How Charlie Spedding helped me run a faster half marathon time trial

Today I ran the half marathon distance as a solo time trial. This run was the final test at the end of a year where I had committed to getting better at running, setting a target of running 2000 miles to force consistency and improve my times. I had planned to do a race, but with all possible events cancelled, I drove to Nottingham and ran the ‘Big track’, the council provided tarmac and gravel route down the canal and back along the river. My goal was a sub-one hour and thirty five-minute half-marathon. I missed by 9 seconds but beat my previous best time by over four minutes and my february time by fifteen minutes.

…the council had provided hundreds of miles of tarmac for us to run on, and in the winter they even made it floodlit.

Charlie Spedding

I got a Kindle a few months ago to help increase my reading volume and chose a running book on sale to be my first read. I had not heard of Charlie Spedding, despite him being a successful English distance runner, London Marathon winner, and Olympic medalist. The book is an honest account of Spedding’s career, and it has transformed the way I think about my training.  

There are some running gems in the book. Spedding states that running well depends on physical fitness and your ability to perform. Their natural ability will determine each individuals peak level of fitness, but the aim is to get as close to that peak as possible with training. That individual’s ability to perform is determined by their confidence, determination, and motivation. 

Spedding also writes about his self-image. He needed to move from a place where his subconscious self-image of ‘running quite well but not winning’ became one of someone that achieved great things. He went through a process where we changed his attitude towards what he was capable of and moved from just training hard to expecting more from himself and so doing things in a ‘better and different way’. He began to think of himself as a champion, and so his actions began changed to mirror this mindset. 

But if I could get this right, when I thought about the big race I would say to myself, ‘this is a huge test for me, it will be very difficult, in fact, to do well I will have to run the perfect race.’ To this my subconscious mind would respond, ‘the perfect race? No problem, I do that all the time.’

Charlie Spedding

He began to focus on optimum training rather than hard training; ‘to do enough but not more.’ The word ‘optimum’ did not fit with his new mindset, so he changed it to ‘perfect’ training and set about perfecting his physical fitness and ability to perform. He would measure his improvements based on his previous performances, and broke his progress into stages by setting lots of goals.

…on my pad I wrote ‘I am going to think like a caterpillar.’ The caterpillar spends its time surviving. It hides from birds and eats leaves, but it is one of the most ambitious creatures on the planet because all the time it is thinking, ‘one day I am going to grow beautiful wings and I am going to fly.’ Charlie Spedding

Charlie Spedding

The most memorable part of the book for me was when the author finds himself in a pub with a notepad and a pint of beer and decides to make a plan. He writes three headings on the page; What do I want? Why do I want it? And How much do I want it? He then writes a list of what he needed to do; ‘Change my vocabulary. Aim for perfection, Know what I want, why I want it, and how much I want it. Use my imagination. Try to feel fantastic, and think like a caterpillar.’ 

Success is measured by how much I fulfil the talent I was born with.

Charlie Spedding

This book found me after my time with a coach had just ended and with no races on the horizon. I was struggling to keep up the motivation to run six miles a day to keep my annual milage target on track. After reading the parts about focusing on improving times based on previous performances and striving to fulfil personal talent, I created a set of goals to work towards as stepping stones towards being a better distance runner. I found a plan in Brad Hudson’s book to reach the next step on my journey – a 1:35 half marathon and focused on performing each workout perfectly. 

Today was the day of my test. I had a quiet morning, I avoided any negativity (my newsfeeds), and I drove quietly to where I was to start running. I told myself that to run my goal time, I would have to run a perfect time trial, but that was ok because I had been practising perfect for months. I narrowly missed my goal today, but if it were easy, it would not be fun. The search for the perfect run continues.

Pick up a copy of From last to first by Charlie Spedding; you will not be disappointed. Let me know what you are up with your training on Twitter and connect with me on Strava.

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