In praise of fitness (up to a point)


The bike goes faster – but these might feature more later in the year

I started the week with a slightly less sore throat but some even more sore muscles. I decided on a couple of days off the bike but ran with Mrs O on Monday.

Our younger son completed the Brighton Marathon last year in a very good 4hr 06min on a blisteringly hot day.  He’s now talking about running another with a view to beating the 4 hour mark. It’s my fault of course – I ran the London Marathon in 1998 and 1999 and got in (just) under the 4 hours both times.

Provisionally he has earmarked the Rotterdam Marathon in April next year as it’s  pretty flat and generally regarded as a fast course. I have a mad idea that I might do it with him. I’m lighter now than I was back in the late 1990s – but, not surprisingly, 20 years older.

For a few years I’ve run with Mrs O and we now tend to do 6km at a bit over 7min/km (11.3 min/mile). Sadly, a sub 4 hour pace needs 5 min 38 sec/km (9 min 9 sec per mile) so I thought I’d better see what pace I can run at to either encourage me – or tell me not to contemplate it.

Nothing hurt quite so much on Tuesday morning so I ran again by myself to see if I still have any running legs. I did 10km (6.2 miles) in 57:34 which is 7 seconds per km off 4 hour marathon pace. Not bad enough to completely discourage me but perhaps the running goes to the back burner until after the alps in the summer …

The next three day riding block will be on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. In the interim, I’ve been thinking about fitness.

If fitness is all about being mentally, physically an emotionally in good shape, with strength, health and flexibility, you can sign me up for it any day.

Extreme fitness, on the other hand, seems to be a different proposition.

The few occasions I’ve been pretty fit (for a man of my then age) were in the lead up to the two London Marathons, L’Étape in 2013, the Cinglé in 2015 and Everesting last year – and on each of those I’ve looked gaunt, been tired and susceptible to colds and coughs, and ached.

Only in that wonderful final week of tapering off (I’m much better at the tapering off than I am at the training itself) immediately before the event did I feel like I was reasonably strong, healthy and full of energy.

It’s all on a bit of a knife edge as heavy training (and this is relative, of course, as my ‘heavy’ training is nothing like a proper athlete’s) takes the body to its extremes – witness the number of top athletes who break down in training or big competitions.

On those rare occasions I have got to be reasonably fit, I’ve had the temptation to keep it going to avoid the effort of getting it back later. Of course, this temptation disappears as soon as the event I was training for is over and normal sloth-mode returns – but I guess that keeping a very high level of fitness going is almost impossible, and even it it were possible, it would be very unwise.

That’s probably not too surprising – even elite athletes have to peak for the most important competitions and they have the advantage of teams of coaches, nutritionists, physios etc. No doubt their base fitness levels are astronomically high compared to mine (and they are typically 30 or 40 years younger) but even they can’t maintain peak form for too long.

So it’s not just about where to get with the fitness – it’s also about the timing of when to get there. I’ve got time before the ride out to the alps but a great deal of improvement is needed, finishing with a timely peak.

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