Under Pressure

Regular readers of this blog will have become accustomed to stories about the weather, about me falling off my bike and about me not being prepared to give up when the whole shooting match gets a bit too much like one big hard slog. But that’s where this week’s blog fits nicely into the recent trilogy of stories about hard work.

I challenged Cat from my Omega 4 running squad to give me a theme for this week’s blog and she came back with “the pressure you put on yourself, and the stress it creates”. Wow, curve ball or what? I have to say that this is not a million miles away from a subject that we discuss endlessly in the search for the perfect training programme but it still touches a nerve to translate into print the workload that I demand of myself in order to turn my desire into miles..

But first, let’s give this theme some currency…

On 11th October, I completed the first 1000 miles: 34 cycling days

On 28th November, I went through 2000 miles: 29 more cycling days

On January 28th, I went through 3000: 29 cycling days

On March 13th, I went through 4000: 27 cycling days

Do you see the trend?

This week: 152 miles in 4 days, a record. The previous 4 day record was 151 and that was last week. LifeCycle is really hotting up, and it’s not just the weather…

January was a 600 mile month, despite having a late start due to the New Year holiday. February was another 600 mile month, despite being a short calendar month and the odd holiday thrown in. March dangles the prospect of a 600 mile hat-trick but it brings with it five days of annual leave. So we’re looking at 600 miles in just 16 LifeCycling days. Hmm…

Can I do it? I don’t know. Am I going to try? you bet I am.

All of that pressure comes from within. There is no one telling me that I have to do more and more miles, only myself.

Competing against other people is all well and good, but there’s nothing quite like competing against yourself. I used to have a running group called Team Infinity. The name was derived not from the fact that it took an infinite length of time for my guys to run a race, far from it. My philosophy is that if you can run a PB today, then there’s absolutely no reason why, given the same conditions next week, you couldn’t run 1 second faster than you did today. And then repeat the feat the following week; and the week after that. I like my athletes to know no boundaries. They are limitless. The pressure to deliver a PB this week, next week and the week after that comes wholly from within: from within the group, from within the coach/athlete relationship but most importantly from  within the athletes themselves. And the reason it works is because no athlete ever has more reason to deliver, and more motivation to succeed, than when they heap positive pressure  on themselves through repeated success. Learning to deal with it comes through a combination of confidence and experience, sometimes your own, but more often than not the result of encouragement from your support team. It is a rare animal indeed that can motivate itself, deliver, then repeat the cycle. I am definitely not that animal, nor indeed have I ever worked with anyone who fits that mould.

Being able to deal with that pressure, and turn it into a positive force for good, is the Holy Grail of sports performance, and in LifeCycle, I live constantly with the fear of having to deliver miles that I never thought I was capable of producing. Every week is a challenge; every week is an adventure, and ultimately every week is the one in which the whole pack of cards could come crashing down.

In my case the pressure to deliver comes from within. I cannot remember a day, except perhaps during those first two or three weeks when I was quite literally finding my feet, when I have not been on it 100%. And the pressure keeps on growing. With every passing day that extends the record of maximum miles into a week, then two weeks, a month, then two and beyond, keeping my foot flat to the floor just seems like the norm. The miles may be on max but something has to give: speed. I am no longer concerned at being passed by men in lycra on flash road bikes doing 10mph more than I am. I merely ask myself “hey son, where were you when it was pishing down on a gale force headwind back in December? I don’t remember seeing you then”.

So let me put all of that into perspective by example. All I can do is deliver miles: speed is not important: I learned early doors that what I termed Friday legs are indeed best left to the end of the week rather than being introduced rudely on Wednesday due to a rush of blood to the legs. I touched on this a couple of weeks ago but the record shows that the average number of miles cycled per actual cycling day has increased steadily since the end of August: 26, 29, 31, 32, 32, 33 and 33 demonstrate evidence of having twisted the knife through the most difficult months of the calendar year. Increasing the ongoing daily average miles comes about only through continuing to operate at a higher and higher level.

That’s an expectation that I’ve loaded onto myself.

And those maximum mile days are creeping up too: now approaching 50 in a row since the turn of the year, there is now increasing pressure to keep that run going because every day that extends the run adds extra tenths of a mile onto the daily average and that in turn brings down the asking rate to complete 25,000 miles.

The whole project is driven by pressure.

Which brings me to another tantalising question: can I deliver 100 straight maximum days from the start of the year? If it happens, that day will come sometime in June. And if it doesn’t, the consolation prize is that I’ll get another shot at it before Christmas…

If pressure is internal, something that I feel, the stress is its public image. That’s what other people see. When I’m stressed, you can cut it with a knife. Jane says I get grumpy. That may be partly true but I get grumpy when I see things that are just plain wrong and it annoys me: like two teenage boys playing football on the back grass after heavy rain and turning it into Fir Park without the sand. And that when there’s a perfectly playable public park 400m round the corner. That’s not grumpy, that’s me coming in all fired up and ready to rock n roll.

Now, all that pressure is fine so long as everything is hunky dory, but turning that into something positive is much, much more difficult when outside factors come into play. By that I mean stuff that’s outside my control. In a nutshell, that is my Achilles heel.

I’ll let you into my secret world of stress: I leave the house at 5:30am every working day and I’m out of the house for 13 hours. 3 of those hours are spent on the bike burning up 2000 calories, enough to fuel a normal bloke for the whole day. I have learned how my body works and what fuels it. I eat at particular times of the day in small quantities: carbs, protein and Omega 3. One thing is guaranteed to upset the apple cart and I know perfectly well what it is. I will resist it…

LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma is a project that I have given my all for: it is the primary focus of my non-family, non-working time for the next four years: along with my athletes, because I feed off them. They work hard, I work harder. That’s that deal. I don’t ask too much of them because as a coach, it’s my job to get their balance right. But when they work hard, I am inspired.

Here’s an example of athlete inspiration…

Almost 30 years ago, I coached a squad of young middle distance runners in Cumbernauld. In that group was Julie McGiffen. I think I actually asked another of the group, Gail Walker, to get Julie along to the running club because I knew her times were good on the school cross country course. As a coach, all you want is for your athletes to do well, enjoy themselves and stay in the sport for a long time.

Gail’s daughter is the current Scottish indoor U14 800m champion because in the intermediate 25 years after we went our separate ways, Gail did something right: she remained focussed and stayed in the sport.

Julie I re-found through Facebook. Now an active member of Wigan Harriers, Julie has been prominent in cross country since I started following her exploits but last weekend she blew me away: she announced on her Facebook page on Friday night that she was going to do the Bolton Hill Marathon at the weekend. Hint: it starts and finishes in Bolton, it’s hilly (very hilly!!!) and it’s a marathon: er… no, actually it’s two. You run the same course twice, on Saturday and Sunday. The fact that Julie finished first over-40 vet both days is irrelevant… the fact that she chose to subject herself to back to back marathons over extremely difficult terrain in challenging weather is not. It’s called pressure. And it comes from within. I really, really, really respect that.

I feel it, Julie thrives on it and Cat is challenged by it.

It makes us the people that we are.

Under pressure.

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