Last Sunday I returned to my flat, bathed in bright sunshine at the end of a morning run. Nothing too unusual to report there, a pretty routine state of affairs. However the sunshine itself was the anomaly as I staggered in, absolutely soaked to the bone after two hours of the worst rain in weeks, roads nearby literally closed due to flooding, my front garden underwater. The British summer was out in full force, right on the day I had pencilled in for my longest run of the year and the furthest I’ve run since the virtual marathon back in October.

Despite the struggles it was overall a success though, marking the halfway point of my third round of marathon training in 18 months, ideally this time with an actual race at the end of it. Nine weeks down, nine to go. Over 450 miles in the bank already. So I thought I would be a good opportunity to report where I’m up to as I build up to what could be (but almost definitely won’t be) my final effort at the full distance.

“No More Marathons™” or not, it is though probably the last time I ever go ALL IN on one, the first occasion in over five years since I last threw all caution to the wind and set out months of hardcore, dedicated training, with a target at the end bigger than the “just finish the race dickhead” plan of marathons 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Unlike that big effort back in 2016, or any of my five other actual races since 2011 come to think of it, I’m on the Hansons plan this time around which is a very different kettle of fish entirely. I’ve tried it out a couple of times already over the past 18 months training at slower paces, once for the aborted spring 2020 race and then again for the virtual one six months later, and it seems to suit me weirdly well for a programme asking for six running days out of seven every week. I’m fully into the cycle now of slow Monday, interval Tuesday, day off Wednesday, tempo Thursday and then three days of slow / steady runs culminating in the Sunday long run, currently standing at last week’s 15 miler and with three 16s to go before the lovely taper down to rest day.

Those of you who’ve done a marathon in the past might be questioning that. Why not any further? Why stop at 16? It seems mad that on raceday I’ll be expected to run another ten (!) miles on top of my longest training run, but there is a method to the supposed madness. I think I’ve covered it here before but essentially the Hansons plan aims to set up Sunday long runs to feel like the end of the marathon, i.e. miles 10-26, rather than the start / middle / beginning of the end of the race which can be the case with other plans. It’s looking to try and recreate the tiredness of the final stretch of the race thanks to all the cumulative fatigue from the four consecutive days of running, kicked off by a marathon-paced tempo run of all things on the Thursday. The idea is that body feels tired, but not completely knackered risking injury, and so in theory you’re prepared mentally and physically for the shitshow that always seems to kick in for the final 10k of the marathon.

That’s the idea anyway and I must say it’s really nice (and a lot less intimidating) looking at my training plan and seeing nothing close to 20 miles on there at any point. It’s a bit of a leap into the unknown in terms of the pace I’m aiming for this time around, but I felt it worked pretty well on my virtual marathon in October where I admittedly didn’t push it too hard, but still finished the strongest I’d done in any of my previous races, even the big one in 2016. Here though I’ll be looking to shave over 20 mins off that time from a year ago, all the while following more or less the exact same training plan. Just faster. It’s going to be interesting seeing how it all pans out.

As I mentioned last time around, I have my doubts about the whole thing. I’m half a decade older now than the last time I went full bore on the marathon and not just that, it’s half a decade closer to 40 where it becomes all the more troubling, the race falling less than a month before I leave my thirties behind me. I originally had a couple of targets in mind, and already the first nine weeks of training have put to bed the faster one as I’ve realised I can’t hit the training paces with any regularity that I would need to be able to if I were to make it remotely possible. It’s hard to know if that’s just age, fitness, warm weather or simply the fact it’s something I was never capable of in the first place, but whatever the reasons it’s definitely not a goer. Beyond that though, plan B seems faintly possible, barring the usual disasters of hot weather, injury or just needing a crap halfway round on raceday as is sadly often by way.

Whatever happens, it’s been an experience trying and whether or not I ever do run another marathon, this will definitely be the last time I push myself to these kind of extremes for one. Aside from it literally being harder than twelve months ago because I’m running faster, it’s also logistically a lot harder to get the runs in with most of my time at work now back in the office and lunchtime runs while working from home are firmly off the agenda. There’s already been a couple of 4:30am starts to squeeze a longish tempo session in before heading into the office, and this is only likely to get harder into September as the runs get longer and the sunrise gets later. It’s likely not going to be much longer than a fortnight or so before those early runs are starting in the dark.

It’s been difficult planning the weekend runs around social events as well now that that’s all a thing again. Lovely as it is to be able to see people properly, it’s not massively fun sitting there with a nagging feeling in the back of your mind about how this beer you’re currently drinking is going to affect a 15 mile run in less than twelve hours time. It’s proving a test of discipline right around the time I really want to let loose a bit after well over a year of not being able to socialise properly.

Hopefully it’ll all be worth it anyway, and I must say the results of all this feel relatively pleasing so far. I don’t know if it’s just the cooler weather over the last fortnight but the harder sessions are definitely feeling a little easier now than they were in July, even if the marathon-paced tempos are still a bit of a struggle. I’m back over 50 miles a week regularly for the first time in over a year and, touchwood, the body is mostly holding up to it with the hamstring niggle I mentioned in my last blog just kinda hovering in the background without (yet) causing any major issues.

We’ll see how it goes. There’s plenty still that can go wrong between now and raceday on October 10th, and a work project threatening to derail September completely could yet throw a massive shitty spanner in the works in terms of being able to rest properly around the biggest weeks of training. But I have a plan in place, I’m over halfway through it and it’s going relatively well at this stage, and I can’t ask for any more than that right now. I even have a warmup effort pencilled in for September 12th over at the Wilmslow half, my first race for nearly two years and a chance to get the raceday routine in place for the big one four weeks down the line. By then, I’ll hopefully have a better idea if all this is doable or not.

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