Training in the Reign of King Laziness

JAMES KELLY’s marathon blog: “Guilt and shame might be your most successful driving force”

James Kelly London Marathon marathon running

The Christmas Party Season is beginning!  Well, in Cambridge at least.  The actual day might still be another month away, but everything’s better with a long build up, a few mince pies and glasses of mulled wine, and a swap or two that features your own unique interpretation of festive dress, right? 

Maybe everything but the marathon.  It’s becoming a millstone around your neck.  Too far away to feel any real sense of urgency (that’s a sensation you reserve for trying to finish an essay that was due yesterday), but too close to be able to slacken the training, loosen the belt and have a bit of fun.  So how do you keep your motivation and keep your discipline when all your friends are being ejected from formal for a particularly drunken rendition of Jingle Bells?

With luck, the first response is to remember how much you enjoy the training.  Remember that unparalleled sense of freedom you had as you were tearing along the banks of the Cam on a beautiful autumn day?  Well, now consider that, if it ever stops raining, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to be that free again because you were too sleep-deprived, too out of shape or too infused with the festive spirit!  Anyway, the wind and run just enhance the experience.  You jump in every puddle you can find – you love the game!  And aren’t you virtuous for getting a run in while everyone else is still sleeping off the eggnog?
Not convinced?  Okay, maybe you need less carrot and more stick.  Guilt is a powerful emotion.  Some days training is just like washing all of the dirty dishes that you’ve allowed to accumulate in the kitchen until your housemates complain – an unpleasant way of establishing peace of mind.  And guilt has an even more powerful brother: pride.  Remind yourself that every missed session lets Third Elvis close the gap.  Imagine the humiliation as his blue suede shoes come past you and disappear into the distance.  Again.
Guilt and shame might be your most successful driving force in the short term, but you don’t want to be too negative in this long build up.  You’ll start to run for all the wrong reasons, and when the legs start to suffer in the 21st mile, guilt and shame won’t be there to pick you up.  In fact, they’ll probably be laughing at you, smirking at the position your lack of preparation has put you in.  Because, to these two devils, you will always be underprepared.  Your erstwhile friends, who got you moving once or twice during the reign of King Laziness, because your enemies, demanding ever more even as you trained at your limit.  They conspire to ruin your race before it was ever run.
That stick is starting to look pretty sharp, so let’s see if we can make that carrot look a little bit more appealing.  You have one great ally willing and able to help your cause.  Let me introduce you to the training schedule!  Oh, you’ve already met?  Good, that saves us a bit of time.  You’ll know, then, that the training schedule can be trusted.  If it tells you to train, then do it.  If it tells you to rest, you must obey.  The question of motivation doesn’t even enter into it; it’s a really a question of unquestioning obedience.

After all, the best thing about the training schedule is that it’s tailored to you.  It can bring you shorter term measurements of progress.  If the marathon seems a long time from now, enter some races in the meantime.  Half marathons, cross countries, road 10kms, they’re all great preparation.  They give you a shorter term focus for your training – we all know your long term planning isn’t the best, so you prefer to work as you live, on a day to day basis!  They give you regular opportunities to see your own improvement.  And a great lift for your flagging motivation.  The races not only give you a nice endorphin boost – who here hasn’t done something they shouldn’t have thanks to a bit of post-race euphoria? (I meant go for an overly long cooldown – why? What have you heard?!) – but also show you that the hard work is paying off.  You wake up not with groggy recollections of mistletoe and false reindeer antlers, but instead with the knowledge that you’re now capable of running faster, farther and more strongly than you ever have before.  And isn’t that what this whole mad enterprise is about?  Seeing yourself improve?  Well, that and beating Third Elvis.