So, I should have been spending this week preparing to set the world on fire at Bournemouth Marathon Festival’s Speed of Light 5k. Presumably I’d have then been not quite setting the world on fire, but maybe giving it some nasty friction burns, actually racing in the 5k. This is all what would have happened (and presumably has, if you’re inclined to such expansive thoughts) in an alternate universe where rat piss isn’t a thing.
Instead, what I initially mistook for a very over-eager hangover actually turned out to be the first bout of proper illness I’ve had in a long while; ‘Hever Fever’, as it’s been amusingly titled by one of the many ill swimmers who swam in last week’s triathlon. It seems the water at Hever castle may not have quite been up to par, and so I have spent this past week as a pale, moaning, duvet-wrapped malcontent. While I have at last recovered – just in time for tomorrow’s training session and meeting with next week’s SPECIAL GUEST – this week just gone has been a complete write-off. Except being able to eat ice cream at times where I’d usually be stuck at work. You’re never too ill for ice cream. But athletically, yeah write-off.
As such I can’t give a detailed and thrilling analysis of my cadence/posture/technique/pre-race diet/pre-race goat sacrifices. I could give a detailed analysis of Häagen-Dazs’ finest pralines and cream concoction, but that’s not what this blog is for. I am still going to stick to the plan and talk about Goodgym though – my other running club whom I should have been racing with this weekend – because I feel like evangelising, but it might be a little less focused than intended.
Started by this guy (that’s a link, you can click it, yours truly does feature briefly) a few years back, Goodgym is somewhere between a fitness running club and a community/social enterprise group. The premise is kind of simple – getting fit is good, getting fit while actually using all that energy and effort to help others is better. Simple, no? Well, it wasn’t happening nearly enough, so Ivo made it his job to make things happen. Ivo’s the kind of guy I would describe as a ‘boss dude’, if I were to ever use phrases like ‘boss dude’ to describe people.
When I started running in the late summer of 2014, Goodgym was the first running club I went with, and I still stick by now. I’m still too much of a wimp (and probably too busy to commit, to be fair) to be partnered up with an older vulnerable person to visit, but I do the weekly group training runs and the odd weekend one-off mission. The first time I tried to attend a Goodgym session I actually turned up to a Parkrun thinking it was a purpose-run Goodgym training session, and then got really scared and confused when a few hundred people turned up. Turns out Goodgym do a monthly parkrun tour, not that I knew this at the time, of course.
See there? Me post-parkrun. I’m the yob in the seemingly oversized clothing. It’s not oversized, just the guy next to me was very tall so I had to stretch. Those trainers though, not suitable for running. At all.
A year later, and I’m still popping into Brixton most Tuesdays to go for a run and do some small amount of good in the world. Since those early days, my running has progressed to a point where a Goodgym session these days isn’t always enough of a workout for me; it’s very much aimed at people of all athletic abilities, and I now tend to fall at the upper end of that limit. I’ll often run a couple of miles to/from the session, and have started working twenty or so minutes of hill interval sprints into my way there. It’s weird, going from events like the SEAA relays of a couple weeks ago where I was a very middle/bottom of the pack runner, to Goodgym stuff where I’m one of the quicker ones.
One question that came up in a conversation with myself early on in this Ironman thing: given that Goodgym may not athletically be the most efficient use of a training session, should I put it on hold at some point in lieu of titanic bike laps of London into twenty three and a quarter mile brick runs, or something equally more appropriate to what it is I’m aiming for?
The answer was very quick and definite: hell no. Coach Holmes has already been informed that Tuesday evenings are off limits for my training plan. Before and after, sure, but that 6.45 to 8.15 slot is sacred ground.
For all of the 5.30am training runs, the wet and windy Thursday night bike intervals in Richmond Park, wobbling up the south circular with my turbo trainer strapped to my back for brick sessions – sometimes this can be a grind. Not just each training session, where you are having to push yourself so hard, but the lifestyle itself. 8 months of what to me will be some very hardcore triathlon training is going to be a hard bloody slog. It’s why rest days exist (note to self: actually remember to take these next year occasionally, you idiot).
I do enjoy pushing myself physically, to the limits of and beyond what I think I am capable of. But psychologically, I am still very hard on myself, especially when running. It’s like Hulk – when I think I’m not going fast enough, I think of things that make me angry. Then I go faster. I am not sure that in the long term, this is a mentally sustainable process.
Goodgym is where I go when I need a more relaxed atmosphere, to cut myself a little slack. It’s not about hardcore training for me, and more about going back to an atmosphere that is enjoyable in a different way: casual, social, about more than just myself and my quest for physical, mental and spiritual perfection. It does make me feel slightly more worthwhile to do something for other people once a week. Are thirty runners spending thirty minutes sorting food at a local food bank going to change the world? Not in a big way, no, but you can sure as hell bet that it makes life a lot easier for the people running the food bank, and ergo the people who have to make use of it (hooray for austerity).
I attended a sports psychology talk recently (set up by the other club, but I’m going to use it here) by a guy called John Neal, who’s worked with a whole host of very prestigious sporting groups. One thing touched upon was that people tend to train and perform better when they feel good about themselves, and an easy and quick way to achieve this is to perform a random act of kindness, or something of the like, for someone. That’s what Goodgym is for me, and I expect for most of the people who do attend: feel good, do more. Do more, feel good. It’s a recurring cycle of awesome and fantastic, which is far better than the usual recurring cycles experienced by a twenty something manic depressive manchild.
So there you go, that’s my short and sweet secret for being a top athlete: go to Goodgym, you’ll train better. Also, they’re just really great people and friends to spend time with. As you’d expect with an altruistic organisation, it doesn’t tend to attract wankers, so that’s nice (I am presumptively placing myself in the not-wanker category for this, which I’m very proud of).
And even better bakers. The Goodgym Lambeth bake off sweepstake has currently reduced my nails to a ragged mess – come on Team Nadiya! – but sweet baby Jesus, these people know how to produce the (baked) goods when their representative gets canned from the show. No fitness clubs in the history of fitness ever encouraged so much cake. There, a third reason why Goodgym is awesome.
Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!