Acceptable in the Eighties

A very unscientific attempt to go back in time

And then it all went wrong

Back in January, when we discussed a then freshly printed, crisp training schedule (now dog-eared, grubby and covered in barely legible annotations), my coach pointed to the week after Wilmslow half and said ‘that’s the big week, if you can get through that one we’ve cracked it’. And I nearly did. During the acceleration run I did on the Thursday night I was aware of a bit of tightness in my back and glute on the left hand side, but I got through the run alright and only felt a bit of discomfort the next day. Since then, though, the pain has worsened, and returns every time my left foot hits the ground.

I’ve seen a couple of physios (‘this is the kind of appointment you probably dread. Before Michael explains what’s wrong I just want to preface it by saying he wants to race a marathon in less than a week…’) but when I still couldn’t walk properly on Wednesday I realised I’d have to accept defeat.

Marathon training is a tightrope walk with injury on one side and illness on the other, but I was so close to reaching the other side that it feels like I’ve wasted a huge amount of effort and energy. Anyone who has prepared seriously for marathons will have been through similar disappointment, and it has helped that my coach and his wife both had similar experiences (she ended up having to sit on a bench on the riverbank in Durham, unable to run another step on the Wednesday before Boston, having come down with bronchitis the weekend before). Anticlimax is a serious understatement.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to running sooner rather than later, and there will be other marathons. For now, I’m giving myself a couple more days to sulk and then I’ll probably have to join a gym and do some cross training. This is not something I look forward to, especially with the arrival of sumer. I’m with Will Self on this one and fail to understand why ‘the generality have become seriously comfortable about handing their money to Richard Branson for the privilege of working their own bodies’. But then I don’t suppose Will Self would see the appeal of marathon training either, and I enjoyed the ride while it lasted.

I’ll post an injury update at some point. In the meantime, though, thanks for reading.

Wilmslow Half

‘Well done. You are strong today. I think, if it’s less windy, you will run 63 minutes.’
If there’s one thing that stands out from the brief conversations I have with Ethiopian and Kenyan runners (or in this case, Jordanian via Kenya) after races, it’s that they tend to have a sky’s-the-limit optimism that British runners lack. I’ve never heard them grumble about injuries or talk negatively before a race. Having said that, I think it’s fair to say I’m not going to run a 63 minute half marathon any time soon, regardless of what the wind is doing.

My girlfriend came along to a second race in two weeks, which made getting warmed up and getting rid of extra layers before the start much easier. Apparently it’s impossible to strike up conversations with other WAGs, HABs (?) or other spectators that don’t revolve around running, so I appreciate her willingness to stand for an hour and wait for me to run back to the start. I’d assumed that the lead car might have been relaying information back to the start area for the announcer, but apparently everyone was kept in suspense until the leading runners finally appeared.

After a swift first mile (around 4.44), a small leading group formed running at about 5-minute pace. I was surprised by how relaxed I felt at that speed, and as we went through 10km (30.51) I was just starting to think how great it would be if the group (now four) kept up this even tempo when Thomas Abyu made the first of several surges. His tactic seemed to be to drift to the back of the group and then to rush past and run hard for about a minute, looking over his shoulder as he went to see whether he was doing any damage.

I had to work pretty hard to catch up to him, and I realised that Anthony Ford was struggling to get back to us. At that point I had a decision to make: stay with Anthony (a far better runner than me) and try to run at an even pace, or try to go with Abyu and Abu-Rezeq at the front. Except that you don’t really think it through at the time – it’s not like there’s time for a quick cup of tea and a list of pros and cons. I gradually worked my way back to the lead two, at which point they slowed down. I decided to lead for a while, trying to run at an even pace and as close to 5-minute miles as possible.

The advantage of being in the lead is that you can start to tell yourself that you’re in control and, if you tell yourself often enough, you occasionally start to believe it. Sometimes though, you’re just giving two better runners a free ride. A few minutes later Abyu resumed his sprint-look-wait tactics, with Abu-Rezeq following easily and me slowly working my way back to them. We played this game up until shortly before the ten-mile mark.

