As I am training for Himeji marathon on February 11th, I have been looking for advice, methods and inspiration to help me shave the last few minutes off my time to get under three hours. At the age of 57, there is only one way my times are going to go if I only stick with the status quo. I have to get better just to clock the same times. One problem is that I don’t have the willpower to do the intense, repetitive training sessions considered by many to be essential to improving times. Another problem is the niggling, long-term Achilles injury that flares up whenever I increase my training. I need to find a way to improve my times without destroying my Achilles while still enjoying my training.
Inspiration has come in two ways, both from recommendations of triathlon friends. Mika posted a link to a French TV documentary on the Japanese marathon runner, Yuki Kawauchi, entitled “L’incroyable Monsieur K”. I’d heard of Kawauchi and his individualistic approach to endurance running, but this documentary really put his achievements into perspective. As a devout amateur, he has managed to continue his full-time job as a civil servant working in Saitama, while becoming perhaps the most successful Japanese distance runner in recent times. While everyone else follows strict, scientific training regimes, he seems to succeed through self-discipline and logging high mileages, many in races. Basically, much of his training is through racing.
The incredible Mr. K
With this in mind, I registered for two local races this month, a 30-kilometre along the Tama River, and another one week later in Saitama. During my regular training runs, I rarely manage to reach race speed, and then for only a few kilometres. However, whenever I enter a race, I find myself running at a pace I cannot imagine sustaining in training. For example, in December I did several training runs over 20 kilometres, but my average pace would be between 5:15 and 5:30. On Saturday, I did the Tama 30k run at an average pace of 4:14. What on earth is going on? Am I just lazy in training? Even factoring in the hilly roads and trails I train on, it is hard to draw any other conclusion.
The other recommendation came from Niall who has run a marathon in 2:46. He mentioned the book “The Sports Gene” which I am now racing to finish. In some ways, it is a little depressing as it puts a strong case for the importance of genetics in deciding who is to become a top athlete. However, it also makes the point that everyone is genetically different so one training method does not suit all athletes. Instead, it is necessary to find what works for you. This is something I have been thinking about for a long time. It seems that many triathletes invest heavily in supposedly scientific training programmes which may or may not work for them. I prefer to take bits and pieces from as many sources as possible, try them out, see how they feel, and then make them my own. A sort of inverse o-makase approach to sport.