An Adventure in Distance Running

6stage start

Photo credit – Mark Hookway

For Berlin Marathon this year I went “all in”. I sacrificed lots of races and fun stuff to better prepare for the A-goal. I understand why I made that decision, I have no regrets, and I will try the approach again. But, it does not come naturally to me. I am not single-minded, not organised, not particularly focused. I have to try hard to be those things, and now the marathon is done, I am enjoying reverting to type.

A training partner has to withdraw from Chester Marathon, due to injury, and offers me his place. I tell him I am committed to another race on the same weekend, and even I am not mad enough to try both.

But then, the seed is planted in my head. Like an ear worm, it won’t stop gnawing. I find myself browsing through the Chester Marathon website – 5000 runners, big prizes, big event. I look at the startlist, I am in with a good chance of winning. I fire off an email to the race organisers just to see if there is a spot for me. They give me a place. I am so excited.

I think back to my debut marathon, March 2016. On Saturday morning I do parkrun, then a tough fell race in the afternoon. Sunday morning I drive over to Wrexham and run a marathon. With achey legs, no specific training, no carb-load, and no gels, I just run for the fun of it. Only goal is to finish. I hit the wall at mile 20, and stumble home to 2.38. It hurts, but the euphoria afterwards is incredible. I am so proud of myself. I have run a marathon!

3 weeks after Berlin Marathon, to attempt the National Road Relays on the Saturday, a fiercely competitive 6km race, and then Chester Marathon the next morning, does sound abit mad.

I hardly tell anyone about the idea. I just want to do this for me, I don’t want to hear anyone’s opinion on the matter. I imagine all these mythical people whining in my ear; What if it all goes wrong? You will look stupid. You will get injured. You won’t run fast. You will stagnate…

And how will you explain it all on your blog?

What an adventure it would be though. Sometimes, after a hard race on the Saturday, I feel amazing for Sunday long run…could I capitalise on that? Can I pull it off? It scares me. In a good way. And besides, how lucky and privileged I am to have a body that can even contemplate something like this.

My club, Kent AC, have our best ever team assembled for the National Six-Stage Road Relays. All the strongest clubs in the country put their fastest 6 runners together, and each runs a 6km lap. It is a brilliant event, fantastic atmosphere, and the team result is more important than the individual’s.

Image may contain: 9 people, people standing, shorts and outdoor

Leg 1 gets underway. I’m in there somewhere

The day before the race, one of our A-team guys has to withdraw with illness. Fine, these things happen. But then another team member withdraws, and decides to question the team’s preparedness for this event.

I have put my club first in so many races, have run through injury and illness, missed time with family and friends. I wouldn’t think to mention any of it; we are all pack animals, we want to serve something bigger than ourselves. But when that commitment is doubted?

I find myself driving to the race that morning with fire in my belly. I can’t wait to get on that starting line.

I would love to tell you that I channel my anger into my fastest ever lap, but, as it turns out, I don’t run that well. I reach the halfway point inside the top 20, which is good for the first leg, but it is a false dawn, I have gone too hard too soon. It burns. I fade. I lose over 10 places in the second half. I am flat out, but my body just isn’t ready. Transitioning from 42km to 6km is not easy. I come home in 33rd place. My team does amazing, hauling us up to 17th, and only 1 second behind our best ever performance.


Hanging on to old pal, Chris, for dear life

It is far from the podium place we so badly want. But, by pulling together to overcome the obstacles, we are closer and more supportive than ever. And we are even more determined to achieve what we all work so hard for.

I have to skip the pub debrief and head straight for Chester, so I can pick up my marathon race number, and get home at a decent hour. This will mean I don’t need to arrive early the next day to register, but can just rock straight up to the starting line at 9am. That is the plan anyway. The M6 has other ideas, namely speed restrictions and traffic the whole way. A 90min drive takes 2.5hrs. I arrive at race HQ at 7pm, but it is closed for the night. I waste half an hour looking around.

Now I am in a situation where I need to drive another 90min to get home at 9pm, go straight to bed, then wake up at 5am to drive BACK to Chester. I phone Nina and talk it through. I decide to sleep in the van here in Chester, and avoid the 3hr round trip. I can just race in the same kit I wore for the relays. My superpower is my ability to sleep. I can sleep anywhere, at any time, and through anything. It may sound silly, but is incredibly useful for occasions such as this. I wonder how well Bruce Wayne would sleep in a cold and cramped van cab?

I buy a duvet from Tesco for a fiver. I get some food to carbo load, but after the McDonalds at services, I just don’t fancy it. So I don’t force it.

I park in a quiet spot, in an industrial estate. A white van parked in an industrial estate, nothing more innocuous than that. I am near McDonalds, so I can wake up at 5.45am, have porridge for breakfast, and then drive to Race HQ which opens at 6.30am. I read my book for abit and snuggle up in my new duvet, soon I am fast asleep.

I say I can sleep through anything, but I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a car idling, and a beeping noise. And a man groaning. I am still mostly asleep, I am scared, this is like a nightmare. I do the – hide under the covers – thing. But the noises continue. I finally pluck up the courage to peer out my window. Right behind my van, a guy has parked his car, left it running, with the lights on and door open (hence the beeping noise). He is lying on the concrete road, lit up by his own headlights, just groaning.

I mean, what?! I look at my watch, it is 2am. Has he hurt himself? Doesn’t look like it. Is there anyone else in the car? Nope. Is he just blind drunk? Maybe. The last thing I want to do is get out and help this stranger in the middle of the night, when I have a marathon to run tomorrow. I resign to give him another 5 minutes. Thank the lord, he gets up on his own accord, walks back to his car, without stumbling, and drives off sensibly. I take his number plate, resolve to check for any hit and run incidents the next day, and fall back asleep.

Race report to follow.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Non-running related highlight of the week

Nina and I have a coffee and Welsh Cakes in cafe, while Jim is in school and El is in nursery, and I am waiting for some expanding foam to set.
Best thing on the internet this week:

Thing I’m digging this week:

Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think

1/10/2018 AM PM
Monday REST 5 @ 6min miling
Tuesday REST 10 x 400m (2min rest) in 65-66. 1x200m – 27, 1x100m – 13.4, 1x60m – 7.8. 7 miles total
beautiful evening at track
Wednesday 3 3 including 11min flat out
Thursday REST
hard day working in the rain
Friday 5tm @ 7min miling
feels really easy
Saturday Drive to Birmingham National 6 Stage Road Relays. 6km in 18.13. 6 miles total
Not happy with race, legs very tired after
Sunday Chester Marathon. 27miles total REST
Race Report to follow
TOTAL: 56 miles tm = treadmill

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4 thoughts on “An Adventure in Distance Running

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