At this point the course dipped down sharply before rising for just long enough to do a bit of damage. Abyu sprinted down the hill and up the other side – one surge too many for me. I like to get into a rhythm and hold it. For the last four miles I’d been running to the beat of his drum, and this was one drum roll too far. I backed off, going through ten miles in 50.20. Still on for a decent PB if I could keep going.

Abyu and Abu-Rezeq opened up a lead of about 50 meters, and then held it there, checking over their shoulders to make sure I wasn’t gaining on them. At this part of the course we turned back along the same road we’d run out on, so we passed runners coming the other way at the four mile mark. I tried to persuade myself that the leading duos casual glances back towards me were becoming more frequent, that they were worried and that the shouts of encouragement from the other runners (‘you’ll catch them!’) might actually be more than wishful thinking, but in the end they held the gap to the end.

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I finished close enough to watch the sprint finish – Abu-Rezeq getting the better of Abyu – and finished in 66.13. I was pleased with the time, but also with the fact that I was able to remain competitive until the ten mile mark. I think there’s a lot to be said for talking yourself up (to yourself, in your own head) during races. Perhaps that’s one of the things the winners of this world excel at. I asked Abu-Rezeq how the race had gone at the end and he said ‘I knew I would win, but I waited until the end.’ Simple. Maybe that’s all there is to it. Believe Your Own Bullshit (BYOB) has a nice ring to it as a confidence-inducing maxim. I may have to do a fair bit of this at London.

I followed the race with a really hard week and paid the price by coming down with a bit of a bug at the weekend. I seem to be on the mend now, though and the hay, as they say, is in the barn. I’m told that I should see the extra couple of days rest as a blessing in disguise at this stage. All I have to do now is get to the line in one piece!

Finchley 20

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Very nearly an expensive second.

I thought it was safe to assume that the 7.28am tube from Tottenham Court Road to West Ruislip – on a Sunday morning – would be fairly empty. I was looking forward to dozing for a few more minutes. I couldn’t help but laugh, then, when the train pulled in so full that there was only a small amount of standing room left. Are you joking, London? Do you know what time it is? I know most of my friends from university have moved down here, along with half of my generation, but I hadn’t expected them all to be on the central line at once.

I did a conservative warm up consisting of a ten minute jog and two strides, figuring that I could warm up in the first couple of miles. I had been warned that after taking it easy for a few days leading up to the race I might feel fairly sluggish at the start, but in the end I didn’t feel too bad. I did struggle to get a sense for what pace I was running, though, and went through the first mile in 5.11. I’ll have to remember to head out a bit slower at London. It became clear by the one mile point that it was likely I’d be running the entire race alone. I’d prepared for this mentally – after all I’ve done every step of my marathon build up on my own – but I was quite glad that the race was four laps of five miles, which would break up the race a little. I knew my girlfriend was texting updates to my coach every lap, and by the nine mile mark I was starting to lap a few people which kept me going. Concentrating on maintaining a pace for an hour and three quarters, without letting your mind wander (or play inexplicably selected songs on repeat) is pretty difficult, but given that I may have to run large sections of London alone, excellent practice.

A twenty mile race (and – to a greater extent I imagine – a marathon) is very different from a half marathon. In a half you can afford to go for it a little bit in the first 10km. In a longer race you just have to stay relaxed for as long as possible and put off the time when, inevitably, it gets really hard. I went through five miles in 26.15 feeling fine. Then, without consciously speeding up, I ran 5.00 for the sixth mile. When I checked my watch I remember thinking, ‘that could come back to haunt you in ten miles time’. Going into the fourth lap I heard my girlfriend shout ‘you have to kill yourself on the last lap!’ and glanced over to see her getting some strange looks from the other spectators. She was just repeating a text from my coach verbatim, but it must have sounded a little odd coming from a mild mannered and usually fairly reserved girl.

