I am aware that I have not exactly been putting a positive spin on my training experience so far, despite getting a fair few miles under my belt and avoiding any serious damage to myself. Maybe it is the time of year or maybe I really did make myself sick of it doing my half marathon challenge in 2016. These last two weeks I have wavered on a couple of occasions. The training regime seems incompatible with me going out to socialise and enjoy myself, so if I were taking it super seriously, I would lay off the booze from now. But instead I find myself wondering if it’s the running that’s getting in the way of my enjoying life. I need to focus on the goal at the end, getting to run the London Marathon and the amazing experience that I know that it will be. That really is going to be the light at the end of the tunnel, because right now it still seems like a bit of a hard slog. I know that this training will not be forever. The weeks seem to be falling away quite quickly, the coming spring brings with it the prospect of the rest of training being a bit more pleasant, and I get ever closer to the blessed time when I can taper and relax.
Week 5 - 66 miles
The weeks always seem to start well and then get tougher. It is always a nice surprise to discover that Monday’s sore legs have a bit more go in them than I expect. I find that I have a bit too much energy sometimes and it is hard to keep at 8 minute miles when it's more fun to go nearer 7. This is what happened on Wednesday when I ran what was supposed to be a shortish slow run both longer and faster than I should have done. I enjoyed it but suffered a little afterwards. After I ran to work on Thursday, the familiar pains around my hip told me I should abandon the plan for the fast lunchtime session. I rested in preparation for the challenge to come.
Of all the things you can do during your training, a double race weekend probably isn't one of them. It started off at Alexandra Palace, where I had some unfinished business with Met League cross-country. Resolved to not repeat my slippery mistake of last time, I equipped myself with some brand new spike shoes, a bargain at £30 including two more sets of spikes. I fitted the 15mm ones to make sure I had some grip. Sharp as hell, they made the shoes into lethal weapons and I wondered if they were allowed on public transport. Handy to keep around in case of burglars, I guess.
The snow had stopped by the time I got to Ally Pally but it was still cold and gloomy, although nice to be with my fellow Eagles. The five miles consisted of three laps, each a flat circuit apart from the big hill going up to the palace. Half a mile in, I was bitterly regretting going to the pub the night before. Just a couple of miles with the new spikes made me feel like I was going to sprain an ankle. The shoes were now way too grippy for what I was expecting. When I needed a bit of slide in the tight turns, I wasn't getting any at all. I had to learn how to run in those things while I was racing. I changed my technique a bit and it felt ok enough after that. I was determined not to let Santry beat me this time but he passed me right before the finish, so I didn't even have that. Still, I made a first team place this time and I contributed in a small way to the Eagles men winning Division Three.
Sunday my plan said run a half marathon. It didn't say run the cross country the day before though. I had said to myself that I would not run any half marathons as part of this training: not after what happened last year. Yet still I'm signed up for Fleet because of the Welsh Castles Relay qualification, and here I was in Vicky Park for the only half marathon that day that wasn't too much of a hassle to get to. The organisers tried to get people enthusiastic but it's a difficult job in the wintertime. I set off at marathon pace but it took less than a mile for my shins to make it known that they had other ideas. All the ankle work of the day before had taken its toll. The four lap route was pleasant enough and I would have enjoyed it more if I had been in better shape. The pain eased off like I hoped it would, but that wasn't until the halfway point. After that, the going was easier but I could have sworn I was going faster than my Garmin was telling me. I finished in just over 1:32: not what I had hoped for at all. As soon as I stopped, I was suddenly aware that my hands were so cold that I couldn't feel them, and my shins and right calf quickly seized up. I had to hobble as quickly as I could out of there and back towards my bed.
Failing this test gave me a few doubts about how well the training was really going and whether I was going to be able to even attempt to run this marathon as fast as I wanted. I had been telling myself that I had to try for sub 3, but that wasn't necessary my goal when I started all this. I just need to do what I can and enjoy it.
Week 6 - 53 miles
There had to be at least one week where I had to be a bit less ambitious with my mileage and, because my ankle-related problems ended up persisting a while, this turned out to be one of them. I started off trying though, although I was tired to begin with and got more tired from there. Monday's cross-country was painful but successful and Tuesday I swapped in a long slow run, which I made sure I did slow enough this time. I attempted the track on Wednesday and it turned out to be a killer session in more ways than one. Twenty lots of 200m seemed to do wonders for my sprinting but it finished my legs off for the week. I was just too knackered to do anything on Thursday and two days rest turned into three when parkrun got dropped as well. Not running made me feel a bit more lively, at least.
I had only Sunday evening to get my long run in and redeem my mileage for the week. It seemed appropriate to revisit my old favourite night route: passing all Piccadilly Line stations between home and Hammersmith and then going back along the north side Thames Path, which is lit apart from a couple of stretches where you need to be careful. I added on a loop to circumnavigate Osterley Park and start with Osterley station. The resting had brought on a bit of soreness but that subsided fairly quickly. I found it fun to just run a route without knowing how long it would turn out to be; it was just like the old days. I guessed it would be about 20 miles but I had already clocked seven by the time I passed Boston Manor. I ended up running 23. I let go of the pace in the last five miles so I could finish in one piece, and also avoid tripping along the dark canal. I still managed an 8:01 pace overall, and running for more than three hours was just the training I knew I needed to last the marathon distance. I don't need to tell you that it hurt after that.
I'm happy that there is only nine weeks to go now, including the taper. Even though I'm less than halfway, it feels like I'm over the hump. I look forward to the time when my legs will feel fresh again, and I hope they can do what I ask of them when I put them to the test. I don't feel too daunted by the prospect of doing the marathon at the end of it because the training has challenged me enough. I guess that is the whole point of it.