“A fully trained athlete is on the verge of illness all the time. Someone once said this when asked how much training you should do: “it is a bit like blowing up a balloon. You blow, you blow a bit more and then POP, back to square one”.
Dave Cannon in a profile published in the Winter 2017 issue of Fellrunner.
This comes from a profile I wrote of him after I met him in 2017, when he was working as elite athlete coordinator for the London Marathon. He was British Fell Champion in 1972, and later moved to the marathon to run 2-11.
I had a long and fascinating chat with him at Marathon HQ, about his running, on the fells in particular, and also his marathon running days and work with elite marathoners, including coaching Kenny Stuart.
Cannon was known as a great descender on the fells, and gave this description of competing in the Whernside Junior race:
You have a wall to get over when descending. Well I was coming down so fast, I was not going to stop to climb it, so I took off a few yards from the wall, got one foot on top and over! There was a fell race follower watching the race at this point and he said to me afterwards that he had never seen anything like it before. I hadn’t the heart to tell him it hadn’t been intentional.
The full article can be read here [PDF link], and includes some great stories about his training and racing, together with him talking about being diagnosed with ME/CFS, which effectively finished his career.
Cannon is one of four case studies on CFS that are included in an article I wrote with Steve Birkinshaw, which was entitled Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in elite athletes, and was also published in Fellrunner.
More thoughts from the coach’s viewpoint on the marathon journey for three club athletes. Since the original blog post, an exciting marathon journey, there have been two months of great training, interspersed with weather disruptions and some injury and recovery issues to address. The three athletes (who retain their anonymity* for these blog posts, for the moment) have handled the build-up well, considering their differing degrees of disruptive incidents.
TP has had the clearest run of training weeks, clocking the eight weeks of January and February at a steady build.
The Strava graphic shows that build since serious training started. It pretty much exactly matched the plan I had set, with easier weeks included at regular intervals. On a low-ish mileage plan agreed with me it has been interesting to hear TP looking with wonder (and possibly envy, I suspect) at the mileages two of the club’s top runner’s are putting down (up to 100 miles per week just now). The last week of Feb for TP was 48.5 miles.
The great thing about the build has been the long run progression (in miles): which has gone 11.6, 15, 16, 17, 15, 18.5, 20, 18, 19.5. All have been handled with increasing confidence, and parallel increases in leg weariness. The 15 mile week was a mini taper to do a half marathon, picking up a PB on the way, for another confidence boost.
Reading back through TP’s online diary, which is virtually always the first to be completed for me to review, shows only very minor disruptions. A bit of a cold in January didn’t hold things back too much, and the comment after the 18.5 miles (longest run at time) was:
Painfull toenail, but if that is the worst then I am OK with that.
SP had some foot issues in December that necessitated some days off, and two very low mileage weeks in the steady comeback. Insoles that were supposed to ease the foot issues in fact produced massive blisters, which were a problem for quite a while, which SP seemed to gutsily ignore (I will spare you a photo of the damage!). The positive attitude is shown by this diary entry, after a 16 mile run in January:
Really tough run today, legs felt heavy and tired. [TP] pulled me round most of the way but got it done, that’s the main thing. Blisters heeling well, think the 2 days off helped. Onwards and upwards!
Despite this issue, the build-up went pretty well, going from 35 miles in the first week of the year to 43.8 by the end of February. There were long runs of: 12.2, 15.2, 16, 17, 14, 18.5, 20, 18, 19.4. The 14 mile week was for a new PB in a half marathon, part of my standard marathon preparation planning. Talking of which, SP is monikered from having added a neat ‘Planning’ tab to the diary that indicates exactly how each week was planned to happen, giving coach great information and encouragement on the commitment that was going into the training.
So, despite hiccups the long runs have been great, and the weekly mileage good, though sometimes less than the plan. SP is very sensitive to this shortfall, and gets (unnecessarily in the bigger scheme of things) stressed about it, which usually involves a WhatsApp discussion between us, with me just trying to keep things in perspective.
On a week with 5.5 miles shortfall (from a plan remember, so all relative) SP Whatsapped me:
My foot is really sore and decided an extra 6 miles wouldn’t be productive. Unfortunately it does leave me 5.5 miles short which I am not happy about.
One week later the longest week’s training (including a first 20 miler) had been done, and another week on, and with a solo 18 mile run in the bag, I was sent this photo to show things were back on track.
Two of the greatest pleasures of working closely with athletes are seeing them overcome setbacks, and the joy with which they let you know that they have.
