Well well well. For the third time in my life, here I am the day before it all becomes A Bit Real. D-Day. Endgame. The day of reckoning, just some of the phrases I have used in the past to describe the culmination of months of hard work as the practice finally becomes the reality. All those hours spent trundling round and round on my little feet in the dark and pissing rain are about to come in really quite handy as come 9am tomorrow morning I will be lining up on the Old Trafford startline with a simple goal: run the Greater Manchester Marathon. Me vs 26.2 miles. Pay a cheeky Sunday morning visit to Sale, to Brooklands, to Altrincham. To Carrington and Stretford then back up to Old Trafford to collapse in a heap at the finish line outside the cricket ground demanding isotonic lager.
It’s an odd one this time around. Marathon #1 was “can I do it?”. Marathon #2 was “can I do it faster?”. Marathon #3 is…well, I don’t know really. Ultimately I just need to get round the bloody thing and kick off the year of fundraising, the opening 26.2 of our group aim of 1000 Miles for Motor Neurone Disease. Less than 3% of the total we are aiming for, yet for me probably the hardest chunk of the whole lot. Especially from miles 20-26 when the legs fall off and I want my mum.
Everything I have done over the past few weeks has pointed towards this. A raft of sacrifices and of missed social events. Late for work on mornings where I’ve had to cram a beast in early doors. Late having dinner after cramming a beast in after a day at the coalface. Early to bed, early to rise. Constantly hungry, always tired. Running, running and then even more running.
Understandably it’s felt like hard work along the way and the figures don’t lie. Today’s pre-race warm up is exactly the 100th run of this training plan, nudging ahead of the total of 95 for this same race in 2014 and a big increase on 81 for my very first marathon back in 2011. The total mileage sits at just under 1000 which remarkably is nearly double the total from that first effort and nearly 250 more than last time around. Finally, the runs themselves are longer too, rising from an average of 7.15 in 2011, to 8.1 in 2014 and now for the first time ever over 10 miles per run. For 18 weeks.
There’s been long run every Sunday since 20th October, with the longest standing at 22 miles, along with a 21, two 20s and four 18s. Apart from last weekend as the taper kicked in I’ve not run less than 15 miles on a Sunday since the beginning of December. There’s been another long run every Wednesday since mid-November, some weeks chucking in as many as 15 miles after or, gulp, before work. There’s been runs on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day. Runs on the other half’s 30th birthday, runs at the end of a 48 hour bender north of the border. It all amounts to the hardest I have ever and probably will ever train for anything ever again, and now here we are about to finally draw a line under the whole bloody thing. Barring some sort of disaster, come a little after midday tomorrow this will all be over.
In theory, I know I can get round it. I’ve been here before after all. I know what’s coming. I know how hard it’ll be to keep the pace down over the first few miles, and then how seemingly impossible it will be to get it up (oo-er) two hours down the road. I know where the nice big shouty crowds should be, I know where it’ll be a bit sparse and I’ll have to summon the inner strength myself to keep it going. I’m mentally already prepared for miles 19-22 around the country lanes of Carrington where no bugger is likely to be stood, right at the point where a bit of gentle encouragement / abuse would be quite nice, actually. Most of importantly of all, I know where the closest pub is to the finish line so I can put myself in the recovery position while someone fetches me a couple of pints of Stella and a massive plate of chips.
So I know what to expect (to a point) but it doesn’t stop the nerves. I’ve had butterflies for this one for a while now, each and every single time I think about it. Even writing this is getting the old heart rate up a bit. Every time I visualise the finish line the stomach flips a little and I know I will be a bit of a mess building up to the big kick off tomorrow morning. Last time around I must have visited the portaloos five or six times before we got going as my stomach was in knots, and don’t even get me started on marathon #1 in Liverpool when we were kept waiting for an unexpected extra 45 minutes before being sent on our merry way. You just want to get running, but all that loitering around bursting full of nervous energy (and urine) while watching the clock tick slowly towards the start time is a strange and horrible experience.
