“It’s a bit too tight”, I thought as I walked to the car this morning. Last night I’d run well – a surprise and relief given my recent illness – the pace had been good. Too good, my body wasn’t ready, I lacked the mileage of the past and the moment I stopped muscles tightened, hamstrings clamping down. As I drove home I pondered the day’s plans, negotiating a shorter, easier run with myself. Alarm bells rang, triggered by the subconscious calculation of weekly hours, this wasn’t enough; I know where I should be and it doesn’t involve a gentle six kilometre loop. I felt torn between an innate need for more and the reality of the harm that might cause.
This season is a write off. Mid-February and I’ve nothing to show, no fitness to speak of, nor form to race. Disaster.
I’ve fought these feelings for the last fortnight, following the optimism of a training camp with the disappoint of days of distraction and illness. I remembered how I’d struggled to start last year, but if anything this was worse – I was nowhere. My inbox proved I was not alone, amongst the regular mails were plaintive concerns that things weren’t going well: failed sessions, targets seemingly missed, training not to plan. On the phone my girlfriend mirrored those athletes – disaster – she wasn’t where she should be.
Last season had started poorly, January a write off, but then a rapid return to form and, at least in cycling, some success later in the year. However February was trickling away, the bulk of it gone, my season hasn’t started. I turned to my training diary for solace, perhaps I could glean something to give me hope for the months ahead. In January 2011 I rode my bike three times, I swam twice – a pattern that didn’t change throughout that year – and I ran a surprising twenty times. By comparison, this year I had been more balanced and generally trained more each week. February’s illness has set this season back, but I’d hardly shined the year before, cycling an impressive eight times and running much less. Where was the rapid return to form I’d distinctly recalled? March. I’d barely sat on a bike till three months into the year; once I’d started I’d pushed myself hard.
I was reminded of the self-deception we play on ourselves: the rose-tinted view of the past and the fantastical vision for the present. As I picked through those concerned mails I found a pattern repeating itself – we overlook what’s been achieved and focus our attention on perceived shortfalls. Somehow I’d missed how much more I was swimming this year, how well I was riding in January and – much as I lacked endurance – how fast I was running; instead I’d focussed on the days I’d lost and the tightness in my hamstring. Case by case I could pick out positives, buried amongst the moments of angst and self-doubt.
Realism works both ways. Things aren’t that bad, I am in a better position than this time last year, but then again last year was a disaster! Better than a terrible season – that’s not something to strive for. I want more, I want some measure of success on the scale of previous performances, not just dragging myself round yet another Ironman. I may not be heading down the same path as 2011, but I shouldn’t rest on my laurels because of it; not yet on the brink of failure, it’s the steps I take now that determine how much more I achieve. As I pick out the positives I also have to ask what more can be achieved, how can I go further?
So knowing that I’ve been deceiving myself and was ahead of the game, but also that I needed more, I compromised on an easy thirty minute run this morning. Perhaps I could have gone further, but I would be deceiving myself – again – if I didn’t recognise my current fitness. Progress is tempered by the limits of my body. Rather than dwelling on the past or questioning my progress I should be focussed on achieving the most I can at this moment.