The photo above is from a couple of weekends ago and is of a substantial chunk of some of my best friends from university days.
Everyone having an absolute whale of a time; a weekend away in South Wales celebrating a 30th birthday accompanied by muchos cider, pizza, sunshine and, er, moshing, apparently.
I’m not in the picture. Not because I’m taking it (that’s courtesy of ShotbyAmy), but because I wasn’t there. Because I’d already gone home. Because of marathon training. Because less than 24 hours after this was taken I would be out pounding the streets of South Manchester in a dress rehearsal for the big day a little over a month further down the line.
I remember writing this back in January and stating that I knew that even though that was the week that broke me I would have bigger weeks to come. This week was that bigger week. The biggest, in fact. Ever. The most I have ever and probably will ever run in a seven day period, the equivalent of running round the M60 twice. 70 miles, over seven runs, with an 18 mile practice marathon pace effort right at the very end. And as with that Hardest Week back in January, this massive hunk of training collided head on with a friend’s birthday and a team voyage to a far flung and exotic country. For Scotland in January, read Wales in March.
Just as with that Glasgow weekend I’d booked the Friday off work so I could smash the run out the way during the day before heading down, only this time Mother Nature had dealt me an annoying twist as I awoke to a steady flurry of snow, settling over the very paths I needed to stomp on for twelve sodding miles. With it being Manchester I naturally assumed that within half an hour normal service would be resumed and I could head out for my run into the standard drizzle and all would be right with the world, until my hands went numb as usual of course.
But this was different. It went on. And on. And on and on. It was getting later and later and I needed to set off. So I did what I had never done in 34-and-a-bit years on this earth and booked me a gym membership (I hate indoor exercise). All so that I could spend nearly an hour and three quarters stood in the same spot on a treadmill, sweating my tits off while staring at traffic going past on an industrial estate in Stockport. I’m not joking, it was the sweatiest I have ever got on a run; no amount of gym air conditioning or treadmill-based fans could save me. By the end I could literally wring my vest out. I looked like I’d been swimming, not running. And as a final kick in the nuts – on this most time-limited of all days – it took fifteen minutes longer than it should have because I didn’t realise the machine was set in kilometres instead of miles until I was a quarter of the way in. Oh, and because the bloody treadmill kept stopping every 24 minutes because I couldn’t work out how to make it mill for any longer.
The important thing though was that I got it done, so with that (finally) in the bank I drove down to Wales, arriving about six hours later than anticipated with my running stuff slung in a bag in anticipation of heading out on the Saturday morning for a gentle recovery jog. Which then didn’t happen because where were staying was on a massive hill. Which then meant I had to drive home even earlier than planned to get the Saturday run in without leaving it so late that it messed up the big run the next morning. A 360-mile round trip for roughly 14 hours in a foreign country with my friends, then leaving before the main celebrations had even started.
By and large I’ve managed pretty well to get every run in around maintaining some semblance of a social life, even if once or twice it has resulted in an absolute monster before work (fifteen miles on one occasion), or taking running attire away with me on a supposedly relaxing weekend break. Putting myself to bed early and leaving friends and family still out without me, or turning up late somewhere after yet another lengthy midweek plod. A weekend back home with the family, making us all late getting down on the Friday evening after running then having to run 22 (!) miles on the Sunday morning before driving back up. Finally though, through a combination of weather, terrain, bad planning and a need for high intensity training, I had to cancel something. The logistics of balancing a marathon training plan with normal life finally became too much.
It’s hard explaining exactly how it comes to all this, when stuff I really really want to do ends up falling by the wayside just so I can go out for a run instead. Letting people down and all that. Missing out on doing stuff. I have no idea why my other half puts up with me sometimes. I’ve lost count of the amount of times over the last four months when I’ve been asked if I wanted to do something, go somewhere, have some fun or whatever and my first response has been “I’ll have to check what I’ve got on that day”. Four birthday weekends (including her 30th…) have fallen during this training program and it’s bloody hard work trying to fit everything around running a six day, 60-70 mile week.
Why do it all though? Why not miss the odd one here or there if I’ve got something on?
Well, it all boils down to motivation; the hows, the whys. The drive to actually get out there and do it. When I briefly toyed with the marathon idea last year it just wasn’t the same. I had nothing to run for. I said I was running a marathon, but there was nothing pushing me towards it. So I started skipping session. Fridays were the first to go. Fridays are fundays, right? What kind of lunatic goes out jogging on a bloody FRIDAY? No, Fridays are for pub, or nice meals in. Catching up with friends, or just staying in with the other half in my
pyjamas house trousers in the warm, dry flat. Not traipsing up and down the A34 in the dark and pissing rain. The training plan for both marathons previous had given me every single Friday off, so I decided to ignore what my new plan was saying and give myself them off this time around as well.
The trouble with that though was that as I began to miss more and more sessions, it hit the old motivation a bit. The focus dropped and I thought, hang on, this is OK. I’ve missed that one and I’m still running well. I’ll skip this one as well. And that one. I was still hitting the Sunday long run with maximum gusto, along with the tempo / interval stuff, but any of the others were fair game. They felt pointless. What was I to gain by giving up another two hours on a Wednesday after work just to plod around ninety seconds per mile off my target pace? I couldn’t feel any benefit, I was bored, and in the end the whole thing fell by the wayside and I threw the towel in after only six weeks and that was that. No marathon.
This time around though my focus is fully on the prize at the end of it all. There’s money riding on it and I can’t let anyone down. My marathon on April 10th is the inaugural event in a long line of fundraising for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and with over £2300 in the pot already, I need to get round the bugger and justify the incredible faith people are placing in our efforts. Make a good start, get the ball rolling. Drag myself round the whole way. Run a bloody marathon.
As such: I need to hit all the sessions. I can’t begin to lose the motivation and end up resenting the distance, the training. Last year I was constantly tired and to be honest a bit bored with the whole thing. This year feels different. People are relying on me and from there there comes the drive to lace up the old shoes and head out into the pouring rain for another two hour shift straight after a day in the office. The trouble with that though, is the actual logistics of fitting it all in.
Thankfully though, this is the beginning of the end. The biggest week is now behind me, the marathon practice run is in the bank. One more long, slow Sunday left (20 miles tomorrow morning) and then the gradual three week taper through to race day. The majority of the hard work is done, from laying the foundations all the way back in September and October with those beautiful autumnal runs along the River Mersey, through the festive period with those soggy efforts on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day. Through the wind, the rain and the freezing cold as winter storm after winter storm rolled off the Atlantic Ocean and battered me in the face. A solitary struggler against the all the elements Mother Nature could throw at me.
And now, the best part of marathon training as it all starts to wind down to make sure I’m rested and full of beans on race day. The reduction in weekly volume seems to be nicely coinciding with an upturn in the weather as we head into spring. Running is beginning to become almost pleasure again. Bright sunny mornings, a bit of daylight in the evenings. No more bloody storms. Without a doubt this is the hardest I’ve ever trained for anything, but then I look at the total we have raised already and I know it’s all worth it. It’s pretty mindblowing what we’ve already raised before even doing a single event so thanks so, so much to all who have donated so far. Now it’s up to me now to get out there and bloody do it.