The fourth lap was a bit of a struggle. The temperature was rising, not to the extent that it was objectively hot, but to a point where it felt that way given the weather in Durham for the past few weeks (I ran in a hail storm on the Tuesday), and I hadn’t done a great job of drinking in spite of the practice I’d done the previous Sunday. It’s quite difficult to grab a plastic cup when you’re running full tilt, and even more difficult to grab it without emptying most of its contents. It should be easier at London, where they have squeeze-top bottles apparently, and it was an important lesson to learn: drink more, drink earlier in the race. Further complicating my attempt to get round the last lap at a decent enough pace was the fact that the second mile of the loop, which is usually run on a quite country road, was run on a previously-quiet country road currently in use as a diversion for a far busier main road. This left much less room to manoeuver safely around lapped runners, and made it pretty difficult to relax – my heart rate was high enough as it was without having to worry about cars!

I finished in 1.47.02 – not quite as fast as I’d wanted but not too bad in the circumstances. The good people of Hillingdon A.C even decided to give me the extra £50 on offer for running under 1.46.59 to account for the the increased traffic compared with previous years. My legs felt worse than they’ve ever before following a race (unsurprisingly) and I only managed a 25 minute jog on Monday and two very easy half hour runs on Tuesday. Since then, though, I’ve had a pretty good week of training, and I’m looking forward to my final race before London at Wilmslow half on Sunday. Training from Finchley up until today is below for anyone interested:

Monday: 3 mile very easy jog. Legs painful in the night, had to take ibuprofen!
Tuesday: AM 4 miles easy PM 5 miles easy.
Wednesday: AM 8 miles steady PM 8 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 8 miles steady PM 9 miles including 2k, 1k, 2k, 1k, 2k on track (200 jog) averaging 3.00 per km.
Friday: AM 8 miles steady PM 8 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.21 PM 6 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.16.
Sunday: 21 miles easy.
Monday: AM 8 miles steady PM 8 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 4 miles easy PM 12 miles including 10 miles in 53.30.

My Thursday night acceleration run pretty very well, and can be viewed below for Garmin enthusiasts. The watch is pretty handy for judging runs like this, where the idea is to gradually speed up every mile. It does have a tendency to become wildly enthusiastic on the track, however. I usually finish these runs on the track so that we can ensure the last couple of miles are accurately timed (my coach had marked out the one and two mile points with cones). I ran 4.58 and 4.56. According to Garmin I ran 4.42 and 4.39. I wish!

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/454465921

On Sunday I’m running the Finchley 20, which I hope will give me a decent idea of how I’m going to feel at London. According to my coach, the marathon is made up of ‘the first ten miles, the second ten miles and the third ten miles’. According to Alberto Salazar, ‘20 miles is halfway’. Frank Shorter reportedly got to the 20 mile mark in his first marathon and said, through gritted teeth, ‘why couldn’t Pheidippides have died here?!’ Depending on who you ask, then, after Sunday I’ll at least know how I’m going to feel at half way, two-thirds of the way, or at about-to-drop-down-dead time.

I followed the acceleration run last week with a shorter session on Saturday and a three-hour ‘easy’ run on Sunday, when I also practiced grabbing water bottles off a little table (constructed with two hurdles and a plank of wood) and drinking on the run. The three hours did feel better than last time, perhaps because I was better hydrated. I’m not sure you can ever really call the last hour ‘easy’ though. 114 miles for the week. After a track session tonight I’m easing up a bit for Finchley, and looking forward to getting a bit of spring back in my legs…

A Basket Called London

‘So are you totally knackered yet?’
‘I’m pretty tired, yeah.’

I’m sitting on the sofa at my coach’s house, waiting for Google Earth to load. I have a feeling he’s going to show me something to put my idea of tired into perspective, and I’m not disappointed. ‘The year before I left home I was getting up at 5.40am to leg it to the bus stop, clocking in at 7.30am at the factory, finishing at 5.30pm and legging it back to the bus stop’, he says, ‘and then I’d do this run, in work boots, when I got home.’
‘Did you have no trainers, then?’
‘No, I did. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, the run was eleven miles*, and I’m going to show you the hill in the middle of it, which goes from the lowest to the highest point in Richmond.’

He’s promised to cycle the route so I can run it, but hopefully that will wait until after London. I decide not to mention being tired anymore.

