Every Wednesday the Marathon Talk podcast asks its interviewees how fast they could run a mile, if only they had the benefit of 6 months’ training without injury. The guests compose a mix of present-day athletes (Mo Farah predicted he would be well below 4 minutes), health scientists, race promoters and former athletes, many of whom give times of 5, 6, 7 minutes, times, in other words, they would easily have surpassed at their running peaks.
The exercise is a nice reminder of how often middle-aged runners (a group in which I undoubtedly belong) have a notion of our potential speed which is completely out of kilter with how fast we routinely run. I think for example of the non-running sports doctor who told Marathon Talk, only a couple of programmes ago, that he would confidently expect to beat five minutes: no, sorry, not from just 6 months’ training.
The exercise points to a second, deeper, insight which is that every runner really ought to have at least one personal ambition. It might be as simple as “I’d like to finish the London marathon”, or “I’d like to run a marathon in under three hours”.
A good friend told me on Sunday that his running ambition is to keep on running until he is 80 (more than double his present age). He runs marathons in under 2:45; a pace which he maintains and improves. There are lots of runners with his running profile who would take up ultra-marathons. He is tempted, but so far says no. And I can see the logic: an ultra-marathon would be a new challenge, but it would mean significantly increasing his risk of injury.
When I was a young runner, I ran a sub-2 minute 800 metres (once). I ran 1500 metres several times in loose change above 4 minutes. I have been running slowly over the past year, and never further than 6 miles. I need a target which is ambitious enough so that I might not make it this year, but might in a year’s time. But I also want a target which I can actually make; even if it would make me no faster overall than when I first began running with my school team, more than 25 years ago.
Here then is my target, for 2012 or 2013. I would like to run 800 metres in under 2 minutes 30 seconds.