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Steve Trew muses on how compulsive training has its place rooted in every athlete’s psyche.

Steve Trew Blog (Illustration: Peter Greenwood)

Obsessive? Yes, but I'm sure you understand…

Way back when I was 18 years old and thought I was a swimmer, I broke my wrist. But, and it was a big but, I didn’t know I’d broken it for around six weeks; I’d just thought it was a bad sprain. Wrong!

By the time I’d got it diagnosed, a ganglion had grown on the break and it meant almost a year – my final terms in the sixth form – in plaster. I couldn’t swim. It was the end of life as I knew it!

This was in the days before fibreglass and so the hand to near the elbow was encased in genuine plaster. By the end of three months, I was going pretty crazy at my lack of swimming, although to be fair, I’d discovered the joys of lunchtime running to try to break the boredom.

Then, a breakthrough. My swim coach got in touch with The London Rubber Company, who are certainly now better known for making thin rubber accessories under the moniker Durex. Let us draw a veil over that detail… immediately!

They fitted me with a fibreglass cast (the first ever, I believe) and then a ‘rubber johnny’ (honestly, that’s what they called it), a close-fitting, long rubber glove that meant I was able to swim. I was in heaven that morning! Obsessive? Perhaps, but I know you’ll understand.

Twenty-three years later, I did it again. But this time round, the timing was perfect, sort of. It was 1989, the first ever ITU world champs in Avignon, France. I came 10th in my age group and the week after, while coaching triathletes on bike handling (!), I fell off and broke my elbow – now that really did hurt! There was a sort of relief that I’d had the accident the week after the worlds, but I had another race to work towards in Malta, though that was in 10 weeks’ time so no problem.

But of course there were problems. The elbow refused to heal and kept re-infecting. Apparently my body wasn’t particularly fond of all the wire that had been sewn into my arm and elbow. It entailed more than a few trips back to hospital while they treated and sterilised the wound, though I did get bragging rights with the huge hole where my elbow used to be.

I arrived in Malta (much) less than fit, with a fibreglass cast on my arm and no chance of being allowed to race. On the morning of the event while officials were checking out the course, I put my bike next to transition, donned trunks and swam the 1500m course. Then I got on the bike and cycled the course before putting on my trainers and doing the run. By the time the ‘real’ competitors arrived, I had that smug smile on my face. Obsessive? Perhaps, but I know you’ll understand.

At the age of 13, Andy was the biggest kid in the year and not unnaturally, he always won the 100m. Then one of those things happened – or didn’t in Andy’s case. Everyone else grew bigger, taller and stronger. Andy grew just a tiny bit; he’d already had his growth spurt, and now the rest of the world was playing catch-up. Andy no longer won school sports, though he never lost his love of running.

A few years later, we were sharing a house when he told me, “I’m going to run a marathon.” This from someone who had never raced more than 1500m. But he meant it; he stepped up his mileage, stepped up his training, entered some road races as preparation moving up through 5k, 10k, 10 miles. Then, he ran his first marathon and it was… less than good. Going out too fast meant Andy crashed and burned on the second half and came in outside three hours.

It was time to rethink, to replan. It was simple really: crank up the training. Andy started to run to work and back, the interesting way! Ten miles there, 10 miles back, every day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he would detour through Victoria Park and run 20 sets of 400m with a 100m jog recovery. On Sundays he would run ‘long’, anywhere between 20 and 30 miles – some mileage.

So Andy spent six months doing little else than running and sleeping. Then he entered his second marathon and ran 2:29, which qualified him for an Olympic trial! Some improvement. Obsessive? Perhaps, but I know you’ll understand.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

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