The Elfin Beast: how to cope with the unpredictables

Let’s begin with a poetry lesson: many of you fallaciously believe that it’s, the best laid plans of mice and men—from Steinbeck’s brilliant novel; it is, however, ‘the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men’ from the Scots’ poet, Robert Burns’ poem, To a Mouse

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

          Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

          For promis’d joy!

In 1785, after obliterating a wee mouse’s nest with his plough, and leaving the crater homeless, Burns quilled the delightful and thought provoking eight stanza poem (To a Mouse) which examines the unpredictable nature of life. (Stay with me kids—you’ll learn a good lesson in the ‘art of coaching’ and perhaps, something about the permanence of poetry and the transience of life…) 

The poem is crafted in sestets (six-line stanzas—also known as the Burns’ stanza or the habbie). (Think coaches plotting and planning sessions/long runs, and daily mileage, etc.)

Within each line, we discover that the poem is pretty much composed of iambs, organised into iambric tetrameters (normal for English language poems—although Burns employs Scottish dialect). (Think coaches assigning paces/effort/heart rates, etc.)

Without getting too technical, it’s important to note the use of the catalexis: unstressed syllable at the end of the line—you didn’t learn that one in school with onomatopoeia (it’s important as it gives us a clue to the brilliance of the poem and hints, in a proleptic manner, what happened with Aoife this week)…

On a close read, we learn that the poem utilises a fixed rhyme scheme and polysyllabic, end-line words—with a feminine rhyme (think nursery rhymes); this is important too as it binds the structure and is key to the inexorable link between form and content in poetry and the synergy between sessions, recovery runs, and maintenance mileage in running.

How does this relate to Aoife’s Valencia marathon build-up?

Coaches are prone to planning out training schedules for athletes, especially marathon schedules. They fire-off their schedules in four-week blocks and hope the runner gets the graft done. Big mistake. 

While it’s good/important to have an outline of where your runners are heading and why, it’s dangerous to blindly follow a plan as sometimes, ‘In proving foresight may be vain…’

For last week, we had the following dish for Aoife:

Mon – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Tue – 8 miles easy + 6 miles easy 

Wed – warm up—8x2km in 6’50” (rec. 1km in 3’55”)—cool down 

Thur – 6 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Fri – 8 miles easy + warm up—12x80m hill sprints—cool down 

Sat – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Sun – Structural run #1: 3 miles warm up—16 miles @ 6’—3 miles easy

But if we examine the workouts, we’ll see that things didn’t go to plan and that the unpredictability of life gave Cookers a right good crack in the chops.

On Wednesday, Cookers rocked-up to the track at Castleisland (after a 90’ drive) to drop-out her 8x2km in 6’50” (rec. 1km in 3’55”). 

NOTHING MOUSIE HERE: The Elfin Beast battles on

During the first rep, The Grand Stablemaster (Edwardo Starrett 80yrs) and The Stablemaster (yours truly[ish]) noticed something was amiss—she was hitting the splits but she didn’t look her usual, smooth s(elf): she was tight across the shoulders and her head looked like it was shrinking into her neck (apologies Cookers).

While on paper/computer screen, this beautifully crafted workout (a Canovaian pastiche) looked perfecto, in reality—on the day—things didn’t look like they were going to plan: the wind and life set about shattering wee Cookers’ dreams.

FLOAT INTO REP: The Elfin Beast heads off into the wind

Initially, the wind wasn’t too bad but Cookers looked out of sorts. Perhaps it was the 120 miles and graft from the previous week (we didn’t think so: she seemed to handle the mileage and workouts well). Perhaps it was something to do with her menstrual cycle (most likely in my mind but unlikely as it wasn’t ‘time’). Maybe it was GI distress—again, unlikely, as she drinks Maurten 320 like she quaffs pints. What was up?

We let her push on and she hit the first three 2km reps and recoveries bang-on pace. But the wind picked-up, and slowly, we could tell that the beautifully constructed pastiche was drifting and would possibly, without intervention, leave Aoife looking like poor old Humpty Dumpty—falling off the wall and desolate like the wee mouse (in fairness, I’m brilliant)…

While Burns banged-out his poem to build a permanent home for the mouse and use poetry as a foil to expound his thoughts on the unpredictability of life, we changed Cookers’ workout on the fly but with intelligent[ish] reasoning.

We let her start her fourth 2km rep but at 800m it was clear the wind and the mystery monster of life were in collusion.

We stopped the session, gave her a 400m jog reset, and went with a further 10x300m (wind on her back and controlled pace, 100m jog rec into the wind)+11x200m (wind on her back and controlled pace, 200m jog rec into the wind). This gave her 12km of decent graft. (Note: we didn’t want her running too fast, for too long: increased risk of injury but with the volume of the session and the controlled paces, we ended up with a beauty).

It transpired—due to some extrinsic stressors and the unpredictability of life, which we managed—that Cookers’ menstrual cycle threw in an untimely curve ball; the associated hormonal imbalances and life challenges tried and failed to destroy our plan—we adapted; Aoife’s tough and she earned her sobriquet: The Elfin Beast.

The Second Coming

Let’s change poets and look at the second workout. I’m not a fan of Yeats (too plastic and contrived for me) but his poem, The Second Coming works well here. Here’s a snippet:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.

Many of you will have read Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece, Things Fall Apart (title robbed from Yeats’ The Second Coming). Achebe and Yeats both examine how, when things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. But when The Stable Grandmaster and The Stablemaster are wrestling with demons, the blood-dimmed tide [isn’t]loosed and the centre, like Brian O’Driscoll, can hold. And hold it did for Cookers’ recital of The Second Coming

On Sunday, Cookers linked-up with Stablemate and 2:26 marathon man, Mark Smith, to pop-out 22 miles, with 16 of the babies at 6’ pace. 

During the run, the demons attacked again: Cookers went over and took a nasty fall—ripping open her arm. But champions get up. Unlike in Yeats’ poem, where ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity’, Cookers evinced how she’s full of both conviction and passionate intensity. She got up, a tide of blood oozing out of her arm, and finished her 22 miler—averaging around 5’54” rather than the prescribed 6’ pace for the 16 miles part of the structural run. The Elfin Beast fell; The Elfin Beast rose—stronger…

BLOOD BATH: The Elfin Beast shows the scars of war

A challenging week for The Elfin Beast.

Character isn’t about the clothes you wear, what you say, how tall you are, or what car you drive; character is defined by how you act in challenging situations…

Here’s Aoife’s graft for this week (spoiler: it hasn’t gone to plan):

Aoife Cooke 

Mon – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Tue – 8 miles easy + 6 miles easy 

Wed – warm up—15x1km in 3’15” (rec. 2’ jog)—cool down 

Thur – 6 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Fri – 8 miles easy + warm up—12x80m hill sprints—cool down 

Sat – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Sun – 4 miles warm up—8 miles @ 5’50”+ 6 miles @ 5’45”—4 miles easy