Thursday, 14 July 2011

How do we truly know where our limits are?

Five years ago, or something like that, I bought a second hand Concept 2 indoor rower because
a) I hated running (back then anyway)
b) my fitness was seriously falling off and I had no structure to what I was doing

Back then, I thought 10km was a reasonably long distance on it, I also thought a sub-7min 2000m was beyond me.  I never made the latter (7:14 PB in 2006) although I think if I'd maintained focus on the rower it would only have been a matter of time.  But looking back at my statistics, I can see my half marathon time coming down by 8 minutes, and it's no longer a distance that bothers me, in fact these days the longer the better.  I'm unlikely to be a record holder on it, but I can put in the efforts that I once thought beyond me.

Same with the bike, 100miles is no longer a frightening proposition.  Yes, I respect it, and I know it will take me 5-6 hours and I will suffer intermittently, but with the right kind of preparation it's well within my capability.

Well, what about running?  The thing that triggered it was one new year's eve coming home into the village around midday and seeing cars all over the place and people dressed in running gear wandering around clutching bottles of beer.  I later found out that it was the finishers reward for a regular 10km road race. The next year I missed getting my entry in on time (it's a very popular race), but I've done it three times now, bringing my PB down from 51 mins to 45:35.  Again, not going to trouble the timekeepers, but after that first attempt the thoughts were "how the [heck] am I ever going to get any faster than this? I'm [rather] tired"

So where's this all leading?

Ever noticed how famous athletes and coaches always seem to be going on about how "it's not your body but your mind that is the limiting factor", or "you don't know your limits unless you push on through them". So how the hell do we know what we can really do?

I've been working for part of this week in Hythe on the southern coast of the UK (no photos this week, didn't have my camera, sorry), and getting in a couple of easy runs and one described as hard tempo run in prep for my first HM in August (again I never thought I'd be saying that).  The terrain there is similar to where I live, flat with a few very small hills.  I went to do this tempo run alongside a canal on a grassy path that was flat, but lumpy.  Prescription was a mile warm up, then 30 minutes at target HM pace minus 10-15s, or 7:25-7:30 per mile.

I did this:
total 6.12mi / 46:03 / ave 7:31 / AR 151 / MHR 165 / cad 90
Warm up 8:05 / AHR 129 / M138 cad 86 
Tempo section 30:00 / 4.12mi / 7:16 / AHR 156 / M165 / 92 
Cool down 7:57 / AHR 156 / M162 / 91

I've no idea where this came from, faster than target pace by a measurable amount, and with an HR 10 bpm lower than my slower 10km PB.

I also did my first double this week, an early morning run followed by an evening row, both short, but a first nonetheless.

And then I read things like this or some of the Western States 100, and Badwater write ups.

All great fun wondering where the limits will end up, and making me think that perhaps, my idea of a 60km ultra of my own in late November might not be beyond the limits after all, especially if I just approach it as a chance to enjoy myself?

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