I loved running as a kid, did it for fun and for a few brief years was the best in my limited, small environment. I was the fastest person in primary school and , after moving up to secondary school, was one of the fastest there. I liked winning, liked to be known as being a good runner. I knew in the grand scheme of things that I would never be a world beater, and this was emphasized as the level of competition increased. I may have held my own to County level, but after that I was nowhere.
This was especially emphasized on going to Birmingham university. If you were a runner in the mid 80s and was interested in further education there were only two places worth their salt. The king of the pile was Loughborough University, riding on a running wave since the exploits of Seb Coe. They had Graham Williamson, Jack Buckner and a host of domestic running talent. I applied for Loughborough. It was top of my list. I got rejected.
Next on the list was Birmingham. It had great credentials and great athletes at the time. In my first year the National Junior Cross Country was won by one of our lot- Chris Sweeney. Bev Hartigan( then Nicholson),winner of a 1500m medal in the Commonwealths in the early 90s was on my course and a close friend for a while. Although being in such a positive environment did have many pluses, it also served to reinforce my own mediocrity. I knew that however much effort I put in, I would never achieve a standard I had dreamed of achieving. I spent my youth running for fun. I had whole periods at 13/14 yrs of age where I would get up before school and run a 4 mile loop round the village. On getting home I would run two laps of the circuit. I ran this with my twin brother. We,d run this on school days, then on weekends run longer. It felt like it was us against the world. We were obsessed by the US marathon stars of the day, people like Alberto Salazar and Bill Rodgers and ran because we loved it. It also gave us identity. We were the Rainbows - and we were runners.
With the increase in aspirations and effort, came the increase in structure. From running for as far and how often I liked, I now had training schedules, set sessions to be done everyday and at specific paces, and it was great. I wanted structure, wanted to feel like a proper athlete in training. This involved sacrifice and self control. When I was competing at a lower level and winning the effort seemed worthwile, however, as it became evident that I was not as good as I hoped, the effort and sacrifice became a bone of personal contention. I wanted to do things that normal people of my age did- get drunk, party, live a little. The structure imprisoned me and , in the end, I dived from the rocks of Alcatraz and swam to shore. I gave up running.
For twenty years I ran little. I would attempt to get fit at odd times, but commitment was lacking. As I made it to the midway point , I weighed over 15 stone, was overworked, under motivated, unhappy. I made tentative steps to running, and then competing and have been ever since. I vowed I would learn for my mistakes, would run to enjoy like I did when I was 14, would not do anything I didn't enjoy. My inspirations were the new breed of US runners. As, in my youth when motivated by the marathon men, I was again motivated by the long distant trail runners. Runners like Kyle Skaggs, Eric Skaggs and Anton Krupicka possessed not only immense talent, but embodied an ideal more akin to activities such as climbing and surfing- they lived to run, broke the rules, lived minimally, had long hair, looked cool. I wanted to run long miles, to free myself from some traditional aspects of aspiration, to drop out, to grow my hair- and for a while I did.
I ran long miles, grew my hair, had a sprinkling of local success, but stuck true to my ideals. I liked running big distances, but slow. I loathed speedwork and did none. I timed no runs, accurately measured no runs, took days off when I felt like it, made sessions up on the spur of the moment and , in the most part enjoyed it. Then I ran London this year. I ran a mediocre time, but I felt a sense of achievement- 2hrs 54m. It awakened a desire to run faster and I immediately
signed up for the Amsterdam Marathon in October. I found myself getting uptight about my non improving times for short distances, and listening to my peers who advised that my training needed more structure.
Its The Western States 100 this weekend, possibly the best known long distance trail run in the world. The internet has been full of pre race interviews and numerous blog updates from the main contenders. Yesterday I sat reading an update from Geoff Roes on his excellent blog, Fumbling towards endurance. Geoff is arguably the best long distance trail runner in the world today. He is undefeated in all 100 mile trail races he has competed in. In his latest entry he mentioned that his approach to this years race has been characterized by one main thing- lack of structure.
I pondered this throughout the day. I thought of my last post where I mentioned increasing mileage by 10% a week and introducing speed work into the equation. I thought of this introduction of structure. Then I made a decision. I'm not running Amsterdam, not sticking to any prearranged schedule, not doing any speedwork. I don't care if I run faster over 5k, 10k or the marathon. I want to run long miles, enjoyable miles. I've entered myself in a couple of long races for later in the year instead,trail ultras over testing courses. I want to compete, but on my own terms. To run with a sense of abandonment and lack of structure. I look to my ultra inspirations and want to emulate their lifestyles of running and simplicity, to be in tune with myself and my surroundings, to grow my hair and a long, bushy beard. It is with their inspiration that I once again have an identity.
My name is Dennis Rainbow. I am a runner.