Greetings there! All good with you?
Well, I’ve been better, let me tell you. Last week wasn’t great for training, through a combination of a bug doing the rounds chez Squintani and the disruption of a 24-hr round trip to Farnborough. I still managed to get to the 50mi mark for the week, mind… just!
I’m just crossing that chasm where childish enthusiasm for a new challenge turns to the acute adult awareness of its implications. I do so with M-Day now less than five weeks away. In 33 days’ time, I will know whether all these miles, all these hours have been worthwhile, and into what finishing time I will have been able to convert them. And that sure focuses the mind!
These are five weeks during which I will be my best friend and my own worst enemy. I will motivate myself onto the roads of Portishead, I will keep an eye on myself to ensure I eat properly… and I will have more than the occasional word wi’misen. But, almost as a natural flow from that, I will set expectations of myself that, quite frankly, no-one will do anything to compound. Everybody else recognises that running a marathon is a major challenge in itself without overcomplicating, over-stretching the issue. But me… as economic theory goes, the more you invest, the more you expect in return: and I’ve invested, and will continue to invest, an awful lot. There is a danger that, cometh the day, I will expect too much: it is one of which I am aware and one which I intend to manage. Hope for the best but expect nothing: that’s the balancing act I need to strike.
Lest I forget, of course, my initial target was to run a marathon in under four hours. That alone, for someone who’s never run 26.2mi, would be some achievement – something of which I must not lose sight. It is only because of the sheer volume of training I’ve been able to put in and because of some encouraging results along the way that I moved my target finish time to 3h45’ and then 3h30’. Every time that target has been lowered by 15’, the required pace per mile has gone down by 30”. So, from 9’/mi, I went to 8’30”/mi and am now effectively targeting 8’/mi. Is that sensible, when only last Tuesday I ran 22.1mi at a pace of 8’36”/mi and only this morning I ran 23.2mi at 8’43”? Am I really going to be able to shave off 43”/mi?
Truth is, I don’t know. The past few weeks also featured 1,000+ feet of elevation, which I won’t encounter in Manchester. I’ve been setting off before 6am, which, whilst practical, can’t be ideal for my body. Although it has meant lower dehydration levels… there are parts of this here country covered in snow right now, surely it can’t last till April?
No small detail, however, is that even this morning, on my longest run yet, I ran three fewer miles than I will do in 33 days’ time: and, when I do have to run miles 24, 25 and 26, they will be a darn sight more challenging than any of miles 1 to 23! (Or is the “uphill finale” I encounter when running around here acting as a good simulator for the pain of those final marathon miles? Discuss)
Looking at my splits from last week, I see that I ran miles 15 and 16 at 8’00”/mi and 8’10”/mi. That’s encouraging. Still not good enough for 3h30’, though. So why don’t I aim for 3h45’?
Because… I don’t know. Because I want to give 3h30’ a shot, safe in the knowledge that, if I drop off the pace, I can still aim for 3h45’ or indeed 3h59’59”. Because I am hoping that being part of a Brooks Pace Team will have a positive effect on me, helping my legs keep up and saving my head from having to work out stuff. Because what I don’t want to do is give up now on 3h30’ and then reach the finish line only to find myself wondering. I’d much rather slow down on the day. Make sense?
Who knows! I need to not get fixated on a time, much as that is somewhat complicated by my wanting to sign up for one of the Pace Teams.
As with any performance, on the day there will be nerves: as with any performance, if managed correctly those nerves will be an asset. Here’s hoping the rehearsals bear some resemblance to the real thing in the end.
Last but not least, a major source of motivation comes of course from my fundraising. I’m now within £35 of my £500 target, which is immensely humbling. I have always candidly admitted that I would be running Manchester even if I weren’t fundraising, yet life has gone and added a little poignancy to my efforts. This is not my story to tell or my grief to share: suffice to say that someone I know has recently lost their son, their very young son. We should not have to bury our children, yet that is what she will have to do on Thursday. She wasn’t from Sheffield, though it’s from Sheffield that I know her. I’m fundraising for Sheffield’s Children’s Hospital Charity, because of personal links to the Hospital and of course the City. But Sheffield has no monopoly over the sadness I feel upon hearing such stories. And I plead guilty to having thought about my friend on recent runs, of the unfair hand life has dealt her and her husband, and of finding myself converting that feeling of injustice into an extra spring in my step at times.
Anger and sadness pull at our heartstrings in a way that can motivate us in a sporting context, as we turn to sport to “do something” when there is very little that we can do. If April 28 turns out anything like my previous races, I will think about my brothers in the final hour or so ahead of the start, when I will fight back a tear or two, then during the race, when they will lift me during the harder bits, and finally when I cross that line, when I will feel we did it together and will raise my eyes to the sky, to them. But now I expect I will also think about a young man I never met, whose mother for that matter I’ve not seen since graduating in 1998, but with whom I’ve kept in touch courtesy of modern technology. A mother who, around a year ago, suggested we try to meet up, kids an’all… we never did and now my chance to meet that young man has gone forever. My chance to honour his memory alongside my brothers’, alongside the streets of Manchester… well, that’s 33 days away.