. I’ve previously written about having to take some time off due to an illness with a cough on my chest – this meant I had to take three full weeks off, and then for the first week back I didn’t return to full mileage. This has meant that I’ve had to look at reassessing my targets, as the target I had set myself for the Manchester Half (under 1:15) was always going to be ambitious, even if everything went perfectly.
This week, instead of sitting at home suffering from Olympics withdrawal syndrome – Team GB and ITV asked you to do something slightly different. From 9:30 – 10:30am on Saturday 27 August, ITV switched off all their channels for #IamTeamGB, an initiative to encourage you to go and get involved in sport, with various activities around the country. Sports centres and swimming pools opened for free, community sports clubs organised events, returning Olympians turned up to inspire people, and of course the brilliant free Parkrun 5Ks continued as normal (although as we all know, they kick off at 9am).
Now on a Saturday morning I don’t need much encouragement to get out and be active, so as usual I was down at Woodhouse Moor Parkrun, and then at the start of the #IamTeamGB hour I went off for a post-Parkrun 13 miler (a bit of a struggle as it turned out, with the incentive of finishing at a coffee shop getting me through).
What wasn’t typical though was the turnout for Parkrun that day. It looked like a huge field when I turned up, and looking at the number of finishers afterwards, it really was. Woodhouse Moor Parkrun averages 257 finishers every week, and a record attendance of 492. Even taking in to account that the average will be dragged down by smaller attendances over the winter, 416 runners taking part was a fantastic turnout, no doubt boosted by the I am Team GB initiative. Looking at Twitter afterwards, it was great to see so many Olympians going to their local Parkrun, some for the first time, and record attendances at many events across the country.
But what is, or should, the I am Team GB message mean? Well let’s start with what I don’t think it means. I don’t think it is about gold, silver and bronze. While it was great to see so many Team GB athletes have success in Rio – both in terms of medals and performances (Lynsey Sharp’s PB in the 800m and Tom Bosworth’s British record in the 20K race walk spring to mind), to my mind this shouldn’t be primarily a recruitment drive or talent recognition initiative. However dedicated we are, most of us are not going to be able to get just the right amount of splash like Tom Daley and Dan “Tom Daley’s partner” Goodfellow, not going to be able to nail it like Max Whitlock, or run to glory, sprint to greatness like Mo Farah.