Well that didn’t take long. A little over two and a half months ago, I sat here tapping away, writing my closing blog of 2013, wrapping up for the year and gently pondering whether or not to throw myself into a marathon for 2014. I mooted various options; London (virtually impossible, short of raising two grand in five months), Berlin (denied), Chester (possible, plenty of build up time), Liverpool (familiar), Barcelona (too soon) or Manchester (local). And that’s all I was doing really – pondering. After all, that bloody thing in 2011 took over my entire life for weeks: my summer, my work, my social life. I became a hermit, only venturing out to run myself silly in 20 degree heat shortly followed by collapsing in my flat, sweating in a pile, before waking up and devouring everything I could get my hands on in an attempt to rebuild my shattered body. So I want to get into London one day? So what. I’ll just keep entering the ballot every year. That’ll do me. One day they’ll let me in won’t they, the bastards. Except that’s not what happened, is it.
So now, I sit here once again, tapping away at my little blog, becoming increasingly panicked about quite what it is I have let myself in for. And it’s getting frighteningly, pant-soilingly close now. This is the ninth week of my training plan; nine remain. WE ARE INTO SINGLE FIGURES PEOPLE. And when I think about how quickly those nine weeks have gone since all this kicked off at the start of December…sheesh.
With half of the bugger behind me I suppose it’s a good time to take stock of things. It’s still too early to tell whether or not my target is in any way feasible, with several long Sunday runs still to do and only one so far being attempted at anything approaching my intended pace. The mileage has crept up gradually, yet all but one have been a tedious plod, at over a minute per mile outside what I will be aiming for on Marathon Day, and with only my tiny mind for company for well over two hours. TWO. HOURS. I really, really haven’t got anywhere near enough thoughts to fill all that time, especially first thing on a Sunday morning when I should be in bed dozing, recovering from a normal weekend with friends and family, instead of going to bed at 10pm full to the brim with Italian carbohydrates.
My current record for the Sunday long run on this regime now stands at 18 miles, a figure which pleased me upon completion for many reasons. For one thing, it’s the furthest I have run since the marathon. In the two years since, I have thrown myself into various 10k and half marathon training plans with varying levels of self-discipline, and although the Sunday chug was still a feature of those, most topped out at around 12-15 miles. Beyond that it’s marathon territory, son. 18 again for the next two weekends. 20 for three consecutively after that, then a week’s “respite” (15 miles) before the furthest I will run before the big day: 22 miles. That will be only the second time in my entire life that I have gone over 20, and it’s probably the one I’m fearing the most.
Hitting that 18 miler laid to rest a few ghosts and also made me realise how much I have improved as a runner since the last time I was building up to the marathon distance, as a callow, naive idiot. Summer 2011, and my first lesson in how not to look after yourself on a long run. OK, so the weather was a hell of a lot cooler this time around, and I paced myself properly from the very off, but when I compare the utter devastation I felt, both physically and mentally, after failing to get round the thing on that sweaty day in August, and how (relatively) fresh I felt after managing it with energy to spare a fortnight ago, it’s definitely started to give the old confidence a bit of a boost. Until I realise I still have to run another eight miles on top of that, and with the whole thing a minute per mile faster to boot. Shit.
So yea. The weather. Forgive me for getting all British about this, but it’s been a right grim old few weeks out there. Seriously. It’s probably just karma for the amount of times I’ve said “I love winter training, me”, going out all wrapped up on a crisp winter morning and jogging round the water parks or along the River Mersey. Pretty much as soon as I started banging on about that, the Atlantic Ocean decided to smash us all in the face with one storm after another for what seems like weeks on end. Rain. Wind. Hail. Freezing rain. Thunderstorms. More wind. SO MUCH RAIN. I don’t think I have ever had so many runs in such a short space of time where I have ended up soaked to the bone, running shoes trashed, and totally unable to feel anything in my hands and feet. Honestly, I swear there is a little cloud following me as it’s becoming somewhat unnerving how many times have left my office for the jog home and got shat on by the very first rain of the day. I’m absolutely sick of it. A bit of drizzle; quite refreshing, actually. A torrent of freezing rain blown into my face at 90 degree angles, fuck right off, if you wouldn’t mind. Christmas Day was OK (pretty pleasant, in fact) with clear blue skies blowing away the lingering Guinnessy cobwebs. That’s it. Everything else has been a constant stream of horrendous, soul-destroying experiences, battered left right and centre by Mother Nature, the sadistic old witch.
Sunday was the absolute nadir, and possibly one of the grimmest runs I have ever done in my entire life. A half marathon attempt at race pace, I tried my best to plan it so I missed the worst of the forecasted carnage, and up until around four miles in I thought I’d done it. Then, all hell broke loose and for about 20 minutes it was like someone was constantly emptying buckets of water over me, shipped from the freezing Norwegian fjords and fired from a cannon at over 50mph. Right into my massive face. I felt like quitting right there on the spot, but being stuck miles from home with no money or phone, the only option was to plough on, wringing the water out my top and gloves as I went and weeping to myself while dreaming of a roaring fire and a Heinz Big Soup.
Somehow, despite all that horror I managed to get round the 13.11 mile course in 1.29.13, my second fastest ever. This time last year I was becoming obsessed with hitting a sub 90-minute half marathon; now I have done it three times in less than a year. Two of those in absolutely appalling weather conditions and the other starting dead last and having to waste time overtaking over 90% of the field just because I can’t tell the time properly. Considering I’m not really training my body for that sort of effort any more it was a bit of a surprise. In your face, Mother Nature.
Now the really hard work begins though. Six weeks of building up to the absolute monster week, a 61.5 mile effort in March encompassing that daunting 22 mile Sunday, followed by a gradual taper through to race day so that, in theory, I’m rested and full of beans ready to give it the big one on April 6th. Despite still being some way out from kick off, this month has already broken all sorts of personal records. Most runs in a month (25). Time spent running (26:18:42). Calories burned (23,493, whatever the fuck that means). Yesterday, I went over 200 miles in a single month; the only time that’s ever happened before was last June when I racked it all up on my beloved bike (sob) for the Great Manchester Cycle. I’ve never done it on foot before. I ran 818.2 miles in the whole of 2013, and now I’ve done more than a quarter of that in only first month of 2014. This is all complete and utter madness, yet hopefully crucial if I am going to have any chance of hitting the ludicrous target I have set myself. And terrifyingly, I’m over halfway there already.