Running the Numbers – Training without Technology

This post is about getting back into my running game in 2020.

For the first few weeks of 2020, I struggled to find the motivation to go out running. My preparations for last year’s Charlie Ramsay Round were particularly intensive, and I hadn’t scheduled a race or challenge to get me psyched up in quite the same way. I’ve since signed up for the Arran Skyline, part of the UK Skyrunner Series; long distance races over exposed, mountainous terrain taking in thousands of metres of ascent.

An impromptu trip to Arran in November 2019. This formed an early recce for the Skyline race, as well as a superb one day public transport-based adventure from Glasgow!

For me, it’s not so much the challenge or event that is important. It’s the training and preparation that goes into it, which would not happen without the end goal. I know well that running does incredible things for my physical and mental well being, but for some reason this doesn’t seem to be enough to get me out of the door. Having something to work towards gives me that boost I need.

My main training aims for last year were mileage and ascent. I figured that the more I did, the better I would be at covering the 60 miles and 8000 m ascent of the Ramsay Round. This worked well in practice, but I was fortunate not to be more seriously affected by some achilles tendinitis as the mileage cranked up. This year, I’ve resolved to take a much more methodical and structured approach, under the guidance of my mountain marathon partner Iain.

That being said, running will always be for fun, and if I get too regimented and analytical, it can suck the joy from it. In January, I was down in the Borders with some friends and headed out for a 2 1/2 run in the hills around Peebles. Conditions were dreadful but it was exactly what I needed; a good blasting of rain and wind and the wonderful solitude of the hills.

As I approached our accommodation on the way back, I met a few of the group walking the other way and they asked me how far I’d run. Perhaps 10 miles? I didn’t know. Utmost surprise was expressed at my lack of smartphone or GPS tracker – how would I know how many miles I’d covered? I’d have nothing to show for my efforts! This approach of ‘collecting’ things has become commonplace in the millennial generation, be it Instagram photos, travel experiences or ‘bagging’ the next Munro. The focus seems to be on validating choices through the approval of others, rather than quietly appreciating things for oneself.

‘If it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count!’ is an adage jokingly used by friends. I spent some time reflecting on why some people consider the data; the proof, important. I can certainly see the interest in looking back at the miles run and being proud at what’s been accomplished. Even better, if serious training is the aim then all this data can inform decisions on how best to approach future events.

But for me, it was, is, and always will be a chance to escape from the constant hum of information that is ever-present in everyday life. It’s really important to be without this technology while out running (with the exception of when it’s required for safety). Heading into the hills is an opportunity to step away from the connected world, to let one’s mind wander and experience the physical sensations in the body without the normal distractions. Sometimes I’ll come back from a run with a head full of new ideas that would otherwise have been lost in the noise of the phone or smart watch. I don’t need to know how many kilometres I’ve run or how fast my heart is beating for that.

So, besides deciding to keep leaving the phone at home, I’m planning hill and sprint sessions, a fast (a.k.a. ‘tempo’) run, a long run, one or two strength and conditioning sessions and plenty of yoga and stretching every week. It’ll be very much a case of quality over quantity, prioritising rest, recovery and eating well over banging out the miles. Whilst there is no GPS track to upload, I do keep a careful record of my progress in a good old-fashioned spreadsheet. The satisfaction others take from getting ‘kudos’ on Strava, I take from inputting SUM functions to work out my weekly mileage!

With 3 1/2 months to go until Arran, I’ve laid down a solid base with a good mix of commuting miles on the bike to work and short, sharp sprint sessions, giving the legs a wonderful springy feeling. I’ve also been throwing some meditation and cold water swimming into the mix (more on that later), which have really helped my clarity of thought and self discipline.

Ultimately, the performance in the race in a few months time is unimportant. What really counts is how I feel day to day; the confidence, positivity and optimism that comes from a structured and disciplined approach to training.

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