I ran the Scottish National cross country at the weekend, and had a solid enough run through the mud to finish 11th. The race came at the end of a 94 mile week, though, and made me realise that I’m unlikely to run all that well in any of the races leading up to London. You really do put all of your eggs in one basket when you decide to run a marathon.

I ran pretty easy for a couple of days after the race, 17 miles on the Sunday and 8 in the morning and 6 in the evening on Monday. I then did 12 x 400m on Tuesday night in around 66 seconds, to try to avoid losing what little speed I have in my legs. Wednesday morning I did 16 miles before work and had the evening off (!). Tonight I have one of the bigger sessions, a 12 mile acceleration run.

Brendan Foster is famous for saying that distance runners in hard training wake up feeling knackered and go to bed even more knackered. This is certainly the case, but strangely enough I actually feel ok whilst I’m actually running. It’s the time in between, slumped in the shop eating biscuits, when I feel totally wrecked. Strange that.

*Had a text today, apparently the route has been measured for the first time on the computer and is actually ’18,506 metres – divide by 1609.344 equals 11.49 miles.’ So he was actually running faster than he thought, too.

That’s Not a Long Run, This is a Long Run

‘I wonder where’s best to run on Sunday…’

‘I don’t care, really. Just run around until your watch says three hours have passed, then go home.’

It’s amazing what a difference it makes not to be locked in a death battle with the elements. After a couple of weeks of being buffeted helplessly around by the wind, I was buoyed by the first still, clear day in a very long time on Sunday, and ran just over twenty-seven miles in three hours. At least now London won’t be the first time I’ve ever run a marathon, merely the first time I’ve raced one. Clearly, these are very different things, but it is reassuring to know that I’m not going to spontaneously combust merely because I’ve run further than twenty-two miles. I expected to feel more tired in the last half hour than I did, and my legs didn’t feel too bad until I tried to stand up after two hours in a cinema seat in the evening.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/447228799

Last Tuesday I fought the snow for 8 x 1,000m in a blizzard, and last Thursday I fought the wind on two hard four mile runs. The route I’ve chosen for these is an out-and-back two miles of exposed road, the idea to run as close to five-minute miles as possible. On the first run of the day the pace felt suspiciously easy for the first two miles, and when I turned I found out why. It felt like I was struggling against a wall of wind, the air rushing into my lungs as I tried to breathe and making expelling it difficult – it almost felt like I was going to hyperventilate. On the second run of the day I actually got cramp in my chest muscles.

The flood water seems to have retreated back within the banks of the river Wear now though, restoring my normal running routes, and the weather seems far more settled. Long may it last…

The Calm Before the Storm / The First Rumblings

‘How’s your marathon training going?’
‘Not too bad so far, thanks. I’m only five days in though.’
‘Really? What was that you were doing for the last few weeks then?’

To the untrained eye, there isn’t that much difference. Before I started marathon training I was running twice a day. Now that I’ve started marathon training, I’m running twice a day. The mileage is only slightly higher. The sessions have changed, though, and my long run is going to get intimidatingly long.

Last week I had a ‘rest week’, only running 5 miles a day, to get ready for a ten week training block which will , if all goes to plan, put me in with a good chance of running a decent first marathon in London. It gave me time to ponder the first typed-out and colour-coded training schedule I’ve ever had. In the past I’ve been lucky if I find out what I’m doing in training the day before, and frequently been told what I’m doing on the track when I’m standing ready for the first rep to start. For the marathon, though, my coach decided it would be worthwhile to be able to see the ‘big picture.’ And it is quite a big picture. There’s nothing overly intimidating in itself, but I do expect the cumulative effect of ten weeks of sustained hard work to get to me. Distance running, as Renato Canova says, is about ‘how much fatigue can you do?’ I think I’m about to find out.

I felt pretty fresh coming into the week, but that only lasts so long when you run 18 miles in two hours on Sunday then fourteen miles on Monday and a track session on Tuesday. The big session for the week was a ten mile acceleration run, which I did in 55.40 with the first 3 miles outside six minutes and the last two in 5.08 and 4.58. I was relatively pleased with that until my coach told me he’d once done the same run in 51.30, even though the first mile was outside six minutes. I’d always been under the impression that ‘acceleration run’ meant a gradual picking up of the pace, but I think for him it must have meant ‘jog a mile, then hammer it.’

