One of the keys to progressing in sport is to surround yourself by people that are going to push your physical limits. On Tuesday I had people doing just that!

Tuesday marked the return of the BIG brick session after a few months out of the training schedule. These monster sessions really hurt. But due to adrenaline, cortisol and endorphins, the pain becomes a masochistic kind of pleasure and we actually look forward to these sessions. Weird isn’t it?!

The first part of Tuesday’s session was the weekly Cheltenham Harriers group training smash up. After a couple of miles warm up the 40 other nutters and I got into the main session which involved the following efforts all at 10k and quicker with 1 min (only!) jog recoveries: 4mins, 1min, 1min, 6mins, 1min, 1min, 4mins, 6mins, 1min, 1min. We started off on pace, but then, as usual, we started pushing each other on and we were going way quicker than 10k pace. I was in a group of three with my buddies Alex Lee and Dom James – the Cheltenham Half Marathon podium! We’re great mates, but when we’re running that’s forgotten.  It’s nothing personal. There’s a mutual understanding that we just want to run fast, hurt each other and see who’s boss! No hard feelings! The final 4 and 6min efforts were therefore HARD. The whole group was a mass of gurning, wheezing, self-motivational shouting, grunting and a sound that you would normally only hear in a birthing unit. We all finished, bent over forwards gasping for breath: a mixture of pain and elation. Then coach suddenly pipes up with: ‘That’s not it. Now for 2x1min. This time with only 30secs recovery’. 1 minute doesn’t sound like much but at that particular point, none of us could face another step. Begrudgingly, we gathered for the final two efforts. We started off fast and simply got steadily slower as the lactic acid built and took hold! There were no heroic final flourishes, no dramatic last-ditch sprints, just a pathetic inexorable slowing down to the finish! Lactic acid is nasty stuff.

Then as soon as that was over, Al Doherty and I said goodbye to the group and headed straight off on the 2 mile run to a changing room in the school where I teach. In this room were our TT bikes, keenly waiting on their turbos in readiness for the second part of this session…

Al is the newly crowned world duathlon champion for our age group. He’s an awesome athlete and what can only be described as an uber biker! I’m a stronger runner but he edges me on the bike, so he’s the perfect bike training partner for me. Especially as he is more than willing to bury himself in training!

During the 2mile run to the bikes all we could talk about was how hard the run was, how battered, tired and lactated (I’m not sure that’s quite the right term!) our legs were and how we didn’t think we could manage zone 2 on the bike let alone Z5 (above FTP) that we were told to do!

After a quick change, we jumped on our bikes and spun our legs for 5mins (whilst nailing a very welcome banana, Torq gel and water). Although we were spinning in zone 1 and 2, it hurt. The heart rate was low but the pain in the quads was high! We agreed there was no way we would hit the target numbers, but with the tunes booming and the knowledge that these sessions are the ones that make a real difference, we somehow found the motivation to at least give it a go……

We were supposed to be hitting mid Z5 (106-120% of FTP) for 3 lots of 5mins with a very short 2mins of spinning recovery in between. I gave us a 5-second countdown and we tucked down into our aero positions and went hard.  And it hurt. More hurt! 5 minutes seemed like an age but we eventually got there and managed to hit decent wattage numbers. If 5 minutes seemed like an age then 2 mins seemed like a millisecond. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was counting us down again for our second set! Further pain and agony: the final minute took an eternity! Again, the 2 minutes went through crazy fast and we were into our final set, both hoping for a final push and the biggest wattage of the 3 – emptying the tank of every last drop before a euphoric end to the pain. I pushed myself harder than before but with 2 minutes to go my legs were screaming at me. It’s a weird feeling: they’re screaming but they also feel utterly dead at the same time. If Al hadn’t been there I would have bailed. I felt like I couldn’t let him down. He was burying himself. I had to keep going! I made it to the end – the final 30 seconds a jaw clenching, teeth grinding wrestle adorned with plenty of groans and definitely a couple of expletives. My power was slightly down on the final rep but that didn’t matter. I pushed hard and would definitely have got the necessary physiological response from the session. In other words, I was totally and utterly bolloxed.

What a session! There’s no way in the world that I would have pushed that hard in the run session without Al Lee and Dom and absolutely no way I would have pushed that hard on the bike without Al there. As I said, the key is to surround yourself with people that are going to push you.

I was certainly pushed on Tuesday night as collectively, we elevated our effort levels, pushing back our physical and more importantly, mental limits. Loved it!!!!

This week’s training:

Monday – 60mins turbo with 5x20secs max effort and an easy run home

Tuesday – BIG brick day (see above!)

Wednesday – 20mins easy run (that wasn’t very easy)

Thursday – 2 hours on the bike (outdoors for a change – woo hoo!) including 4x8mins hard hill reps on the TT bike followed by 2 miles easy running off the bike

Friday – 20mins easy turbo and 20mins easy run (shorter sessions than planned as I crashed my commuter road bike on the way to work and hard quite nasty road rash – what an idiot!)

Saturday – Beasty solo run session in storm Callum! This session was the opposite of Tuesday i.e. no group, no one to encourage me, no moral support. Just an isolated mental and physical slug fest! The session included a couple of miles warm followed by 5km at tempo pace (which is slightly slower than 10k pace), 4x30secs at 3k pace, 2x5km at tempo pace [3mins jog between them], and finally 4x90secs at 5k pace [30secs jog recovery only!] and a slightly sore warm down jog home. It ended up being a 15mile session at an average of 6mins per mile. Ouchy!

Sunday – 2 hours easy on the turbo


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