In praise of the programme

Caher Valley, The Burren, Co. Clare

I suspect I am no different to most casual runners; we sometimes need a little ‘hoosh’. Given that most of us are not performing in a competitive manner in our chosen sport, it’s other motivating factors that keep us going: simple fitness, the joy of exercise, the chance of a new personal best… And the best way to stay motivated is to have an event to focus on. And if you have an event on the horizon (sorry, was that deliberate? ed.) then the best way to stay motivated for that is to have a programme.

This is a riff I return to on a regular basis here at unironedman. Here in the lower leagues, we don’t have personal trainers and coaches. And that’s fine. After all, we’re here for the fun, the occasional medal and T shirt, and the sheer joy of hauling our carcasses over the line. Preferably in one piece.

And the easiest way to eke something out of these weary bones is to have a few sheets of A4 pinned to your office wall. Or stuck to your fridge.

Essentially, this is the psychology of the gym, in paper form. Why does the gym work? (Actually, that sounds like the start of a really poor gag, but I’ll spare you the possible punchlines…). It works because we’ve made some form of commitment. We get assessed, and given a programme. We know we are being monitored. And of course, we’ve probably paid handsomely for the pleasure.

But if like me you are more into a runner’s physique than a disco-muscled, gym bunny mannequin, then the gym is really somewhere you place on a par with the dentist or the car mechanics. So whilst the analogy of the gym works in this context, the actual gym may not be your best friend, if you are a runner. But the whole and beautifully simple trick of handing over 3-6 months of regular training to a few sheets of paper is rather cunning. The printed word still has the power to coerce and cajole. The programme says ‘do this’, and so do this I must.

(As an aside [Who? Me?], I would recommend you DO actually get into the gym every week if you plan on running on a regular basis. Runners may develop strong quads and calves after a few years, but they typically lack the balancing strength in the core, and this can lead to issues with posture, breathing, IT band, etc. You could wrap that all up in one word: stability. In addition, a good work-out in the gym will build some muscle – hypertrophic training – which not only helps with stability, but also with endurance and glycogen storage. And should also help to stave off injury as we get that little bit older. You can also tip the balance, weight-wise, but that’s not the real goal. You may weigh 80kgs and then work like a dog in the gym for 6 months, only to find you still weigh 80kgs. Congratulations. You’ve lost some non-essential fat deposits and created some muscle mass. And as we keep getting told on various fitness websites, by volume, muscle is denser than fat. But let’s not get bogged down here. Most of us running types are probably doing workouts in the gym to get lean and fit, and not to put on too much muscle mass. That’s if we’re in the gym at all. Most runners I know feel the same way about gyms as I do about golf… golf, as the saying goes, is a good walk spoiled. And time spent in the gym could be time spent out running.)

So, where were we? Oh yes: programmes. Sadly, I do not have access to a magic cache of programmes. But in a way, it’s not critical. Obviously, they all come with some basic provisos. Fancy running a 4 hour marathon? No problem. Plenty of websites out there will happily churn out a 16 week programme for that. But are you there or thereabouts with your running? If you are, and you just need that little ‘hoosh’, then the ‘runners’ little helper’ is here for you! It gets you out the door for those extra couple of runs per week. It forces you to get out of your comfort zone by adding in pace runs and hill work. It adds distance to your weekly totals, but not in a way that might lead to injury. The best ones (and you can still find free ones that do it) will actually give you paces to follow, rather than just tell you to ‘run 3 miles today’, or ’20 minutes’, etc. Those are probably best avoided.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t done any running before, following a 3 hour marathon plan is probably going to end in pain, disappointment and injury…


These are all the fundamentals of any training programme. You can of course get a tailor-made one, if you fancy shelling out some readies. And no doubt they will work better than an off-the-shelf version. But all of them work to the same principles in terms of distance running, and all will improve your running if you follow them. And because it’s there in black and white and stuck to a wall somewhere obvious, you will tend to abide by the rules. It turns out most of use just like to be told what to do, really. (And you can discuss that amongst yourselves; I’m just going to leave that there and walk quietly away).

My own programme is now printed out and pinned to the back of the office door. And to prove (and possibly labour) the point, I was feeling rather rough yesterday after a game of five-a-side on Tuesday (I rarely play footie these days; it’s very hard on the joints) and 11k on Wednesday. I was fairly sure that Thursday was a day off on the calendar. A quick glance at the programme assured me I was wrong. Instead I needed to do 6 miles of race pace running. And for me, that means 5 minute kilometres, or 8 minute miles. I did give myself a kilometre to warm up (not least as 1k gets me out of the valley and into the top of the park) but then I stuck close to the desired pace and even ducked under it. All of which was pleasing, and just showed that without a programme, I would have parked my lardy arse on the couch and watched more Olympics.

I did promise some images from Clare, and so I will drop in a few here. It’s a gallery, so can click and enlarge if you wish.

The Burren in Clare remains my favourite place in the world (though I am not widely-traveled, I admit). If you love beautiful landscapes, rich flora, even richer history, and some old friends to share it with, then Fanore is the only option. I did manage one run (up to Poll na Gollum cave entrance) and a few sea swims, but I probably negated any of the benefits of that with beer and food. But that is the purpose of holidays, and I make no apologies 😉

You cannot throw a stone in the Burren without hitting something prehistoric and wonderful. But there is also the risk of clocking a German backpacker on the head, so throwing stones around is not really advisable. Although if it’s stones you want, the Burren is indeed an ideal spot: the Irish boireann means ‘rocky place’.

We also returned to Lahinch and the famous T shirt printing shop and as I am a complete nerd, I brought back two of my oldest purchases, one of which is really showing its age and is full of holes. But they seemed happy see one of their long lost children and nodded in appreciation. That’s my version of events anyway. I think S may have been making faces behind my back…

Onwards, dear readers! Onwards and upwards!

11 thoughts on “In praise of the programme

  1. Me, I always like going to the gym (pre-plague, I’m saying) because I enjoy weight training. Working out at home for the past 18 months with body weight, a resistance band, soup cans, and (finally) one set of light dumbbells really hasn’t been cutting it. (Cut/Cutting … almost a pun there, if I could find it.)
    Thanks for the pics. They bring back the fondest memories of the Burren and sessions in Doolin.

    Liked by 1 person

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