38. At last, the rewards of strife

winter-trees-sunset.jpgTwice this week, I had company whilst running. On Monday, I ran with my boss.

No gentle outing this, perpetually waiting for the breathless old codger to catch up, for this boss is different. Different enough to have a 2:52 marathon PB.

Naturally, we don’t run anywhere near that fast (it wouldn’t be possible for me, even for 400 m), and James is courteous enough to try to keep to a comfortable pace. But the key word is ‘try’, for somehow we always seem to end up at the extreme high end of my speed scale. It makes for some interesting discussions about projects – full, thoughtful and lucid analysis from James, desperate, pathetic and gasping excuses or apologies from me.After a mile and a half, I feel like a tiring 1 500 m runner on the leader’s shoulder approaching the bell, two paces behind and hanging on. But when I grit to pull alongside, magically the pace increases to re-open that 2 stride gap, and I never am able to close it down. It’s good to run together, but I have to limit this kind of running whilst I’m marathon training. Not just to avoid coronary seizure, but also to limit bodily damage and fatigue. Maybe like this, I’ll never really get faster, but it’s regular training that I’m seeking, rather than too much too-fast training.

Our route takes us up a small hill, and James’ legs are lifting gazelle-like in front of me. My oxygen deficit is reaching critical levels, and I whimper that we should take a walk break. Fortunately, we have to wait to cross a busy road, and by pretending to do up my shoe laces I earn the 30 seconds required to restore respiratory function, and we can carry on. It’s gradually downhill back to the office, and I almost keep up. But I’m stiff the next day, even though it was only 5 miles, and I have to take it easier on runs like this.

My schedule for the rest of the week (if there IS a schedule, a thought open to interesting debate) is completely out of kilter. It’s a step-back week, and although I’m not sure if that’s really in the plan, I’ve awarded myself one again anyway. A longer run of 10-12 miles sounds good, and maybe I’ll do a sortalong one somewhere too. But I’m skiving off the speedwork.

I’ve a mid-week meeting which takes me over to Reading, and afterwards I meet an old running partner who is working in Thames Valley Park. His company has a fantastic set-up, with a huge gym the size of a basketball court, running and rowing machines galore, sumptuous showers, and soft complementary towels.

The changing area is adorned with motivational messages outling the company’s ‘Wellness Campaign‘, and even in mid-afternoon, there are people coming and going from the gym all the time. For now, it’s how the other half work, but maybe it’s an enlightened vision of the future by an employer who recognises the value of a fit and healthy staff. Indeed, my friend’s boss is one of several joining the company-sponsored boat for a leg of a forthcoming round-the world yacht race. Now that’s real business travel….

There are running route maps pinned helpfully to the wall, and we pick up a thoughtfully-provided and free sheet of route directions before heading out. A five mile loop into Reading along the Thames, and then a second five mile loop down the less scenic A4 to the riverside village of Sonning and back.

Long runs have been a perpetual struggle in this campaign, and this time it goes… splendidly. The pace is perfect, the discussion is good, and my legs never find the chance to complain. Last week’s motivational crisis required 14 Rich Tea biscuits and 1.3 litres of water to fix, but this time we need… no walking breaks at all. Ten miles in 1:29 and still (nearly) fresh at the end. The feelgood factor is further enhanced by a fireside pint of lager at the Jekyll and Hyde pub.

Now, I could put this almost perfect run down to more rest this week, the hard work behind me so far, or a change in nutrition. Maybe the warmer weather (which really helps) or the promise of a beer at the end (which helps even more). But it’s the conversation which has made the difference, as well as running with someone who runs at a pace similar to my own. Talking keeps my mind off the running, and more than that it dictates a comfortable and even pace.

Another day off (I’m getting generous) and then a sortalong run up Prestwood Hill, site of a desperate struggle just a fortnight ago. There’s a blustery wind, and steady rain, but I manage to stick to a slow, conversational pace on the way out. It’s a key breakthrough which enables me to finish the second half of this seven and a half miler. I’m two minutes faster overall (which is irrelevant, since I’m just happy to have completed it comfortably for once).

The weather means that there’s no one around to hear my monologue, which I become only half sure isn’t spoken out loud, especially when I startle a group just coming out of prayer at the mosque near the office. Outwardly like many another suburban bungalow beside the A23, this one is on a much smaller scale than the magnificent and huge building in Woking, which is a white multi-turreted palace almost like a miniature of the Taj Mahal. Here in Crawley, only the appearance of a small minaret on the roof, where the bungalow’s chimney certainly used to be, reveals this as a place of worship.

Today I saw my first daffodils of the year, smiling by the roadside, and whilst those I planted along our front fence in early December have yet to awaken, the days do slowly lengthen now, marking their advance in a gradual advance of the dawn as I drive to work. Last month I turned the lights off only in the car park, last week in Charlwood, and this week in Newdigate (yes, I was a bit late – sorry, James).

Next week I may even see Dorking in daylight for the first time in three months – an exciting prospect indeed. I’ll keep you closely informed.

Related articles:
24. Things I have learned… #267
112. Forests of fire and iron – Surrey Hills 1
42. Twenty six times two – marathon dreams in the Surrey Hills
76. A year of running, rainily
31. Running slow

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