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Running column: It’s time to start listening after hitting the wall at The Great East Run

Mark Armstrong on the home straight at the Great East Run. Picture: Marathon Photos

Mark Armstrong on the home straight at the Great East Run. Picture: Marathon Photos

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Running editor Mark Armstrong’s chastening experience at The Great East Run has made him want to change his ways...

I’ve always regarded myself as a fairly decent listener.

I’m happy to listen to anyone when it comes to running, particularly if they know as much as Neil Featherby does about it.

However, I’ve learned there’s a difference between listening and actually hearing what the person is telling you.

A few weeks ago I had a chat with Neil, who has been coaching me for over a year now, when I said how I was struggling to get the training in I need to.

Whilst having the time to actually train is a constant battle, the calf problem really hadn’t helped things either and Neil advised that I ditch doing the Great East Run as he felt that I wouldn’t get enough out of it to regard it as a success.

I knew he was right but he knows me well enough to see when the words are going in one ear and out the other.

“Look, you’ll probably run it anyway, but it’s just something to think about,” he said.

It was a dilemma I struggled with in the week leading up to the race as I knew it would be a great event with lots of support and I so desperately wanted to run it.

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However, and I even annoy myself with this, unless I can do my absolute best in a race with the prospect of a personal best then I really struggle to enjoy it.

Neil knows this better about me than I do it seems.

Deep down I knew I hadn’t got the miles in necessary to have a really strong run at the half marathon distance.

Only recently have I managed to get a couple of runs in at the weekend in excess of 10 miles and there needed to be a lot more of these to get me used to running on tired legs again.

A lot of my midweek runs have also only been around four or five miles so I’ve got used to running on fairly fresh legs. That’s not the sort of training you need if you’re going to nail 13.1 miles.

Around three miles in I thought that I might be in a bit of trouble but I just hoped that from somewhere my legs might find something and hit a bit of a sweet spot where you feel like you’re running effortlessly – it’s been so long since I’ve felt like that.

By the time I hit ‘that hill’ at mile seven it was starting to get really tough. Fortunately I got talking to another runner on the course and I’m sorry to say that I’ve forgotten his name but he was a Halstead Hare.

Whether he knew it or not, he helped me up that hill but by the 10th mile I knew I had to let him go, the legs were getting that achy feeling – a warning sign I know all too well that’s telling me ‘you’re going to have to stop soon’.

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I walked through the final drinks station to try and take on a decent amount of water in a bid to salvage a bit of pride from the race.

However, those last three miles were three of the longest I’ve ever run. I was completely done and I was annoyed with myself as I said I would never put myself in the position where I ‘hit the wall’ again.

I just about managed to trudge home as that stubborn streak that so many runners have just about got me through.

Neil was right, I shouldn’t have run and it has dented my confidence. However, it was a timely reminder that there aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to running and racing.

Unless you’ve put the work in you’re not suddenly going to conjure a PB out of nowhere.

But I’ve also grown fed up of paying for races that I haven’t been able to run in. I missed out on the Cambridge Half earlier this year and I’ve had to skip a couple of local races due to minor injuries when I knew it would temper what I could achieve.

Unfortunately though there is always an element of risk when you sign up for an event that your training might not go to plan and you will have to miss out.

The one thing Sunday has made me is more determined to bounce back than ever and get back to the form that I was in during the first part of the year.

But I need to start properly listening and absorbing the advice I am given, otherwise 2019 isn’t going to be the running year I want it to be.

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