Final word to Bruce Tulloh: ‘It’s when people start to ask, “Are you alright?!” that you know you’re getting fit.’ I am for now, let’s see how the next nine weeks unfold.

Meeting Charlie

Two fifty-one AM, August the 13th 1984. A living room in Darlington, in darkness apart from the flicker of the television. My coach is on his feet. ‘Fuck me,’ he says. ‘Charlie’s going to win the Olympic marathon.’ The leaders have just hit the twenty-two mile mark and Charlie Spedding has stormed through the last drinks station without hesitation, in the lead. Charlie who lives just down the road, who he’s has trained with for years. Charlie who runs all the same routes he does, one of many Gateshead harriers putting in a hundred miles a week on the streets of Durham, Darlington and Gateshead. Charlie didn’t win the Olympic marathon, but he did finish a remarkable third. Distance runners from the North-East brought back two bronzes from the Olympic games in Los Angeles, with Mike McLeod claiming his in a five-way sprint for the line in the 10,000m.

Thirty years later, the grainy VHS footage of that race still never fails to send me out of the door for a run. I’ve watched the last few miles many times. Charlie barrels through a leafy twilight, his long shadow doing battle with that of John Treacy of Ireland. The crowd lining the roadside is four deep, waving American flags and balloons. The helicopter shot of the course reveals the geometry of suburbia – clipped lawns and swimming pools. An incongruous setting, I always thought, for such a heroic run. Charlie’s gaze is fixed an indeterminate distance down a Roman-straight road. Years of hard work are condensed in that look: this is, his expression says, his time. The next fifteen minutes will define his career. In spite of his fatigue, he has a straight-backed, still-shouldered poise.

He retains his good posture, I notice as he enters the cafe in which we’ve arranged to meet. He is shorter than I expected but has a compact, chesty power. I have arrived so early that I have already finished a black coffee when he strides in, on time. This doesn’t help to settle my nerves. Thirty years on, Charlie is still the last British man to have won an Olympic medal in the marathon. While I wait I calculate that his fastest time for the distance works out at the same 4.53 per mile as my best 10km. I feel faintly embarrassed to have asked him to meet me.

I wave vaguely before I remember that he hasn’t the faintest idea who I am. Since I started running ten years ago, Charlie’s has been an enigmatic presence. I knew that he still lived in Durham, that he used to train on the same disused railway lines and riverbanks that I now run on. He makes frequent but unelaborated-upon appearances in my coach’s training diaries (’22 miles with Charlie’) and anecdotes. I’ve read his book, From Last to First, and marveled at its first-hand account of a sports psychology learned intuitively through years of experience. It portrays a man with an exceptional ability to harness his physical talent with an incredible mental strength. For a decade, then, Charlie has influenced my running. But this is the first time we have met. I want to talk to him about cultivating a positive attitude towards racing, a subject to which he dedicates large sections of his book. Marathon runners, they say, need to be as strong mentally as they are physically.

His answers to my questions are considered and direct, his advice concerned mainly with the importance of self belief. The longer the race, he says, the more the mind comes into play. ‘When you stand on the line, you can’t be intimidated by the other runners there – and in a big marathon there will be a lot of them. I used to tell myself that half of the guys I was racing would already be out of the race before the gun had even fired. They would have been ill or injured in the weeks before, or else they would already have defeated themselves inside their own heads. If I could tell myself that, I realised, I only had to beat half of them and I thought I was capable of doing that!’
‘At some point in a marathon, it’s going to get really hard,’ Charlie says, leaning across the table , a glint in his eye. I feel like this is the big lesson. ‘When it does, you’re going to have to tell yourself, in a firm voice, that you won’t slow down. That you decided, sitting here in this cafe, that you could run this pace. That you can run this pace.’ Easier said than done, I think, but I decide to decide what pace per mile I’m going to run early and convince myself that I can maintain it for 26.2 miles.

