As soon as I drew up the training plan for this year’s marathon, there were one or two chunks that looked horribly daunting written down with the figures for the week staring me in the face. The general cycle of hard week / easy (ish) week as per usual, but with one or two notable spikes of difficulty that looked monumentally difficult compared to anything that had gone before it.
Last week was the first of these, and with one or two extra challenges thrown in alongside for good measure which I’ll come to in a bit. The first week of the second mesocycle of the training plan (building on the endurance phase of the first one) and the seventh week of eighteen overall, it was Serious Business. Almost every run had a slightly sadistic twist compared to the pattern I’d been following for the first six weeks, and I can safely say it was the hardest week of training I have ever done in my life, eventually leaving me absolutely broken and in bed before 9pm on the Sunday evening.
So why exactly was it so hard?
Well, for starters it was simply just that; hard. Bloody hard. Leg breakingly, soul tearingly, pant soilingly hard. The most running I’ve ever done in a calendar week, a monstrous grand total of 63.2 miles, taking the crown from a week in March 2014 the last time I was doing all this marathon nonsense. I’ve smashed up all sorts of Runkeeper records – distance, duration, all that calorie stuff (over 7,000 since you asked, whatever it all means). 8 hours, 16 minutes and 21 seconds spent running which if my maths are correct makes it nearly 5% of the entire week spent trudging round and round in the dark, the rain, the freezing cold. That’s absolutely ridiculous.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Aside from the horrendous total, the individual runs themselves were a step above weeks previous, with the two weekend sessions especially tricky both on paper and in the cold hard light of day. The obvious challenge was the incredibly daunting 21 mile Sunday long run, only the fourth time in my entire life I’d ever gone above 20, the second longest run on my training plan and the most I had run in one go since staggering over the marathon finish line nearly two years ago. Three miles longer than my current longest on this regime and taking up exactly 1/3 of the week’s running, it’s safe to say it was a bit of an effort.
Added to that, the session the day before kicked things up a notch or two as well by swapping the usual Saturday five mile slow recovery jog for a seven mile interval effort, which I managed to accidentally plot over one of the hilliest bits of earth I have ever ran on. Er hang on a cotton picking minute. I know what you’re thinking. Hills? In South Manchester? Well, ladies and gentlemen, the extra twist to this whole sorry saga is the fact that right slap bang in the middle of this gigantic, humongous beast of a week, came a nice little weekend jaunt north of the border to Glasgow for a friend’s birthday celebration. Nice in every aspect apart from the fact I had to run 39 miles in amongst it all anyway. How on earth was I supposed to fit in an eleven mile Friday, seven mile Saturday and (gulp) a 21 mile Sunday in amongst all that?
I’m pleased to report that I did it, but not without a few “challenges” long the way. I battered the Friday run out the way before heading up North so that wasn’t too much of an issue, but bloody hell the Saturday run was hard work. Beautiful as Kelvingrove Park is, MY GOD is it hilly. My puny legs are used to the flat lowlands of my Mancunian homeland so plotting a route on Google Maps for a few laps of what I thought was a lush Scottish paradise turned into a horrendous sweaty hungover nightmare in oddly warm weather, with a stomach full of fried food, a head full of Scottish ale and over 1km of sprints amongst families, dogs, kids on skateboards and oh yes ALL OF THE HILLS. It was not fun.
With that in the bank then, I headed back to Manchester the following morning to attempt The Beast And I can safely say I’ve never had a run like it in my life before. But first, let’s get the excuses in early doors:
Look, I was on holiday for a birthday weekend, OK? Nevertheless I did my best to mitigate the damage, finishing the Saturday festivities a good three our four hours earlier than everyone else, heading back to my hotel before midnight, all tucked up in bed. A nice early (fried) breakfast the next morning, an early lift back to Manchester from a legend of a chum and a four hour journey spent quaffing Lucozade, egg sandwiches and water and I felt ready to go. I laced up my trusty pair of Mizuno Sayonaras and headed out for the fourth longest run of my entire life.
It did not go well.
If you’re reading this, maybe you’re a runner? Or at least, you know someone who is? They ever complained about needing to, er, number two every so often during a run? We all know what happened to Paula Radcliffe that time and all I can say is, she ain’t alone. Something about all that bouncing around can lead to a few…issues. I’ve done my fair share of running over the years but every so often I get caught out with this, and all I can say is barely a couple of miles into this one I felt that telltale “drop” of the lower bowel and I knew I was in trouble. I won’t go into any more detail than that, other than to say I will be eternally grateful to the Heald Green Beefeater and their singular gents’ cubicle. Apologies to everyone there enjoying their Sunday roast. And no, I didn’t buy a pint.
That enforced delay then led to my second issue of the day as my route was due to zip through an unlit wooded area in what was now pitch darkness as I headed into Wilmslow. Trying to stay on the path, splashing through massive unseen muddy puddles. Attempting to avoid ending up in the bloody River Bollin. Wracking my brains to remember exactly which way I should be going. Ah yes, here’s the massive hill near the rugby club, here we go. I’m bloody knackered. Not even half distance yet? Oh. My. God.
It the got steadily worse from there. The route back to Manchester was one gradual incline after another, the only bright spot a bit of encouragement heading through Handforth from an inebriated local “GO ON YOU FOOKIN’ PUSSY, RUN! FOOKIN’ RUN”. Thanks mate, I never thought of that one. I was out of energy gels and I still had eight miles to go.
I got over the line in the end but it felt like only just. The curtain had fallen on The Hardest Week and I staggered into my cosy flat, ordered a takeaway pizza and put myself to bed before 9pm. I was absolutely, completely and utterly broken. But I had done it.
I’ve probably got bigger weeks ahead of me in terms of outright mileage, and I’ve definitely got longer Sundays still to come. Especially on April 10th when we do it all for realz. But all things considered I can’t see any of it being as hard as this; a perfect storm of heavy running, heavy drinking and, er, heavy toileting.
It just goes to show how bloody difficult it is to balance a marathon around your work and social life though. Look at the absolute state of that weekend, I mean look at it. I made us all late setting off for Glasgow on the Friday because of running. I missed the start of the Saturday activities because of running. I then went to bed three hours before everyone else and was first to leave on the Sunday because of poxy bloody running. Only to nearly crap myself miles from home and stagger in crippled two hours later and put myself straight to bed.
But then I think about all the good the money we’ll be raising will do for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and it keeps me going, throughout all the hard times, of which there will be many more to come I’m sure. Through the freezing cold, through the rain, through the mind-numbing boredom. Through Atlantic storm after storm after storm after storm. Through the feelings of discomfort in the lower bowel (OK we can stop talking about that bit now). It’s all about getting myself in shape to be able to kick off the year’s activities on April 10th and I guess it’s not supposed to be easy. But safe to say, I never envisaged it being quite this hard either.