After 7 years of running, I thought I knew everything. “Let’s do a long run every Sunday, that way you can learn about optimal pacing and we can improve your marathon time”. “Run like a Kenyan,” coach Fi added. “Run your short runs fast and your long runs slow”.

For the first session, we went off-road. A lap around Richmond Park ensured we were all warmed up so we cut through the centre, to the peak of the hill, down the other end, onto muddy terrain then back on the usual trail. Fun; it was a combination of light conversation and hopscotch as we tried to dodge rabbit holes and hidden roots. Three weeks into this regime, I was left to recreate this pattern on my own last Sunday. Out of my house and into the park, clockwise (as the hills are steeper that way), down to the southwestern end of the park and up the entire length of Richmond Hill. I got lost halfway through, almost ran into a mob of deer and took a detour to visit woods in the park I did not even know existed. It was like rediscovering my own back garden, a whole new level of excitement. My feet doused deep in the cold mud on a wet winters day; an hour and forty five minutes later, my session was complete.

OK, so I’m not running the bike leg of the Nice Ironman but I am competing in a tough marathon course at Placid. (A little part of me thinks that I am also being punished).

The next morning, I woke up to a feeling I haven’t had since I started running in 2004. Sore legs. My calves were OK but it was the load on my thighs that were unfamiliar to my body. The feeling was great. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had worked out during my run, and not because of speed. To anyone out there who thinks they have an automated running schedule that seems like a bad scene out of “Speed 2: Cruise Control”, try a little bit of off-road action. I highly recommend it.

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