Sunday, 4 April 2010

Day 339 - promise and mission fulfilled

Type - steady run

Distance - 26.2 miles (marathon)

Time - 3 hours 49 minutes 11 seconds

A little under a year ago I was doing as much as I could to help my friends Jarlath and Mark complete a rather audacious bid to run seven marathons in as many days. At that point I was severely overweight, obese by several measures. I was easily able to cycle alongside the intrepid duo, doling out water, energy bars, directions and encouragement. But the idea of running anything like the distance they covered on each single day of that week was unthinkable.

Running had never been a particular strong point, especially running outside. There had been periods when I had honed an indoor treadmill technique, and could maintain a certain speed for a certain time. But set foot outdoors and I would huff and puff my way with a few miles finishing me off.

I was about to turn 29, and it seemed as though this was a turning point. I had two choices. I could accept a much larger body size than I was comfortable with, or I could do something about. I chose the latter, and am very grateful I did.

At that moment I committed to running the London Marathon. The stated intention was to complete a marathon in under four hours. It seemed a long way away, but doable. And, today, I proved it was indeed doable. I've met my target three weeks early, and now look forward to doing one better in the marathon proper.

I've yo-yo'd with training, doing well, stopping, weight fluctuating around it. The difference in this training has been that this time I was publically signed up to do something - I would definately be running in London, so I pretty much had to make a good go of it. And it will continue. I'm signed up to the Milton Keynes half marathon, when I want to smash my 1:40 barrier, and then the Berlin Marathon, a fast course when I can train for a sub 3:30 marathon.

Anyway, today's run. A marathon. To have over 26 miles stretching out in front of you is pretty daunting. This time I had left the route planning to Jarlath, and he was accompanying me on this Good Friday exertion. We would be starting at his house just off the Roman Road south of Victoria Park. North to the Park, and then along the canal to follow the River Lea over ten miles north, and then back and then twice round the park to make up the final distance.

To make things even more interesting there was a strong weather front advancing on the capital from the south-west, bringing heavy rains and strong winds. We were running against the clock to try and beat the worst of this weather. I made things more difficult for myself by forgetting some pretty useful bits of kit - my sweatband and putting plasters on the nipples. Both of these would bring painful repercussions later.

It was slightly disconcerting not knowing any of my mile markers. It was at this point that I committed myself to buying a Garmin GPS watch, but that is for later runs. At the same time, there was something gloriously liberating about running without knowing the precise pace and mile marks, without parcelling up the hours of running in to eight and a half minute blocks. But, ultimately, it is this pacing that produces the proper results, so I wouldn't necessarily stick to that method.

The northward run was strong. The first few miles along the canal were annoyingly muddy and wet, but the rough terrain finished after a couple of miles to leave the even, flat and quiet towpath. Only by the turning point did we face the winds blowing in from the south-west and the first spots of rain.

I have noticed on previous runs that the worst portion for me is between miles 10/11 and the half-way point, when you've come a far distance but there is still so much to go. Jarlath noticed that I was slightly subdued in the 15 - 18 mile portion as well, but this may be as much from not knowing how far we had come or still had to do. It is inevitable that so long a race will produce its own highs and lows, the journey is far from an even race either physically or emotionally.

By the time we had got to Victoria Park we were pretty sure we had run further than we had mapped out. The mapping had been rough, and the time and pace we had been running suggested that we had cheated ourselves of more than a few hundred metres (as would turn out to be the case when I re-routed the run after we'd finished). The park section was a tough finish, with heavy rains and strong winds making it a more challenging finish than would have been ideal.

But, that said, I finished strong, feeling that I still had something left inside. It probably means I should be working towards a better London time, but properly smashing my target times can wait until Berlin. London will be about delivering a 3:45 marathon (if possible)

So, with the training's longest run done, it is taper time now. This is the glorious period in which I can wind down to an energetic start in three weeks time. Hopefully spring will start, and I can easily knock out the decreasing length runs in sun-bathed evenings.

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