I'm just back from the Helensburgh half marathon. I finished in 1 hour 31 minutes (and 20 seconds, just for the record). It is the 3rd half marathon in a row where I have failed to beat 1 hour 30, so I am now resigned to the fact that I am a 'has been'. It doesn't seem that long since I had a disappointing run at Glen Clova and 'only' managed 1.26 (November 2003, according to my records), or where I did the Mull half marathon in 1.28 a week after a really good 43 mile time at the Devil O' The Highlands footrace (just a year ago, August 2005). It is a bit longer since I was throwing out sub 1.20 half marathons like confetti at a wedding (ok, I only managed it on 3 occasions, during 1996 and 1997, but I exaggerate to make the point. I am now running almost a full minute a mile slower.)
What has caused this remarkable deterioration? There are a few possible reasons:
1. After reaching 40 in January this year my body has fallen apart;
2. All the ultra running (and the specific ultra running training) has meant that I'm in good shape to run 95 miles up the West Highland Way, but not in great shape to run at a faster pace;
3. I'm not training hard enough;
4. I'm still not fully recovered from the WHW.
I don't think 1 or 4 are valid reasons. In terms of 1, my body should not have fallen apart exactly 40 years after I was born - if it has then that is a remarkable co-incidence. In terms of 4, it has been 6 weeks since the WHW so I should have recovered by now. Also, WHW tiredness can't be used an excuse for my 1.31 in Edinburgh at the end of March, or for my 1.31 at Loch Leven at the end of May. So we're left with 2 and 3. Both of these have some merit. A few years ago Dario, the WHW race organiser, expressed some surprise at my half marathon times, believing them to be too quick for a real ultra runner. "Wait a few years", I remember him saying, "and the ultra running will have slowed you down dramatically". It looks like his prediction has come true. I am currently finding it difficult to run quickly on the roads for any more than a few miles as my hamstrings get really sore. This happened again today. It is a bit of a vicious circle. When I run hard on the roads or on the track, my hamstrings get sore. This means I do not tend to run hard, but instead go for gentle long runs on trails, up hills and anywhere else where I don't have to run too hard. While this is enjoyable, it means I am not training as hard as I should be, so my times get worse.
Perhaps I should be more positive, however. At my medical last year, the doctor told me that long slow running (such as the WHW training runs) was the ideal way for someone of my age to train, particularly someone who holds a relatively stressful job. His view was that this will allow me to keep running for the rest of my life, whereas bashing out track repetitions will inevitably lead to longer term injury problems. Maybe I just need to accept it. I'm no longer able to set personal bests on the road. My focus is now on events like the WHW, which regular readers of this blog will realise is a special event to me. I've completed 6 already and my times have been good - generally in the top 20 each year, a best time of 21 hours 39, and currently 59th on the all time list.
Mind you, I still hate being beaten by runners I used to beat comfortably..:(