Jay’s Running Tips (stop laughing!) #1: Count up, Count down

countIt’s not often that I post proper running tips on here, mostly because I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a proper runner. The danger of me writing such an article is that it would invariably be something along the lines of “10 ways to improve your marathon PB using a Frisbee and a jar of pitted olives”. But the other day while banging out a sweat-tastic interval session I stumbled upon something I found quite useful, so I hope you will too.

I love interval training. I love the fact that it doesn’t take up much time, so it’s ideal for a lunchtime session or a quickie before work. I love the effect it has on my speed (if you can call it that). I love the sheer pushed-to-the-very-limits aaaaargh-ness of it.

What I don’t love is the way my brain doesn’t agree with any of the above.

Allow me to explain. I do my interval training on the treadmill at work, purely because it’s easier to keep tabs on the time/distance that way and because sometimes it’s just a nice indulgence to have an indoors  run with the telly on*. But as much as I enjoy these sessions, I find that (the workshy) part of me is always desperate for the hard bits to be over and I end up watching the numbers slooooowly ticking past on the treadmill display. Even when I manage to look away, I’ll still be juggling mental arithmetic, trying to work out how many excruciating seconds I’ve got left before the next recovery phase. I hate myself for this; I run because I choose to, not because it’s some awful chore that I’ve been forced into. I should be relishing every step (and to be fair, most of me does. It’s just the tiny part of me that longs for an easy life that I take issue with).

But I think I may have found the answer. Counting**.

I read somewhere that Paula Radcliffe, who likes a bit of running, counts her steps in multiples of 100 during races***. This is partly because it’s a technique of disassociation and also because she knows that, based on her cadence, three sets of 100 steps equals one mile. A cunning tactic, but no help to me. I needed something that wouldn’t allow me to dwell on how long I had left to go, something that couldn’t be easily divided into chunks of discomfort which I could then mentally tick off as I hurtled towards the next sweet recovery phase.

Simple solution then: Choose a number that’s outside my mathematical comfort zone, especially while in the mind-fog of high intensity training. Okay, so that’s any number.

So, I decided to give it a whirl. After setting up an interval programme on the treadmill, I proceeded to cover up the display using pieces of paper. I had considered using black tape, but didn’t want the whole thing to look like a photoshoot for a highly specialist edition of Readers Wives. Then I set off exactly as usual, except rather than fixing my sweat-stung gaze on the LED display I just relaxed and counted my steps

I counted to 35, a number chosen completely at random, and then when I got to 35 I counted back down to 1 again. I then kept this going until the machine beeped to signal that the first fast-paced bit was over.  I repeated this for each interval, choosing a different number every time in case my treacherous brain suddenly went all Rain Man and started doing maths at me.

One great thing about this technique is that, because the numbers don’t actually mean anything, it really doesn’t matter if you lose count, miss a few, or accidentally start listing characters from popular 1980’s cartoon “He-Man” instead of numbers.

Free from the tyranny of little red glowing numbers, I was able to just enjoy every step of the run, relishing the experience rather than wishing it away.

For all I know, it might be a technique that’s already been around for ages, but it’s a new one on me. I’ll certainly be using it in future runs whenever things get mentally tough. While digging around for the Paula Radcliffe thing, I found this article, which is definitely well worth a read.

So… now that I’ve written a post about running tips, does that make me a coach? Do I need to buy my own whistle, or will someone from the IAAF pop round with one?

* I’ve found that MTV works better than Countryfile, by the way.
** I would have preferred a technique that involves colouring-in, but this’ll do for now.  
*** I’m not the brightest spark, so most races would be long-over by the time I finished counting to 100. Running barefoot would get me to twenty, but then I’d have to start asking marshals to take their shoes and socks off if I wanted to count higher, and they always look at you funny when you do that. 

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