Mark Armstrong: Pass me a notebook, it's time to get serious

Mark Armstrong gets to grips with his training programme. Picture: Alison Armstrong Photography

Mark Armstrong gets to grips with his training programme. Picture: Alison Armstrong Photography - Credit: Archant

What makes a runner elite? 

Times we can only dream of? Ruthless determination? Or meticulous attention to detail in all aspects of their lives? 

Over the past few months some of the world’s elite runners have shared their secrets with me as part of the Sportlink podcast and one of the things that has stood out is their ability to reflect on performances. 

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Whether it be a training session or an Olympic final, the elite have the ability to identify all the contributing factors to success or failure. 

This is something we can all learn from at whatever level and bring to our training, if we want to. 

Your elite runner will have certain key training sessions in the week leading up to a race but a lot of them will also know how much sleep they need, what food they need to eat, how much they need to drink, what to drink, too many other things to name. 

Top athletes leave nothing to chance. I’ve come to realise that outside of my actual training I leave rather a lot to chance! 

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I’m not a top athlete, obviously, but like a lot of runners I take it quite seriously and want to get the most out of my ability. 

Like so many others, when I come in from a run, there is little time to reflect.  I grab a recovery drink (and if I’m lucky a shower) whilst I am greeted by two little humans demanding snacks and telling me I “smell like running”.  

If there was an award for finding kids' schoolbags/drinks bottles/shoes etc two minutes before they need to go to nursery and school then I’d be in the running... Beyond taking part in what has now become known in our house as the ‘worst treasure hunt ever’, I’m struggling.     

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Seriously though, when it comes to my running I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had a great training session or even a race yet due to time pressures I don’t reflect on why and this is something I plan to change.  

There can of course be so many different reasons but it is up to each individual to work out why. 

What did you eat and drink before and after? How much sleep did you get the night before? Were there other life stresses that may have affected your performance? 

Could this be the missing piece of the puzzle to maximise the training effect? 

Neil takes care of all my training plans, which is a huge component in any progression, but I’ve got a responsibility to look at other areas to get the most out of that. 

I’m as guilty as any in using Strava or my Garmin to log my training and races but beyond times it actually offers very little detail. It may be old fashioned, but perhaps it’s time to keep a written diary of how my training is going (I knew I could have used that 2020 diary for something...). 

That way I can hopefully narrow down a formula that extracts more consistent, better performances. 

I’ve had to take a bit of a step back this week due to a niggle in my hamstring and it’s time to listen to my body and give it a little rest.  

I’ll look at why it’s flared up in the first place and hopefully be able to do some strength and conditioning work to try and prevent it from happening again in the future. 

I’m sure I had a similar problem a few years ago. If I had kept some sort of record of how I got over it then perhaps I would be able to make a quicker recovery.  

It’s likely to rule me out of taking part in the Sportlink SMile wildcard races at the Sportspark, which I’m quite gutted about. 

I attended the first event last Friday and it was great to see the event go off so well. Pete Johnson posted a time of 6:08 in one of the wildcard races, which ranks him number one in the country in the V65 category... awesome. 

There were also some fine performances in the quarter-finals with Charlie Wakefield, Callum Bowen-Jones, Iona Lake and Sam Jacks taking victory in their heats. 

But don’t rule out others with the semi-finals this evening before next week’s final which will feature a devil-takes-the-hindmost aspect... I can’t wait.