Familiar ground

I wasn’t planning on doing a full blog so soon after last week’s. For one thing, my time has been pretty much exclusively divided between running, sleeping, eating and working for literally weeks now, with very little in the way of free time for anything else. Last week was the absolute monster week too; potentially as high as 61.5 miles and with the final huge Sunday run taking up over a third of that at a daunting 22 miles. Only once in my life have I ever gone further than that: Sunday 9th October, 2011 and the Liverpool Marathon.

Which brings me nicely onto this week’s unscheduled entry. Last week I took a few days off work and ended up staying over that neck of the woods for the other half’s birthday, and as such, I had to take my running kit with me to fit in a bit of training around the general carnage. Thankfully there were no heavy sessions scheduled in for the days I was over there, meaning that the afternoon tea, the beers, the cocktails, and the great, quivering breakfast and dinner behemoths from Moose Coffee and Almost Famous respectively were all relatively guilt-free. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning it was finally time to lace up my shoes and head out for a quick jog to get the juices flowing ahead of the dreaded Sunday slog. And with my intended route taking in some of the roads and pathways from marathon day all those years ago, I took my phone out with me for the first time in months and planned to grab a few shots and do a quick liveblog on the way round, much like these feeble snippets from 2011.

For some unknown reason the blog never uploaded from my phone, so I thought I’d go back and flesh it out a bit since I haven’t got much else to write about other than feeling absolutely shattered after successfully completing the beast on Sunday. Because after all, I know you’d all like nothing more to look at a couple of blurry, low quality photos of a gloomy morning on Merseyside, right?

Parliament Hill

The first (and probably worst) part of the day was an early re-acquaintance with an old nemesis of mine; Upper Parliament Street. Twice before had I run up this nasty little hill, and both occasions were pretty horrible in their own way. In 2011 it cruelly fell at around 16 miles on the marathon route and only a couple of miles after the hellish incline in the tunnel under the River Mersey. Up until that point, I was on for my target of three and a quarter hours and generally going well (apart from falling over on my fat arse in the city centre, of course), only to melt completely on the way up. I never really recovered after that and ended up coming home around four minutes outside my target. My return in 2013 wasn’t much better as we had to climb it in the opening couple of miles of the Liverpool Half Marathon and despite having much fresher legs, I was faced with trying to fight through the crowds after accidentally starting dead last. Thankfully, Saturday was a much more enjoyable affair, leaving my hotel early morning and taking it steady, a nice casual pace up heading for Princes Park. No stress, no crowds, just a breezy morning blowing the absinthe-drenched cobwebs away ahead of the big one on Sunday. It felt good trundling along, able to take my time and admire my surroundings this time. Recognising things; glimpses, memories.

The grand tree lined boulevard of Princes Road was next, with flashbacks to marathon day, struggling along in one direction with over a third of the race still to go and then motoring back along on the opposite side an hour later with less than two miles and 15 minutes left as the adrenaline kicked in and carried me home. Then there had been the return 18 months later for the half marathon, running frantically down the middle of the avenue trying to overtake the slower runners and keep my pace on target without falling off the massive kerbs and snapping my pathetic ankles to bits.

Pretty much bang on halfway through my Saturday morning run and as I was trotting down a fairly nondescript pathway through Princes Park, one horrible memory suddenly resurfaced that I had obviously locked up and repressed somewhere deep in my mind until now. Despite approaching from the opposite direction I recognised it instantly. The very spot on marathon day where I probably felt the lowest of all as my legs cramped like nothing I’d ever felt before and I had started to wonder if I’d make it. The wind that day had suddenly whipped up, the drizzle had begun to saturate my clothes. I was cold, wet, miserable and in pain. There were no spectators, hardly any other runners as the field had thinned out so much. We had been doubling back and forth through Sefton Park for what felt like hours and now this? Another desolate, deserted green space in Toxteth, still miles to go until the crowds and the finish in the city centre. So I stopped. I leaned against the fence, stretched my poor battered calves out and gritted my teeth. I’d come too far now to give up after all. Too many people had put their faith in me. It was a bleak moment, but I knew that I had to finish the thing. And so I bloody did, but not before vowing never to set foot in Princes Park again.

I hadn’t planned on running that way on Saturday. If you’d asked me beforehand to stick a pin in the map where I thought it was I couldn’t have done it. I had no idea where it was; I didn’t know Liverpool that well, and most of the parky bits of the marathon had all blurred into one seemingly neverending nightmare as the pain and boredom became all-consuming. It was good to finally see it again though, in a way, this time with only a couple of miles in the legs. It was strange that it was so recognisable even when approaching it from the other direction. There are no distinctive features there, nothing that really stands out. I could have been stood in any municipal park the world over, yet as soon as I saw it I knew where I was and what it meant to me that day. The very spot where I managed to summon the inner strength to complete my personal battle against the elements, the distance, the challenge. And then without a second thought I turned around to head back to my hotel, and just like that the little stretch of pathway was nothing more than memory once again. Until next time, whenever that may be.

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