It was great to spend time with the family in the Peak District last weekend, and take our Ordnance Survey maps out for a wander. We had a fabulous house booked in Hope for the weekend and planned to do some walking and climbing if possible, as well as just enjoying quality time together. There was snow on the tops and it was cold, so bouldering wasn’t a good option, and we set out to get some snow walking in on the first day.
Coming up to Thornhill Brink there was snow on the ground and then suddenly in the air. Trundling on to Win Hill there was almost a whiteout, and a fun scramble through the iced rocks to Winhill Pike.
To make a circuit we headed down in deep snow towards Yorkshire Bridge and then along Thornhill Carrs, with Bamford Edge now appearing through the misty clouds.
Heading down towards Aston we had marvellous views of the delightfully named Shatton Moor, before heading down and home.
On the Sunday there was more snow and, with two youngsters in carriers with us, we did a low level circuit to Castleton and back, out via the path alongside Peakshole Water and back via the paths behind Losehill Hall. Great walking, muddy in parts and no views to speak off. I had seen that there was an event in Castleton that day and wondered if we would see any competitors from Round 4 of Peak Raid 2017. It is a four hour score orienteering event, and we saw just one entrant coming in to Castleton. He seemed happy enough about his lot.
Two great walks, which have just got me thinking excitedly about our next trip, which is for 5 days to the Lakes at half term. Included in this trip is the unique ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ event on Friday 9th Feb in Keswick, for which tickets are selling fast (but still available as I write).
My coaching has suddenly become more interesting and challenging this winter, thanks to three athletes. I will try to explain why.
I have been coaching for well over 30 years, and much of it has been fairly unmemorable on looking back, consisting of running group sessions for groups of senior and young athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy that type of coaching, as I noted in an earlier post on the anatomy of a track session. I have also worked with many different athletes over those years, some of whom feature in the dark art of coaching. I have also at times tried to work with athletes whom I consider uncoachable, and wrote a piece called coached or uncoachable on this topic.
So, what was the cause of the big uplift in my current excitement about coaching? It was the instigation of what I call ProjectVLM.
Back in early October I agreed to coach three athletes at my club through to the Virgin London Marathon, in April 2018. Appropriately it is two virgin marathoners, and one with a little more experience. I have been asked on a number of occasions whether I am going to write a coaching book some time, and I always say ‘no’, as I am not sure I have anything original to say on the topic. However, I have written down my thoughts on training for a marathon, in an article called there is no one right way to train for a marathon – some thoughts. These thoughts are the basis for the training pattern I will be advising these marathon aspirants to undertake.
Once we had agreed to work more closely together on ProjectVLM (all three train in my group session normally) I suggested we all have a meal out together to seal the arrangement and discuss the way forward. More than that it was a chance to get to know them all a little better, and suss out how they ticked, if I could. We sat down at Fantozzi’s and I was immediately presented with a surprise. One of the team announced that they had done a session together to acknowledge the start of a new phase of training. I naively assumed that ‘doing a session’ involved them having run hard together in some way. I tried to keep a straight face when it was gleefully revealed to me that the ‘session’ had in fact been going out on the lash together! I hadn’t even discussed the training load with them by this stage, but it was explained that they all thought it would be the last chance they had to have a social life of any sort for the next 6 months or more, due to the amount of training they were expecting me to be advising them to do.
Over excellent Italian food I explained how I envisaged we might work together, what commitments I expected from them, and also what support I would be offering to them. Fundamentally, we agreed that a gradual build-up of both mileage and long runs (with easier weeks interspersed) was appropriate. Also, that recording training online (in a diary) and sharing with me would help me monitor progress, and that they would be on the same schedule initially (they are of similar abilities), but that I would adjust individually according to how they coped with the training.
A schedule is actually a misnomer in this case, as I was only planning on setting targets for each week, in terms of overall effort and long runs. Knowing they all have busy lives to lead there is no daily schedule, and it is up to them to arrange what they do day by day to suit what is happening in that particular week. One other tenet is for them all to keep some speed and speed endurance in place in their training, so as not to become long slow runners. To this end Tuesday track and Thursday club sessions feature as much as possible. To try to make the (long) miles go as well as possible they are encouraged to meet as often as is reasonable during the week and at weekends, to get the runs in in company – which makes long runs so much more pleasurable.
