Approaching the four banks in Chorlton a week ago, I glanced down at my phone to see how far into the run I was. This was the supposedly easy weekend in my training plan compared to what had gone previously, and what was to come in the weeks ahead. “Just” 13 miles, spread over two days; a light jog on the Saturday and then this steady eight mile session early on Sunday morning. The week before I had dragged myself round 18 miles, including a half marathon on the Sunday, the furthest I had run for nearly two years. The following weekend would be 21 miles. The week after that, 23. This was the recovery weekend to let my body absorb some of the battering it had been taking, and allow it to be in a decent shape for the serious business that lay ahead.
Eight miles should have been easy; perhaps a couple of months ago I would have looked at the day’s plan and felt intimidated, but these days such is the regularity of sessions with mileage into double figures that this barely even registered on the scale of Running Fear. A quick hour out on the road and then a relaxing day spent watching England tear India a new one at Trent Bridge. Lovely stuff.
However things were not quite going to plan. After a fairly straightforward opening couple of miles, I began to feel a bit of tiredness. Now obviously running any length of time tends to lead to one or two feelings of fatigue to put it mildly, but this definitely wasn’t normal. And the more I tried to put it to the back of my mind and push on, the worse I felt. It was the hottest and most humid weekend for many months and I was becoming increasingly drained. The mile or so stretch into Chorlton seemed to take an age as I became more and more fatigued, and as I came up to the main crossroads I could barely put one foot in front of the other. So I decided to have a little look at how many of the eight miles I had run and how many more yards there were still to do, just to reassure myself that everything was going to be OK.
I glanced down. 5.35 miles. Barely two thirds of the run completed, and still a significant chunk to go down Barlow Moor Road and the blessed sanctuary of the soft furnishings of my flat. Feelings of despair began to rush through me. So I did something I have not done for many months, if not years: I stopped running. And then I walked the whole way home, wishing I had my bus pass in my pocket, wishing that I had a bottle of water with me and above all, wishing that I was not the massive failure at running that I felt like I was.
Fast forward to yesterday and I was ripping along Palatine Road, 13 miles down and on the home straight. What a difference a week makes. More importantly, what a difference a 10 degree drop in temperature makes. There were none of the feelings of despair this time, none of the feelings of pain or fatigue that had kicked my confidence into touch last Sunday. Well, OK, there were some feelings of fatigue. I had covered the equivalent of running from Didsbury to Macclesfield after all so I was bound to feel a smidgen of tiredness. But there was nothing this week that made me want to collapse in a heap and sleep on the pavement for a month until everything was right with the world again.
It was an important milestone as well. As I started the 14th and final mile, I entered new territory. Never before in my life had I run this far. The previous best was the 13.1 miles of the Great North Run in September 2009, a proud occasion as I hit my target time and finished inside the top 1% of the entire field. But this was something new. Strange new demands being placed on my body as I build up to being able to – hopefully – run twice that distance on October 9th. And you know what? It felt okay. Surprisingly so, actually, considering last week’s abject failure. Going back to that, I think I blame the heat. Or maybe I was a bit under the weather. Maybe it was the fact that I’d spent the day before sat in the sun drinking cider. No, it can’t be that, I was just getting some of my five-a-day there. Perhaps it was the fact that I started the run a bit too fast and didn’t pace myself properly, I don’t know. The heat definitely didn’t help though. Some of my worst fears about training for a marathon over the summer months were realised there and then, and it’s changed the way I am doing things a bit. The last fortnight or so has been unbearably hot and humid at times, so I’ve shifted things around a bit and I’m running some of the harder sessions early morning before work when it’s a bit cooler. This has the unfortunate side effect of being late for work while I sit in my flat trying to stop sweating for an hour after getting out the shower, but at least I don’t feel like collapsing in public while out pounding the streets of South Manchester so it’s all swings and roundabouts really.
Oh, and before I go, time to get some more excuses in for not training. This weekend I am supposed to run 16 miles on the Sunday, which will be another new record. I won’t actually be doing it though as I’m off to Brighton on a stag weekend. No doubt it will be a nice quiet affair, perhaps a few games of chess punctuated by informed and witty dialogue between acquaintances of old. So I’ll be fit as a fiddle next week and raring to go again from Monday right? I’ll let you know how that one pans out.