Pyllon Racing - James Stewart: Ready to Race

The final part of James' blog on recovering from the World 24hr Champs in Belfast. He's recovered. He's rebuilt. And now it's time to race! We've had a great few blocks of training and James has put everything into all sessions we've designed for him.  Huge thanks for your efforts and your great web updates! Allez James.

There I stood. At the top of Mount Cookie in Croy. Sweat dripping from my brow. The sun had risen off in the east, the clatter of a train from the Glasgow to Edinburgh line could be heard in the distance, the horn sounding a warning to no-one in particular. I took a breath and could see the mist rise from my mouth. The light dusting of frost on the hill had melted to look more akin to spring dew but the presence of gloves on my hands and a buff on my forehead showed I wasn’t fooled. I did a 360 degree turn. From here I could see off east towards Fife, over the Forth. To the north I had the Kilsyth Hills, the Carron Valley. West was Glasgow, over the top of Bar Hill. To the south lay Lanarkshire, via Cumbernauld and some rolling hills. Croy couldn’t be seen but I knew home was close by. The house parties I had passed at 5am as I made my way out on this training run will have long since finished. I may still see a walk-of-shamer. I took a moment to drink in the world around me. I raised my arms aloft and shouted “YES!”

In my exuberance, the feeling of exhalation, I didn’t notice the dog walker who’d came up Mount Cookie. “Yes. Good morning, James” he said.

I was done. The peak weeks over. The race ready phase complete.

This was the scene of my last long hard effort. The peak weeks aimed at sharpening me for the Centurion Racing Autumn 100 had been completed without incident. No missed runs. No injuries – despite 2 falls that morning – and no dramas. Doesn’t really set up for an interesting story, eh? But I’d had enough drama at the River Ayr Way.

I’ve already written about recovery and rebuilding. I really enjoy these parts of a training block. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I enjoy them more than the racing itself. But, the set I enjoy the most is the peak weeks. These are usually 3-4 weeks where the intensity, the volume and the effort culminate in pushing the body’s condition into a state of peak fitness. Moreover, and oft overlooked they bring the confidence that as a runner I have done the best I can in training to be ready for an event.

Matt Fitzpatrick describes the process of peaking psychological momentum, in effect retraining the brain to suffer more. Paul is a talented coach, but he is also learning every day. In fact, Paul could coach for 100 years and still not know everything. And even if he did, the variety would still have to move as people change, ideas change, conditions change, goals change. Things change. Embracing this fact is what helps us work so well together. There is no formula, just a series of options shaped by brilliant judgement and learning.

With this in mind, no two peak weeks periods have ever been the same. I wrote on my own blog earlier this year about iconic runs. But in terms of psychological momentum Paul frequently references race specific sessions set about getting ready for the big day and we did a lot of them over the last few weeks. If I charted my mileage it grew over the last few weeks, so did my “fitness” according to Training Peaks. But these are numbers, right? How I felt was as, no, more important.

I was being stretched and this culminated with things like back-to-back days with hard interval or hill efforts, or as was the case in the last weekend a long steady run on the Saturday followed by 20 miles of hill repeats up Mount Cookie on the Sunday. I was spent at the end of it, but as the opening gambit to this article shows, I was good spent. I felt race ready.

Now I taper. I am with the family in Portugal for a short October week break. I will recharge not only body but mind.

I believe I enjoy the process more than the racing inasmuch as it is about a journey of self-awareness for me. Racing is the epilogue to a story that has many twists and turns. Literally in some cases. It is the end point. The punchline. Sometimes it doesn’t go well but the experience that comes with finding limits and resetting them (higher) in training is what I find most rewarding. I also do more mindful running when in the peak weeks than I do at any time. Stepping into sessions with questions in mind. These can be about the event, my body or my work/life. Running is a physical and mental discovery. The peak weeks, the race ready period is the apex of this for me.

Finally, if you were to ask me what I was most proud of in the last few weeks I’d tell you straight off the bat about Euan. He’s been helping me in training, we do our weekly mile on a Thursday. As soon as I come in from work he’s waiting with his gear on ready for the run to the fingerpost and back. His PB has fallen from 10:02 to 9:02 for the mile in the last few weeks. He beat his junior parkrun PB by fully 45s too. But these are numbers, right?

What is more important, and is a lesson to us all, is that Euan has enjoyed running. He’s found it rewarding personally. He’s proud of what is able to do and wants to do it more. I took pause to reflect on that and it reminded me of just how important running is to me not because of competition but because I heartily enjoy it. As Murakami said,

“I run; therefore I am.”