Blog

Make every second count

Earlier this year I had the amazing opportunity of taking on and then breaking a world record. As I reflect back, one of the things that most stood out from the attempt was the tiny margin at the end: just 2.8 seconds.

 

The whole race took a total of 78’10” or 4690 seconds, so 2.8 seconds is less than 1 in 1000. As a comparison it is closer than Usain bolt winning in 9.81 over second place in 9.82. In fact, over a 10 second race the proportional gap would be 0.006 seconds!

 

I keep thinking what things could have slowed me by 2.8 seconds. What if I hadn’t had my team taking photos and instead had to take selfies, as with my prior attempt? Of if the weather was a couple of degrees warmer…..

 

But it almost was a few seconds the other way. As those who were following along the day know, straight after the race I thought I hadn’t done it. It was such an emotional roller coaster!

 

Track back with me to the moment I entered the stadium for the last few 100 meters. I’m super hot, drenched in sweat and wearing this 3 piece suit. I hit the track with 60 seconds to go. I thought I had it.
I did some quick mental maths. Or I tried to. I thought, I can run a lap in under 80 seconds. And as we entered in the back half of the track we had less than 400m to go.

 

But here is where in the heat of the moment I made a slight miscalculation. I thought: we are at the back half of track so that means I have 200m, which I can do in 40 seconds giving me a 20 second cushion. Yet in reality it wasn’t 200m – in fact, we entered the track nearer to the 300m mark.

 

So, when I came off the turn for the final 100m I was shocked to see the clock going 55 seconds, 56… Where was my 20 second cushion? I’d just glanced at my watch and it had only just turned 52 seconds. Now I only had 17 seconds to sprint to the finish! (I had to cross the line before the clock turned 78 minutes and 13 seconds.)

drew4349

Above is my confused face as I’m realising this. I threw everything into that sprint, hitting a pace that my favourite Hong Kong track at Aberdeen stadium has never seen from me. 2:40/km at the end.

 

As I ducked over the line I caught a glimpse of the clock turning from 13 to 14 seconds. I thought I’d missed out by one second. Then the announcer called out a time a few seconds later as 1:18:18. He sounded so confident I thought that was it. My wife, Helen and I recorded a facebook live video to say I hadn’t made it.

 

But the fact that I was so sure I was on time coming into the stadium, and that the clock looked closer to 13 or 14 seconds as I hit the line gave me a glimmer of hope. So I went over to talk to the timekeeper.
He pulled up the official logs…. 1:18:10! I almost knocked over the TV in my excitement in rushing over to hug Helen!!

 

drew4439

On my wife’s phone is a video of the start line and in that I can see that the marathon clock started at 30:04 before our race. And it was this clock that I was looking at as I sprinted down the final straight. So what looked like 14 seconds was in fact 10 seconds. After seeing that video it all makes sense.

 

I’m still not sure why the announcer called 18 seconds. He later retracted this and admitted a mistake. I think he must also have been looking at the marathon clock and perhaps glanced at it a few seconds after I crossed the line. But the timekeeper looked at the data and announced 1:18:10.

 

So I learnt to never give up in til the very last second. And even if you think you’ve failed you could be looking at the wrong clock!

The importance of a structured warmup routine

One of the most important pieces of my training are the speed workouts. I usually run two of these a week. Sometimes these are hill repeats, sometimes intervals on a track and other times fartlek-style sessions. By far the most important part of each speed session is the slow 20 minutes at the start. This is my warm up and active stretching time.

 

I began working more on stretching and warming up this season and I’ve been amazed by the results. Apart from a couple of niggles when I’ve had to rest for 1-2 days, I’ve been injury-free all season.

 

This is in stark contrast to my last two seasons when I was regularly out with calf problems, shin injuries and pulled quad muscles for a couple of weeks at a time. I am convinced that the change in my stretching/warming up routine has been the biggest factor.

 

The recipe is pretty simple. 10 minute warmup jog, more if I have time. Then 10 minutes performing a set routine of active stretches, as recommended by Sean Williams on his coaching website. It includes active moves for the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calfs and more. Then finish up with some quick sprints and then I’m ready to go.

 

Last season I would do a much more unplanned warmup. Sometimes I would jog 2-4km and then start the session. Other times I would focus on static stretches. If really pushed for time I would just dive in straight out the door and usually this is when I’d get injured!

 

It has now become such an ingrained habit of allowing 20 minutes on the front of every fast workout. I believe it is this practice of going slow before I can go fast that has kept the injuries at bay.

 

Other athletes are also following this principle. There is a new technology that has been recently released which is a wearable footballer tracking device. Newcastle United have been using this to make sure their players don’t go faster than they should in training.

 

I think most people can achieve the same effect with a GPS watch or phone app, or even just by being aware of your own pace. But the principal of properly warming up before doing any intense workout applies to all levels of athletes, professionals and amateurs.

 

I always knew it was a good thing to warm up. Yet it has been the process of having a rigid structure this season that has helped warming up to become a habit that I have actually stuck with every session.

Why I train with two pairs of shoes

 

I’ve just got back to Sydney after an overseas trip. Due to luggage limits of budget airlines in Europe I had to travel light. This included only taking one pair of training shoes. Up to a few years ago this would have been normal for me. However, now that I have increased my mileage I have found it important to have two and I was reminded of this on this trip.

 

Especially when I train in an evening and then again the next morning I found myself praying that it wouldn’t rain to avoid running in soggy shoes the next day. In England where it likes to rain a lot, this was a tall ask! Thankfully I mostly managed to time my runs to miss the rain showers. With two shoes, one pair can dry while you use the other.

 

The other factor which makes two shoes a blessing is that it gives your feet a bit of variety, working the muscles of your feet in slightly different ways. For me, I currently use two supportive Brooks shoes in training: the Ravenna and the Adrenaline. The Adrenaline is super supportive so my feet feel more secure in them but they can get a bit heavy on the legs in a long run. So when I switch to the Ravenna my feet really feel the change.

 

Having two different pairs of shoes that you are comfortable with means you are also a little protected if one of your shoes gets the cut from the manufacturer. It’s no fun for a runner when you’ve finally found your dream shoe and then you hear they have stopped making it.

 

While the initial expense is double, the gap til you have to next buy shoes again will also be double. So, for me, two is definitely better than one.