Ten Feet of Pain by Gary Hobbs

It is long run time. Normally this would be twenty miles but today the plan is to do between sixteen and twenty miles.

OK. I will come clean. Actually there is no plan. I have decided, pretty much at random, that today I will run sixteen to twenty miles and I will do this no slower than one minute a mile over my marathon pace. There is no reason for this pace or distance apart from that it just popped into my brain. I think maybe someone once told me that a long training run should be about a minute slower than marathon pace and it stuck in my head. I have decided to do the first six to ten miles on my own and then finish off with the ten mile Eagles run to Richmond and back. Then I will celebrate with a hot chocolate. At this point, this is pretty straightforward in my head.

Then I wake up and it starts ever so slowly to unravel.

The first thing that happens is my bed turns out to be really really warm and cosy this morning and almost impossible to leave. I finally drag myself out, only to discover that for some reason I can now only move in slow motion.

I do finally make it out of the house clutching two bottles of water, each containing a purple tablet, to replace the fluid and electrolytes my body is about to lose. As it has been snowing, and may snow some more, I have thrown on trail shoes and extra layers.

I run to Ealing Green and leave one of my bottle there, a little proud of my cleverness (remember this later), so I can pick it up at nine, when the Eagles run starts and only have to carry one of my bottles at a time. At this point I realise I no longer have time to do six to ten miles before the Eagles run starts so I decide to start with just the long weekday club run, though I later readjust this and do the short club run instead.

This part of the run is eerily and thrillingly atmospheric. I and a couple of other joggers seem to have the streets pretty much to ourselves. At one point I am even able to run down South Ealing Road in the middle of the road, which lets me avoid the snowy pavements. In a strange way I feel like we joggers are somehow connected to each other by our inexplicable decision to run in near dark down cold, empty, snowy streets. Maybe they feel it too because every time I see a runner we exchange nods of… of what? Smugness? Satisfaction? Pity and desperation?

By nine o’clock I have only managed four miles. More unravelling. I do make it back in time for the start though and we set off.

By the end of the first mile, I have settled in alongside John Kenny and Godfrey who in my experience stand out consistently, even among Eagles, as two of the friendliest and most talkative people to run with.

Then, almost without really realising it, I have settled in on their shoulders. Then, again almost without really realising it, I have settled in about ten feet behind them. Only ten feet but it is a very long ten feet as I find when I try to close the gap. It is like I am running in their slipstream. The ten feet does not drift into eleven feet, but equally it rarely gets shorter. By working very hard I can sometimes reduce that distance to nine feet but that is about it.

The run starts to be about this ten foot gap. Once or twice I manage to put in a prolonged extra effort long enough to catch them up but as soon as I do I lose concentration and slip back to being ten feet behind them. Ten feet. Not nine. Not eleven.

At this point it is pretty much only the promise of sitting in a café with a friend and a hot chocolate afterwards that is keeping me going. The snow is pretty and for the most part the conditions underfoot are good but I would struggle to say I am enjoying this. My legs feel dead apart from my right foot which is starting to hurt. My head is telling me I cannot be bothered with this.

However, we grind out the miles. In some strange way the other two Eagles are pulling me through this. Even if I cannot turn ten feet into nine I refuse to let it turn into eleven. I know how easily eleven feet could become half a mile.

Then, somehow, we are back in Ealing. I get to the finish and even manage to drag myself forwards for another two miles before I get to the café, which turns out to be everything I dreamed of and more. I can say that without a doubt I have earned my hot chocolate.

As we have been running, I have been turning over the reasons why this run has been so difficult, the small decisions I made and how they may have contributed. They include:

·         I am running in trail shoes, which I hate doing on hard surfaces as they do not have enough support.

·         My legs are still tired from the marathon last week.

·         I have been rubbish at hydrating. My clever plan which let me only carry one bottle at a time turned out to have a little flaw in it – namely that I forgot to actually pick it up. As far as I know, there is still a bottle of water and electrolytes on Ealing Green to this day. This means I ran sixteen miles with only one bottle of water.

·         My foot is hurting.

·         It is harder to run in the snowy conditions.

·         I did not get much sleep last night.

·         For the first time in years I am running in long trousers and they are weighing my legs down.

·         I am overheating because I am wearing too many layers.

·         I am just rubbish at running and London is going to be a disaster.

All of these may be true but, equally, maybe they are not. Maybe today is just one of those days.

What I have described here is one small part of the strange process of training for a marathon. If I do cross the finish line in April, in some small way this run will have contributed. What I do not know is if it will have made me faster or slower. I did keep going when I was struggling, doing my minimum distance of sixteen miles and coming in about forty seconds a mile slower than my marathon pace, and that could help my mental strength on the day. On the other hand, I have also created doubt in my mind because if sixteen miles is so difficult how on earth can I do twenty six? Maybe it was too soon after my last marathon and I have failed to give my legs the chance to recover properly and grow stronger and this might affect my training in future. What is more, my foot pain could develop into an injury (though fortunately it goes away in a day or two.)

Marathon training continues to be a mystery to me. As these blogs probably show, I stumble through it doing what feels right to me. On the twenty second of April I will find out if it worked.