Friday, 14 March 2014


In running, eight times four equals much more than thirty two. You see, what happens when you run eight 4-minute intervals is that you break down your body. Afterwards, your body not only repairs itself; it also supercompensates by building even stronger muscles, so that it is better prepared for hard training next time. So eight times four is much more than thirty two minutes of nausea, sweat and teeth-grinding. It's laying down the building blocks that are the foundation of a strong body.

It is also a mental challenge. Running around a 200-metre indoor track provides few distractions from the physical exertion, few sights or sounds that can break the monotony. All that is available to you is your own brain, and your own brain doesn't want you to do this. Your brain wants you to stop and go lie down on the couch and feed it sugar. So when you're in your 16th loop and you still have 16 more to go, you either need to shut down your brain and concentrate on how your body feels (which is less successful if your body is in pain, because then your brain will suddenly become very convincing that you need to go and read a book instead) or employ those areas of your brain that are mathematically inclined. Count loops backwards. Figure out what speed you're running at. Break down the total into smaller, more manageable chunks. Your brain needs to learn how to put up with hard work. Paradoxically, it is your own brain that needs to teach itself when to shut up.

Eight times four is about trust. Trust that your coach knows what he's doing, trust that the demands he makes of you are not unreasonable. You are putting your training into someone else's hands, but you also need to trust your own judgement, that you know your own body and trust yourself to listen to it if it starts sending you signals that you're pushing it too far.

But eight times four is not only about the hard work. It's also about the camaraderie of going through something with like-minded people. You and your club mates are all out there, fighting just as hard to complete this gruelling session. They inspire you to try harder with their own effort. They help you to keep running by providing you with a good back to follow. They encourage you with words and smiles. We are going to meet at a race somewhere and compete against each other, but on the indoor track we are a team and we help each other become better runners.

Eight times four equals so much more than thirty two.

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