Last week was another reasonable one training-wise, with a tough 24 miles, but feel sure I'd achieve more if I'd a running partner of equal ability, or perhaps slightly faster, to sprinkle a bit of competitiveness into my solo efforts. Some years ago I trained with a a chap called Donald Bamforth, a butcher who sold some wonderful pies. He was five years younger than me and ever so slightly faster. After a reasonable warm-up he'd say "Come on, time for an effort" and he'd be away like the clappers for anything up to a mile in distance with me nearly killing myself trying to catch him!
Our runs were always off-road, often along one or more legs of the Calderdale Way Relay, anything up to 14 miles and hardly ever slower than 7½ minute mile pace. We'd no Garmins at that time, we just pressed 'Start' on our watches at the beginning of a run and 'Stop' at the end, so no way of knowing the exact speed we were running at any given time. I'd guess our 'efforts' were run at around 5½ - 6 minute mile pace. After 8 or 9 miles when I was feeling decidedly weary Donald would say "Come on, last one now" - and I'd think "Oh God, not another" - but it was amazing how the old legs would immediately respond, the adrenalin would kick in and I'd go all out to run him down. Donald boasted the distinction of having won the MV50 category in the London Marathon against tough world-wide opposition, and with his help and encouragement I emulated his performance by winning London's MV60 category - twice.
I miss those sessions. Nowadays all my serious training is done alone, no-one to chase down, no-one snapping at my heels, but the idea of 'efforts' still holds strong. On Saturday I went for a wild off-road run around Mossdale, a route of 11 miles with over 1,300ft of ascent. Towards the end, when I was slowing down and beginning to feel quite knackered, I suddenly imagined Donald's voice saying "Come on, time for an effort". Miraculously, my old legs sprang to life and I churned out a last mile at 7.15 pace. It just goes to show, the human body is capable of achieving far more than we'd normally think or allow.