There’s something about the 18th mile…

Two years ago fed up with an injury which wouldn’t shift, I searched online for a local running club and injury assessment. That’s how the Synergy odyssey started.

18 years previously I’d started cricket ‘nets’ with my University of North London team seeking to reawaken my love for the game.  A few months later, courtesy of a Calthorpe Cricket Club team member’s shower-fitting, back injury I took to the field.  My summer sporting pursuit had begun and now I’m marathon training on the cusp of my 20th season with the now named Crouch End Cricket Club.

Two unrelated events, perhaps, but now inextricably linked as my pursuit for fitness in 2008 caused me to take up running to get fit for that cricket season and now leads me to indulge in 32k runs in practice for my 2013 London Marathon aims.  And it is hoped a ‘proper’ level of fitness to do myself justice as increasingly often the oldest Crouch End team player.

I’ve written before on how much I enjoy the long runs and a half term trip to Bolton required a slight change in the training schedule so that the long run in question this week took place on a Saturday rather than Sunday and was a self-planned route.

However, the key difference was the fact that this long run was being undertaken on my own.  A return to my first year of marathon training when all the long runs in the lead up to the 2010 Brighton Marathon were lonesome affairs.

This kind of training is a lonely business.  Totally separate from others, you work your way round your chosen route with passing, nodding only, contact with other runners – in London this is often the exception rather than the usual experience – whereas Northern runners positively seek out opportunities to nod a greeting as you pass, sometimes adding an ‘all reet’ to cement the welcome.

I had forgotten about this separation, until today, when it all came rushing back.  All my long runs in this training cycle have been with others from the running club and there are many unnoticed benefits associated with this.

One of the first is pacing.  Even when running your race, particularly marathons, there will always be people around you who you can focus on as your ‘pacers’ to help keep you within your target pace.  This is particularly critical because as distance increases the maintenance of a regular pace is often the key to achieving your target time.  I have heard many others talk about how they have seen many runners in marathons steaming past them, yet they maintain their target pace to catch up with significant numbers of these later in the race as they maintain a ‘freshness’ for later on in the race.

I had just this experience in my first marathon (Brighton 2010) losing all concept of pacing and having a proper nightmare experience between 18-19 miles which took me a further 3 miles to recover from and robbed me of a respectable sub-4 hour finish time, eventually concluding the race in 4hrs 19mins.

I had this experience again today catching myself in ‘steaming on’ mode several times instead of maintaining the regular target pace (5.30 per km for those who want to know).  And I paid for it later on, finding a real issue with my fatigue as I reached the 18 mile mark on the ridiculously appropriately named Plodder Lane.

This was a strange experience given I’d managed 28km last week feeling good all the way round, and my pace was much more even all the way round as I had the ‘pacers’ to stick with.

Solo running also brings a much greater tendency for me to go into my head which I know always slows me up, but being  solo Simon today I indulged in it big style today.  Cheering crowds and conversations with accompanying runners drag me out of that and contribute to a steadier pace as an added benefit.  All the old stuff came back in those last few tired, struggling, Plodder Lane miles with serious messages about tiredness, aches and pains, the old ‘your knees going’ messages determined to bring me to a grinding halt.

I overcame these and am proud of myself for managing it, but it is also an important lesson about preparation for these solo runs.  Not just getting the kit right, the shot blocks plentiful, and refreshment prepared, but also the mental preparation for what will happen for you as tiredness really starts to bite.  Yes, self-inflicted through poor pacing, but I was unprepared for this and the endorphin flow wasn’t quite strong enough today to enable me to overcome the tired feelings until at least 20-30mins after I’d finished.

The learning from this?

Prepare differently for those solo long runs.  Revel in running with others, the pacing is a little easier, you’ve got great chatting chances to interrupt that in-head dialogue, and someone else can help navigate.

Still as I hunted the local supermarket for that all important post-run snack, I was happy with my extra efforts.  “Wow” I thought, “proper effort today.  It’s cold out, yet my back is super sweaty with all that extra effort I’ve put in, well done”.

Hmmm that didn’t last long as the harsh reality of a poorly connected hose on my Camelbak revealed the ‘sweat’ to actually be the last few millilitres of refreshment denied to my earlier insistent sucking by the leak down my back.  Foiled again by poor preparation.

Still that was 32km, it’s only another 10km and that’s the marathon distance.

However in my experience of the Brighton Marathon, it’s in those last 10km that the famous Pier appears to have been mounted on the back of a flatbed truck which inexorably continues to drive slowly away from you, struggling to a finish line close to that pier.  I wonder if the same is planned for the Mall at the 2013 London Marathon?

Yet this is all a learning experience in entering the Marathon we know we’re not going to win.  And, as Emil Zatopek (the ‘Human Locomotive’, undefeated for 72 races over 5 and 10k between 1948 and 1952, winner of 3 Golds for 5k, 10k and Marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics) said:

“If you want to win something, run the 100 metres.  If you want to learn something about life, run the marathon” p.341 T.Gotaas ‘Running: A global history.’

Let’s keep learning.

Any chance of some sponsorship if you’ve enjoyed the blog, I’m raising money from my London Marathon efforts for the children’s charity the Place2Be.  Read more and sponsor at:


About Simon Tanner

Eight time marathon runner, having run Brighton x6 and London x2, finally got a London ballot place after 7 consecutive attempts. I try to write about things I'm going through / have gone through in training to help others attain their running goals, whatever the distance.
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