Sunday, 3 June 2012
As dawn broke on the morning of January 1st and I took those first steps along the track from Hagworthingham to start the Tennyson Twenty, I knew that the months to follow would almost certainly bring their share of good moments and bad times. In setting myself the challenge of running all the LDPs that started, finished or passed through Lincolnshire, I knew that I'd embarked upon a collosal adventure. By stipulating a time limit - the project to be completed within a year - I knew also that I'd applied a pressure that was arbitrary but one that would provide a focus in my efforts to achieve the success I desired. My planning had highlighted the fact that consistency would be the crucial in making the challenge attainable - lengthy periods of injury would inevitably spell the end of the project.
I knew all this before I started, and I was confident in my plans. 'Don't worry - I know what I'm doing', became my stock phrase to anyone who questioned me.
As the Sixth Statement's sixth month starts, however, I can confidently look back and state that I was wrong. I thought the miles of running would teach me valuable lessons. I was wrong there too. It turns out that it's the time I've spent not running that has taught me the most.
After six weeks of injury, I return to my beloved footpaths this weekend. My legs seem in decent shape. My foot and ankle injuries from earlier in the year have all but gone. The groin pain I've experienced is still there, and will eventually need surgery, but, for the time being, I can cope with the discomfort it brings. Physically then, not bad.
What excites me, however, is not the physical freshness I've rediscovered, but something else that the success of my challenge will depend on just as much. I return to the paths with a new way of looking at things, a new approach - I've found The Pivot.
We all know of the existence of The Pivot. What's difficult is finding it, and, once you've found it, keeping it in the right place.
The first three months of this year saw a distinct lack of balance. I was ticking off big miles at the weekends, slowly working my way through the paths, and continuing my efforts throughout the week, feeling tired but satisfied. My Sixth Statement was progressing at a pleasing rate. When not running or working, I was planning. I carried my chart in a cardboard tube between work and home, and spent countless hours slotting different footpath runs onto the calendar in an organised manner that I thought would optimise success.
A blog post I read recently came too late for me. It stated that plans - year plans, five year plans, ten year plans - were to be avoided at all costs. By planning over any lengthy period, you were virtually guaranteeing failure. Unforeseen events inevitably occur - that's life - the plan goes out the window, and you're left feeling like a loser for no obvious fault of your own. One of the best pieces of advice I've received all year. Unfortunately, by the time I'd read it, my own year plan had already gone tits up.
Having hit a low point in the middle of March, I was forced to take a couple of easy weeks. Had I been doing too much? Maybe? Whatever caused my breakdown on the 'Beat' run, it set alarm bells ringing. I'd become too pre-occupied with this one scheme and all sorts of things were suffering. Most importantly, my running was becoming tiresome. I'd planned this challenge as a celebration of empty miling - a vehicle to enable me to focus on the intrinsic beauty in each run. But the constant mulling over the calendar, and the temptation to push the boundaries in my non-footpath running activities, had started to dull the very essence of what I'd wanted to embrace. I promised myself a rethink after the Viking Way Ultra - try and balance things up. As it turned out, a knee injury I acquired as a consequence of this run stopped my running for the best part of six weeks. Whilst frustrating, it seems that this enforced absence from running may have saved me. It gave me the time I needed, but had previously not had, to find The Pivot.
The Pivot is the point around which everything balances. It is as crucial to attaining your running goals as it is to living a happier, more fulfilled life.
I've had time to reassess my Life Pivot. The Ball of String facilitated a shift in thought that's already having overwhelmingly positive outcomes. A more difficult task, however, has been to find my Running Pivot - the balance needed in the activity I love most.
Since August last year, I've been plagued with niggles. Whilst not stopping me running, PF in my left foot, a partially torn ligament in my right ankle and numerous other minor injuries have dampened my enthusiasm for empty miling.
In a bid to remedy the situation, I've looked at a myriad of possible solutions - concentrating on my running form, altering my foot-strike, shortening my stride length, increasing my cadence, changing my footwear, increasing the hours I regularly sleep, tweaking my diet, purchasing compression clothing. It's difficult to assess if any or all of the above had some benefit or none at all. Suffice to say, though, that the problems didn't magically go away.
It was a Fb message from a fellow ultra-runner I met during the Viking Way run that finally brought me to the light. After winning this race, I'd been amazed at how quickly he seemed to recover and how soon he was ready to take on other runs of epic distances. Each weekend he seemed to be tackling distances of 60 miles and upwards - an incredible achievement. I sent him a message saying as much, and he replied with a short sentence: 'But remember Chris - I do little, if anything, in between. Rest is everything. Your endurance won't be affected.'
BINGO! The answer had been so obvious, but I'd chosen to ignore it all along. To run more, I have to run less. This, I was sure, would be the key to locating The Pivot.
I'm a runner. I love to run. My default setting is to run every day. There's been times when I've run for 10 or 11 months at a time without missing a day. Upon reflection, these periods have always ended in tears.
I've blinded myself to the words that presented themselves to me on the internet each time I googled a new problem. 'Over-use injuries'. Over use. The answer was there, but I couldn't see it. Over use. You do too much.
I've been forced to sit down and reassess. This year's plan was based on empty miles. Empty miles that would be run on Lincolnshire's paths, a number of which involved extreme distances. These were the miles that counted. Perhaps the rest were junk?
The notion of junk miles is alien to me. Every mile is a mile worth running. But if I'm going to complete my miles on the paths, it's essential that most of the rest have to go.
This, I'm sure, is the key.
The plan is straight-forward. The priority miles are the ones I'll enjoy as part of my footpath challenge. The distances involved inevitably mean that most of these will be completed at weekends. What I need to do during the week goes against everything that's ingrained in me - I have to not run. A couple of easy club runs will, no doubt, make no difference, but the essential thing will be to rest for the forthcoming weekend's big effort. I admit - it scares me a little, but I also have the gut feeling that it's right. Only this way will I get close to completing my task. The Pivot. I'm on it.
The regimented calendar has to go too. It's only by taking a more intuitive approach to the task - by listening to my body and not my head - that progress will be guaranteed.
Six frustrating weeks have ended. The weather's showing early summer promise. I hear the Sirens singing from the paths I've yet to tread. Instead of luring me to self-destruction, their songs entice me towards revelation.
Once more, The Sixth Statement awaits.
This time, I'm ready.