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Seeking to Experience a Different Life a.k.a. Fuck you Real World, Let’s See How Fast I Can Run a Marathon.

There are a lot of factors behind my decision to run a marathon; I’m not that fast; I seem to get better the longer the distance I run; I’ve always assumed that the marathon is where I would end up; My coach was a marathon runner, and I grew up listening to his stories. The language through which the marathon is evoked intimidates as much as it inspires. Men ‘blow up’ in the marathon. They ‘crack’, like madmen. I remember watching one of the big city marathons as a young runner. Steve Cram was commentating on a group of Kenyans barreling along at a pace of four minutes fifty seconds per mile. One of them was vomiting copiously without breaking stride. ‘This is the marathon’, Crammy said. ‘These are hard men’, his voice mingling awe and revery. The marathon has an epic romance unparalleled in any other event. As the great Emil Zatopek put it, ‘if you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.’

I also haven’t found a job yet, so this is the perfect time to focus all my energy on a marathon. I might as well ‘experience a different life’ rather than just experience unemployment. Following a frustrating few months of applying for jobs and even unpaid internships and getting nowhere (I have a degree in English and French literature and a masters in International Development if anyone wants to offer me a job starting on the 14th of April!), it seems clear that the current economic climate wants me to run the London marathon. So for ten weeks, job applications are on hold, I will be doing a few shifts in Start Fitness in Durham, and I’ll be running more than ever. For the first time, my coach has typed out (and colour-coded) a fairly intimidating-looking training schedule. I will try to update the blog more often once I start marathon training.

The Great Scottish Run

A conference room in the Millennium hotel in Glasgow’s George Square. Some faces familiar because of their fame, others, reassuringly, because I know them from the local scene. The latter look how I feel; slightly out of place in this company, like they’re almost certain they’ve wandered into the wrong room. Nervous chatter of the kind you hear before any race, any where. Everyone insuring everyone else knows that they’ve had a cold, a niggle, an interrupted build-up to the race. And then Haile walks in, back arched slightly, chest out. His straight-legged walk is proud, heron-like. The Emperor is here. Silence descends.

Haile’s smile contrasts with the tension in the faces around him. Everyone else stretches, some using long elastic bands to loosen early-morning hamstrings, or paces around, or fiddles with safety pins. Haile goes to sleep. He carefully places a chair just the right distance from the wall, raises his legs on it, and has the twenty minute snooze of a man pleased with his morning of gardening: hands crossed on his chest, a look of contentment on his face. After twenty years at the top of his sport, he can afford to relax. The room remains respectfully quiet until he gets up, gives everyone a smile, and heads out to warm up. This is the cue for everyone else to head out for a jog, too. If it’s time for Haile, it must be time.

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Haile warms up on his own, stretching out on a loop around the hotel, his pace gradually increasing. He bounces, yellow-clad in Adidas, past morning shoppers and people arriving for the race. Few people recognise him, those that do double-take as he streaks past. Back in the hotel some light stretching and we are led down to the start. The nerves that accumulated in the stuffy hotel room are dissipated by most with a few too many strides. More nervy chatter, but mostly the other top runners are looking inward now, focusing on the thirteen miles of Glaswegian road to come. The start is up St. Vincent street, a gradually rising hill which tapers to a blind summit. We peer up the hill, trying to size it up.

The start line: spectators lean over barriers, TV crew members mill purposefully, myriad beeping from the timing mat. A barrier forty metres from the start creates a pen. The elite athletes form a jumpy herd, moving now for the sake of movement, their warm-ups complete. Haile, meanwhile, arrives at the start line last. He gives a regal wave, does a casual stride. He obliges, first, all those who want to take his photo on the way to the start. He wishes other runners good luck, hoists a child into the air for a father’s iphone. Like a politician, his smile never wavers. Unlike a politician, his smile is genuine, infectious.