So how has October, November and December gone? Well, not as smoothly as we all would have liked. Three athletes, one injury that stopped everything for a couple of weeks, one enforced illness break and one workload that precluded much training for a whole month. Having said that, in general there has been a great commitment shown, with two of the team regularly clocking weeks just as specified, albeit with some tiredness noted in the diary comments.
Why am I excited by all this? Well, all three athletes have great personalities and are really good to work with, and as I get to know them better I am starting to note particular characteristics in them all. Some of these characteristics are likely to bring results both in the next training phase and the eventual race result, and some have to be addressed where possible, so as to not be allowed to have negative impacts. This is not the place to highlight them (good or bad), but my task as coach is to try to find a good way (and time) to address them individually.
I get a buzz when I see, or hear about, a particularly good session or full week’s training being completed, but experience a somewhat impotent angst when things don’t go well. For instance, what does a coach do if training just doesn’t seem to be happening at the suggested level, or even not at all? At the end of the day you are just a guide. If an athlete just can’t train, or won’t, there is little you can do. You can offer sympathy, try to find out the background details and then try to encourage the athlete and provide a collaborative and supportive environment.
I am watching the development of the group dynamic with interest. One athlete seems to always put their diary entries up first and make it more readable, respond to a Whatsapp request immediately, and also meet all the training requirements exactly on the dot and to the decimal place. This has earned the sobriquet of ‘teacher’s pet’ from the other two, which is now a running joke (pun intended)!
We are now in January, which is designated as further build-up, gradually increasing the training load, interspersed with some easier weeks. Next month will see the first of some keynote races (starting with a half marathon), that will be used to monitor progress and help with understanding the individual’s capabilities, and thus eventually a good guide to what pace to set on the day. A further post will follow later, as we progress the project together.
For now I remain excited about working with them all, and am starting to anticipate what they might achieve come marathon day.
It’s a new year and fresh opportunities to share my love of fell running. I am involved in some talks throughout the year to which you are warmly invited. They include gigs with two of my absolute sports heroes – Joss Naylor and Billy Bland. I also have the germ of an idea for a fourth book, which I have started thinking seriously about starting work on.
The first of the gigs is ‘An evening with Billy Bland’, which is on Friday 9th February, at the Skiddaw Hotel in Keswick. Billy Bland is one of the most prominent fell runners in the history of the sport and is now into the 36th year as the holder of the Bob Graham Round record. He will join me for an evening to answer your questions. It will be unscripted, and a chance to interact with the Borrowdale fell legend. It will be introduced, and compered, by myself (and hosted by Due North Events). Billy has specifically asked for maximum audience participation. He is known for training and racing hard, and for having an opinion or two! So, think what you would like to ask him, and bring your questions along and be part of what should be a fascinating evening. You need to book in advance, and can obtain tickets here.
The second is part of the marvellous Wilfs Café Slide and Supper series. I will be talking on ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, on Thursday 8th March, in Staveley. This illustrated talk will detail the history of the Bob Graham Round & explore the what, why and how of this classic fell endurance challenge. It will cover its development from a more or less idle challenge to its present status as a rite of passage for endurance runners. Interspersed with this detail of the round are snapshots of many of the event’s most significant individuals: innovators, record setters, recorders and supporters. Finally, some thoughts on why Billy Bland’s record time for the BGR has lasted since 1982, whether someone will soon beat it, and also concerns about the impact it’s challengers are having on the environment. Details, and for booking a place.
Thirdly, I am excited to be sharing a stage at the Buxton Adventure Festival with Joss Naylor. For Joss it is ‘Life and times of a fell running legend’, and my contribution will be ‘an exploration of the what, why and how of the classic fell endurance challenge that is the Bob Graham Round’. It is on Tues 19 June, at the Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton.
Further details, and link for tickets. Don’t hesitate to book, as I understand that demand for all three gigs is high and all may well sell out. Bonus: my three fell running books will be available at each event, and there may even be some signing!
Finally, I have started on the background work for a potential new book. I am not able to say exactly what it is about as yet, and am at the moment working on securing the agreement and cooperation of one vital collaborator. That is all I can say just now. More will be revealed later, but suffice it to say I am very excited about the possibility of it coming to fruition.