Tuesday night = group training smash fest night!

It’s 6.15pm, I’m lying snuggled up with my 6-year-old daughter among her abundant cuddly toys on her incredibly soft and comfy bed. It’s warm, cosy and she’s reading to me in her cute little voice. Just because my eyelids are closing and sleep is taking over my tired body, it doesn’t mean I don’t love her, I’m just totally exhausted after a long day’s work. I’m now drifting off into a blissful sleep when I remember – with a slight jolt – that its Tuesday: in roughly 30 minutes my fellow Cheltenham Harriers will be meeting for our main training session of the week. The thought of pushing myself to the physical limit fills me with nausea. An internal dialogue springs up: I can’t get up… I have to get up… One session missed is not the end of the world… But the guys will get quicker than me… I’ll train harder tomorrow… But my coach will shout at me. Eventually, I get up.

Kiki finishes the book and I tuck her in. I don my running shoes, say goodnight to Barney (my 7-year-old boy) then give Rach (wife) a kiss and head off into the rain for a 3 mile run to the Prince of Wales track – the site that our coach Dave Newport has selected for tonight’s pain. The music on my iPod helps a lot and after a few minutes the heart rate rises and the first endorphins start moving. It’s usually fine once you get going. I run down the High Street avoiding a few drunken revellers spilling out of the pubs, people in suits heading home from work and the odd shopper finishing their spree. But with music blaring in my ears and a light bouncy stride (it’s slightly downhill and I’m only 1.5 miles in) I’m content to believe they’re thinking how fast and pro I look. To them – I later realise – I look like a bedraggled skinny runner with pink headphones, a rucksack and a strange see-through jacket on.

I get to the stadium just as the rest of the group have finished the warm up jog – a 2 mile run on the Honeybourne Line (a flat tarmacked former train line near the stadium). There is the usual hubbub of chat in the busy foyer: an animated group of runners clad in a variety of garish fluorescent running apparel, all clearly in need of a good meal and some decent nights’ sleep. The chat – usually on a topic completely unrelated to running to take minds off the impending pain – continues longer than it needs to: no one wants to start this session. It’s not until Dave orders us out onto the track that we move. We all do 5 or 6 sets of strides (almost sprints) on the back straight to lengthen out the muscles and get some speed in the legs before Dave explains the session to us. Tonight’s menu has a starter of 5x400m at 5k pace followed by a main course of 2k at 10k pace, 5x400m at 5k pace, then another 2k at 10k pace. The dessert is 4x300m pretty much as fast as possible. Tasty.

The pace sounds manageable with some reasonable length recovery between reps but then I’m given my target splits. They’re rapid – faster than 5 and 10k pace – so I question coach, to which he responds, ‘That’s your target pace for 2018. Shut up and do it’. OK, you’re the boss. Will do. No probs.

I tuck in behind Phil Beastall and Dan Owen. Phil has kicked on loads this year and is a fair bit ahead of me and Dan is also a bit faster. In other words, they are the perfect training partners and I tuck in with them as we head on round, running the first lot of 5x400m in 72 second laps. We then hit the 2k and it’s tough. We take it turns on the front and go through the mile in 4.48, finishing in 5.59. The next 5x400m are a little quicker than the previous 5x400m. Like metronomes we bang out exactly 68 second laps for all 5.  The second 2k then really hurts towards the end. Phil opens a gap in the final 200m and Dan pulls away by a couple of seconds too, but I am pleased to cross the line in 6 minutes dead having been through the mile in 4.48. The final 3x300m are far harder than they sound as my legs are tired, hamstrings are tighteing and it doesn’t take much speed to get the lactate flowing and the legs screaming.

At the end there’s some half-hearted high fiving/hand shaking but we’re all so tired that whilst the willingness to congratulate one another on a job well done and significant anguish shared, we just don’t have the energy to be whooping and hollering. After a few minutes dissecting the session, Dan Owen trots past me asking if I want to do some strides. No, Dan, I don’t want to do any f-ing strides! Stop being so chirpy. But he’s got in my head now. I know I should. It’ll help me stretch out the hamstrings and be ready for tomorrow. I reluctantly follow him over to the far side of the track. We do 4 lots of 100m strides and then I head back into the foyer where our manager Andy Prophett and Dave are talking to a number of fellow Harriers in animated tones about upcoming races. There’s always such a buzz after a session like that – the endorphins, adrenaline, fatigue, camaraderie and relief that is shared at the end of the session is special. I knock back a quick recovery drink and a banana then head of in my slightly strange see-through jacket out the door and back up the High Street home. This time I’m not bouncing along, it’s uphill and I’ve run 13 miles so far – a lot of it on my limit – but I’m not worried. I’m buzzing with excitement, completely lost in thoughts of the next race and what we’re all going to achieve over the coming years if we keep on training like that.

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