We are told that the race is to be delayed by fifteen minutes due to problems on the course. Much muttering, much worrying about putting tracksuit tops back on and jogging to stay warm. Not from Haile. He shrugs, then gets up onto the start podium to do an interview to pass the time. He is completely unconcerned by the delay. Rather than wasting energy jogging he chats for a while then dances. He performs a series of arm-swinging maneuvers to limber up, some hip twisting and he’s ready.

Just over an hour and six minutes later I learn that Haile finished roughly a mile ahead of me, running the fastest half-marathon ever on Scottish soil. Clearly his relaxed approach did him no harm at all. I did manage to scrape onto the results page on the BBC for the first time though, and took a minute and twenty seconds off my best for the half marathon, running 1.06.52, so I was very pleased with my run.

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The advice my coach gave me going into the race was simple. ‘I think I’ve said before that you have to think of the marathon as three ten-mile sections,’ he said. ‘The half marathon is the same. You want to think in terms of three five-mile segments. After ten miles it’s probably going to start getting quite hard.’ He also pointed out that in longer races it is normal to go through a bad patch. This is almost as likely to happen after three miles as after nine, and you have to be ready for it psychologically, assured that you will come out of the other side running strongly.

Bearing this in mind, I set off to run at five minutes five seconds per mile, reasoning that I was in shape to run around 66.30. At around five miles I realised I was having to work pretty hard to stay with Anthony Ford and Ross Houston, so I let a bit of a gap develop and tried to stay relaxed. Backing off a bit and running my own pace paid off, as I realised at eight miles that Ross was coming back to me. I focused on running tall, fixing my eyes on the back of his vest to prevent my head from dropping and willing the gap between us to contract.

At ten miles I finally caught him and put in a bit of an effort to go straight past. I managed to build a bit of a gap on him by eleven miles before I started to really feel like I was working. I had a coffee with Charlie Spedding last week, and he said that when it starts to get hard in longer races there is a temptation to disassociate, to try to take your mind off the effort of running hard. He said that he always felt it was better to do the opposite, to really focus on the mechanics of your running, to concentrate on running upright, on maintaining your form and on telling yourself that you are running well and strongly.

By the last mile, I was very aware of blood pounding in my temples, which seemed to be in time with the rhythm banged out by the spectators on the barriers lining the course. I tried to use this beat to increase my turnover, but I don’t think I was really able to pick it up too much. I was relieved to see the line, relieved to break 67 minutes.

The Great Not Run

‘I think I remember this from Ron Clarke’s book, but I might be wrong. Basically, he says that when you’re doing proper distance running training – and you have been for the last couple of months – you’re borderline ill all the time’

Sometimes you don’t get away with it. I came down with a bit of a cold last week. By the time the Great North Run came along I was a phlegmy, sniffling mess, forced to watch from the sofa. Forced, it should be said, to watch one of the most exciting road races I’ve ever seen, but I’d rather have been running. A friend of mine, Richard, stayed at my mum’s place the night before the race and ran really well. I now don’t even have the fastest Great North Run time in the ‘people who’ve stayed in my house the night before the race’ category!

I’m sure other people noticed this too, but I think Paula Radcliffe might have cost Mo the race. As they were running down the steep hill onto the sea front she said in commentary, ‘I gave Mo one piece of advice: take it easy down the hill.’ He did. Bekele didn’t. He hammered it down the hill, got the gap he needed, and it was all over. Well, it was all over, then it seemed like perhaps it wasn’t, and then it was.

The hay, as they say, was in the barn for this one. I’d done six weeks at over 100 miles, and felt stronger than I ever have before. Hopefully, the cold was just bad timing. I’m already feeling a lot better, so I’m hoping that I can get back into full training in the next few days before attacking a couple more ‘Great’ runs – the Scottish and the South. I’m trying to learn from past mistakes and to take it easy until I feel ready to resume proper training, though. The trick, after such a long block of good mileage, is to trust in the training you’ve already done and to realise that a few days on the sofa doesn’t negate all the weeks of hard work. The barn hasn’t burnt down, it’s just undergone some necessary renovations.

I’m back in Durham now and looking forward to running some of my old routes. One of the advantages of going away and training hard is that all of your familiar runs feel shorter when you get home!

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