What being a Junkie has taught me

Last year August I signed up with a running coach. I secretly hoped that he would in some miraculous way make me a faster runner.

I remember that first afternoon track session well. A couple of runners gathered on the grass field, then we started with a 2.3km warm up (which almost killed me) followed by more warming up, and finally running around and around a grass track, ending off with another cool down on the same 2.3km warm up route (ok, this time I did die). After my first session, I remember asking the coach, “So this will make me fast, right?” I was so naive!

Track session

A year later, here’s what I’ve learnt about track training and coaching:

  • The pace I run does not define me as a runner. *repeat*
  • Even those running at 4 mins/km want to run faster. It’s a runner’s thing.
  • There’s a difference between a quality run and an easy run. You need to do both.
  • Nobody forces you to do anything. Progress is entirely in your hands.
  • Injuries happen.
  • When it comes to track, everyone is equal and gets treated the same way. Everyone does the same track session. Slow runner? Pffft, *suck it up Junkie*
  • I’ve made the most incredible friends with some of the most extraordinary people from all walks of life. At track, we find that common bond.
  • Track has taught me to put things into perspective. The lessons around consistency and discipline can be applied to all things in my life.

I guess the biggest thing I’ve gained is not just one coach, I’ve scored over 20 different coaches! Yes, so Dave is the main kahuna, but each person that I train with at track has made a difference to my running and taught me something in their own way.

It’s the odd word during the warm up about the best PB races; it’s the encouragement as each one of them laps me. It’s the tips offered about my running form & reminders not to slouch; it’s the books loaned to me; the caring Whatsapp messages, those that run that last lap with me and help me push my limits. It’s the LSD’s on Sunday, the jokes we share, the ones that look out for me at races and those who sacrifice their track session to pace me.

It’s been the most incredible year. I can truly say that track training with the Running Junkies has changed the way I think about running, changed the way I judge my pace and has made me understand what matters most about why I run. There’s so much more to love about running than my pace!Track 11

Me? Run Comrades? Are you mad? I know I’m not. (Maybe)

In the days leading up to and after Comrades, quite a few people asked me if I was going to ever run the ultimate race. As all runners do, I’d politely reply ‘yeah, I’d love to!’ But if I had more time, I’d give them my real answer because trust me, I’ve thought about it long and hard. 

Here’s how I’ve broken it down: 

  • I’m a slow runner. Fact! My training with Coach Dave has helped me slice quite a bit of time off my running pace but I’m still averaging 7:44 on my runs. This is me, giving it all I’ve got. To run Comrades, I’d need to run a hell of a lot faster so that when I take on my walk breaks, I’d still be able to average just over 8 mins/km. To slice off another minute and a half off my current pace is a massive task! 
  • I’ve never run a marathon before. This would then need to be another goal to achieve. And to qualify for Comrades I need to run it in under 5 hours which means I need to average 7mins/km. I’m nowhere near this kinda pace now. I’m struggling to get down to even 7:30! Another goal. 
  • To accomplish these goals is a massive task which would most probably take a a few years I’m guessing. Do I honestly want to commit that amount of effort and dedication into my running at this stage of my life? 

So yes, it’ll always remain a dream. But for now, it’s baby steps. My running form is wrong, I still slouch too much, my core needs strengthening. This is what I’m focused on for now. Getting the basics right and focussing on smaller achievable goals. 

So the question again, am I ever going to run Comrades? Highly unlikely. But then again, you never know. 

The entire bit above was written with my head. But here’s what my heart wants to scream out: 


Getting to grips with grass

Since committing to training with a running coach just over a month ago, I’m already seeing certain benefits. If I promise to pitch up at training and work hard, he pretty much takes care of everything else. In a way, it’s actually a relief.

For starters, my coach decides on how much running I do in the week. It’s such a weight off my shoulders knowing that someone else is watching my mileage. For a change, I’m not stressing over not having run really long LSDs on a Sundays. And it’s okay just to do 5kms twice a week. It’s in his hands. He has a plan.

Another thing I’m learning is what he means by consistency. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality and learning to read my body.

Ironically, my coach is making sure I slow down a bit. *Wait a minute, I’m in this to speed up aren’t I?*. At the last track session, I felt strong. I’ve noticed that I’m doing a lot more running than walking. Just as he promised, I’m building that strong base foundation first. Speed work can only start once this is in place.

Being better

I must mention though that perhaps the biggest benefit is that I’ve learnt to run on grass! For me, the finish of any race is always the worst because it always feels like after running on the road, the grass on the field slows me down and sucks me in. Quite funny that where we train, the track is grass and it’s not that bad. Not that bad at all.

When you finally make a decision, everything else falls into place

My parents have a rock in their garden with the following quote carved into it, “To conquer fear, you need to make a decision.”

I’m not sure why this quote popped in to my head on Saturday, but it did. You see, on Saturday I made the decision to pull out of running the Two Oceans half marathon in April.

It’s been a very difficult and tough decision to make. Trust me, I’m heart-broken! But I’ve had time to think long and hard and decide what’s best for me. 

Two Oceans blogger, Dr Ross Tucker pointed out, Why is sometimes more powerful than how.” So I sat down and wrote out my goals and answered some tough questions I realised was long overdue. It turns out, this is what I know: I do not have a problem running 21.1kms. The distance does not put me off and I do not struggle with it either. It’s the pace where my biggest challenge lies. Due to the fact that I run so slowly, the extra stress of making a 3 hour cut-off hangs over my head causing me incredible stress making it a very unpleasant run.  

The stress comes down to the speed of my running. If I can correct this and run faster, I would not stress as much and enjoy the run more.

The training that I started with my coach in January aims to do just that – get me running faster.

Unfortunately, the training schedule I am following does not include Two Oceans or any other half marathons coming up. In fact, I have already pulled a quad muscle by running Johnson Crane too hard and trying to slip back into my training schedule a day later without resting.

In chatting to my coach, he reminded me that my goal for 2012 is speed, not Two Oceans and unfortunately this year, I can only choose one.

I’ve chosen speed.

My hope is that if I can work on running faster, and start making those cut-off times by a good half hour or so, I will in fact not stress as much and enjoy my runs. That is the end goal.

Two Oceans will be there next year. And the next…

Since having made the decision, I am at peace and have a clearer view of my running goals ahead of me. But I am sad. Very sad. Some of my running friends have tried their very best to convince me otherwise and to run the race “for fun.” But it’s not fun when I’m running my guts out and still see a man at the finish line holding a cut-off gun.

I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that I was too afraid to make the decision. But the decision has to be what’s right for me, for my body, not anyone else. I kept worrying about what everyone would think. Would they all see it as quitting? 

To be honest, I’m tired (mentally and physically) of scraping through and just making it. I don’t want to run at 8mins/km anymore. I want to achieve a half marathon time of 2h40. Or 2h30. Even 2h20! I want to run faster!

That’s my goal!