HT had got up to 15 miles on the long run by mid-January, but then holidays took priority and three very quiet week’s ensued (in terms of both HT’s mileage and in the banter level at the track!). Since then the mileage has been erratic, but the long runs have been fitted in diligently, with 14, 17 and 18.2 completed strongly to the end of February. Circumstances have to be taken into account in any coach-athlete relationship, and I was well aware of HT being in a difficult place in some aspects of life at the moment. We had a short heart-to-heart at one point, agreeing that in the circumstances a lowering of the expectation that we should both have regarding a potential finish time for the VLM would be best. After the discussion I received a positive message, looking forward:
Thanks for caring. It’s just hard to get motivated sometimes, I’m just up and down! See you tomorrow at track!
So in a positive mood all three athletes were due to run in the Rhayader Round the Lakes 20 mile event on the first weekend in March. A trip away, a change of training scenery, and a bunch of fun was anticipated. Unfortunately this was when the ridiculously named ‘Beast from the East’ hit the UK. The snow conditions meant that travel was risky and the trip was off.
All got out together at home and managed 19.5 miles training in ‘slushy and slippery’ conditions, prompting a WhatsApp photo and message: ‘Tough conditions but all done, Stevo!’
Seven more weeks of training. All three need to take that attitude forward.
* The identifiers are not their initials, but are respectively: TP = Teacher’s Pet; SP = Spreadsheet Planner; and HT = Holiday Time; for reason’s best known to me, but which might have become obvious as we progress.
I had a lightning trip to the Lakes for a talk and a walk last week. The train up went well and I strolled down to Wilfs to set up for my Bob Graham Round (BGR) talk, part of their Slide-Supper series. I always get nervous before giving these talks, so it was great to get the laptop in place and checked out. Having long-term friend Mike Cambray there in support, and also to meet Richard Davies (technically an ‘internet friend’, I suppose) and Mel Steventon for a chat before we started helped me relax. We all had a fab casserole and rustic bread, and a coffee or tea (or a beer from the next door Hawkshead beer hall) before getting down to business.
I have revised the talk from the first time I gave it, adding video clips of my friend Neil Walker’s BGR, some very short readings from ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, and some belting stuff from the ever-quotable BG record holder Billy Bland. The latter were from the excellent ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ evening that Mel Steventon’s Due North Events had organised in Keswick last month. It was great to see Mel at Wilfs, shyly raising her hand with a few others when I asked who in the audience was perhaps thinking of doing a BGR.
A great quote from Billy Bland I shared concerned how hard he pushed himself, and whether he felt pain when running hard. At the Keswick evening his considered response, when asked this, had been:
I have never felt pain in my life when running, and I mean that …….. I consider I trained hard, but I may have given up easy sometimes. John Wild would run till he was sick. You wouldn’t catch me doing that, I’d just slow down. My strong point was preparing myself for what I was going to do.
One book quote I used was from Jim Mann (the winter BG record holder), who on one day was carrying the GPS tracking device (which transmitted his progress to a map on a website) for Steve Birkinshaw on his all the Wainwrights record effort [whose book launch I had attended in his very room]:
Steve was having a [power] kip on one of the tops, and I was trying to draw a picture on top of the fell by moving around with the tracker. I just needed a 6-7 minutes to get it done, but he work up too soon.
I finished the talk with some thoughts on how BGR completers, their pacers and their reccies were adding significantly to the path erosion on some of the fells. At the end I commented that it might be good to consider this impact, try to lessen it, which is something the Bob Graham Club are highlighting. I suggested offsetting it by contributing to groups doing footpath repair/improvement work.
One such group is the excellent organisation Fix the Fells. We took a beanie hat collection of loose change, and with that and some money from my book sales I was able to send a donation of £45 to Fix the Fells. Thanks to all those who contributed.
The next day Mike and I slipped back down to Wilfs for a filling breakfast whilst waiting and hoping that the weather was about to clear. I am gradually working through bagging the Wainwrights and we highlighted two over Patterdale way that would do nicely for a short day. Arnison Crag and Birks provided a great walk, with superb views of snow-clad summits all round from the latter. Coming off the sharp end of Birks we saw caches of large rocks, which looked liked they had been helicoptered in to do some path improvement there.
That is it for book talks for the moment. The next up are a ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ with Due North Events in Skipton in May, and a double bill with Joss Naylor at the Buxton Adventure Festival in June [see links to book places].