Basically, I’m absolutely chomping at the bit to finally get going, but there’s definitely been one or two occasions where I questioned whether or not I’d even be on the startline tomorrow morning as various niggles manifested themselves as career-ending injuries in my fragile, hypochondriacal mind. During the first few weeks I always seemed to be managing some sort of foot or ankle malady as the mileage gradually ramped up from a couple of nice evening jogs along the River Mersey to six day, 50-70 mile per week marathon nonsense. Most of these I’ve been able to run through – one in my left ankle has been there pretty much since day one and still bothers me every so often – but it didn’t stop me getting the fear that maybe the old body wasn’t quite up to it this time around.
Having said that, I did have a genuine, bona fide scare at one point and for a day or two I was absolutely convinced it was all over and seven months’ training was out the window. Heading out before work for a seeming innocuous Friday morning jog along the old railway track between Levenshulme and Gorton, eight gentle miles with a few sprints thrown in, off I went in an admittedly slightly battered pair of running shoes. Most of the hard work was now in the bank and this was the beginning of the taper period. The home straight. The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon, bathing me in a warm, orangey, springtime glow and all in all it was about as enjoyable as running gets.
Suddenly, disaster. Approaching my estate on the way back I began to feel a pain in the bottom of my shin, out of absolutely nowhere and unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. A slight dull ache followed by a much more acute kinda shooting pain, like being booted just above the ankle by a small malevolent child from one of the local schools. I got back and hobbled around my flat, then to the bus, then to work. I could hardly walk on it. I diagnosed myself with a stress fracture and spent the rest of the day moping around, devastated that the whole thing had gone to the dogs with only three weeks of training left.
I skipped the Saturday recovery jog but then with the pain having disappeared upon waking up on Sunday morning I decided to head out in my newest, most supportive pair of running shoes with my bank card in my pocket so I could jump on a train back at the first sign of trouble. But you know what? I didn’t feel the bugger once. A full 20 miler down to Wilmslow and back and not a single bloody twinge. And I’ve not felt it once since. The human body is weird.
Anyway. The important thing is I’m here, I’m ready and I’m raring to go. The mileage has dropped right off from those horrific 70 mile weeks and I sit here now with those usual feelings of “not doing enough”, even though I know damn well that I already have. The dreaded Wednesday long run, the Friday double-figure plod, Tempo Tuesday. All these are now a thing of the past as the last two or three weeks have simply been about keeping it ticking over so I’m still in good shape but without overdoing it and messing myself right up for the big day.
I can look back and know I’ve trained well and done my best to look after myself. Apart from a glass of wine with dinner on a couple of consecutive Sundays I’ve been off the booze for nearly a month now (and boy am I looking forward to a pint at the finish). I’ve had the odd takeaway pizza here or there but generally the diet has been pretty good. Lots of eggs, chicken, veggies, that sort of thing. And of course shedloads of pasta, rice and bread to get the old carbohydrate stores up.
I’ve got a brand new pair of super lightweight race shoes which I’ve nicely broken in. I’ve got a shiny new race vest from the Motor Neurone Disease Association which I’ve ironed my name on, hopefully gaining a few extra shouts from the crowds to spur me on when times are hard. I’ve got a pair of proper running shorts for the first time ever (and they are so bloody comfortable I wonder why I never did so sooner). I’ve got new socks. I’ve even got a new Garmin after my beloved Forerunner 305 finally began to give up the ghost a couple of weeks ago after five years loyal service and I knew my pacing would go to pieces if it died for good halfway round on marathon day.
I’m as prepared and as ready as I’ll ever be so now it’s time to get out there and actually do it. The marathon barnet is testament to the length of training that’s gone into this one (I never cut my hair when marathon training and this time around the results are not good, to say the least) as I’ve gone from not running at all back in August to full on, flat out, 100% fully fledged marathon idiot. And now it’s time to put all that hard work into practice and set the ball rolling on our year of fundraising. I’m pretty amazed at the amount we’ve already raised, with nearly 90% of our original target in the bag already. Now the onus is on me to hit the road and justify the incredible faith you lot have placed in all of us. Chapter one of the 1000 Miles for MNDA challenge is about to kick off; let’s hope it’s a strong start.