In case you hadn’t noticed, the date yesterday was Friday 9th September, and it felt like it carried a great deal of significance to me. For after signing up for the marathon, all the way back in mid-April, with nearly five months to train, prepare, weep and worry, I now have less than a month until it all becomes very real. One solitary month to get everything in place and ensure that my stupid little legs can carry me round the 26.2 mile course without collapsing under me and leaving me with a face full of shattered teeth in front of several hundred people. One month. That really doesn’t feel like a particularly long time. Last week’s 20-miler gave me a degree of confidence; after all, that’s a full three miles longer than I have ever run before. But the last two of those miles were bloody hard. And this will then be another six miles on top of that. And, as the other idiot running the marathon with me has pointed out, it really is rather hilly. The tunnel incline is almost bang on half distance, so I should imagine that the preceding 13 mile run round an industrial estate on The Wirral will be ideal preparation for that. And then, no sooner will I have recovered from Tunnel Hell, they’ve thrown in another hill almost as big on 14 miles. I think the hills are worrying me more than anything at this stage, and it’s a bit hard to train for that living where I do, where the biggest hill seems to consist of stepping up a kerb, or at the very best shuffling up from the footpath that runs alongside the River Mersey.
Ah, the River Mersey. Winding its way through South Manchester, weaving back and forth with extravagant, sweeping curves, all the way from Stockport, through Didsbury and Northenden and out to Chorlton and beyond. I usually run alongside it at least once a week as part of my training plan, when Jeff advises a slow, off-road run, usually in the middle of the week, in between all the heavier stuff. It’s a nice change from the usual weeknight runs along the somewhat less scenic environs of the A34, the Princess Parkway and Wilmslow Road, packed with rush hour traffic and stinking buses, not to mention fairly regular abuse depending on my choice of football shirt. Running alongside the river comes as a welcome break from all the city madness; an oasis of calm and tranquillity against the busy, grey, concrete landscapes of the other training sessions. Plus there’s usually at least one dog being an idiot splashing around in the river chasing ducks, or trying to carry a stick which is clearly far, far too big for it which is always good for a laugh.
There’s a good few miles of riverbank suitable for running along close to my flat and I usually tend to stick to familiar sections around Didsbury and up towards Northenden. But on Wednesday I took a jog a bit further upstream towards Stockport, and along a path I had not been on for over four years. It was the path I last ran along when I did my very first run, in the rather lurid orange running shoes that I bade an emotional farewell to back in May. A run I decided to do to get a bit of fitness in as I wasn’t playing football any more. A run that proved an immense struggle after close to a year of enjoying my new life in Manchester, constantly out drinking and partaking in precisely zero forms of exercise beyond walking to the bus stop. A run that barely totalled two miles and left me shattered, aching and injured for days after. Importantly though, it was the run that led to all this, to where I am now, with less than a month to go until I will be forced to run over ten times the distance of that first struggle back in 2007.
The more I think about it, I quite like the fact that my first marathon is in Liverpool. When I initially signed up for it, I was a bit sad that perhaps it didn’t quite carry the prestige of a London, or a Paris, of a New York or a Berlin. And that is true for the most part. But running along the banks of the Mersey last week, along the path I last trod on my very first run, it got me thinking. The marathon is in Liverpool, and the River Mersey is such an integral part of the run, if not the most daunting aspect of it altogether. There is a nice kind of symmetry there; four years ago I went out and did my very first run along its grassy banks, and on October 9th 2011 I will finish on The Strand, yards from the very river where it all began. All I’ve got to do now is make sure I can actually get myself there. It’s going to be a painful month.