The final long runs with sections run at marathon pace always seem to leave one big question hanging in your own mind, and in the discussions with your running colleagues post run…
How am I going to keep up that pace for the 26.1 miles?
This is perhaps the clearest manifestation of doubt of your own ability that seems to rise up as you begin your taper and prepare your body for the assault you will launch it on once ‘gun time’ has begun. When Paula Radcliffe waved the flag on 6th April that was when my ‘gun time’ started, and my own assault started.
Brighton 2014 was my fifth marathon (4 Brighton, 1 London) so why should I have any doubts? Surely I’ve been through it enough, I’ve gone through all that the marathon can throw up, I’ve blubbed at all the insignificant things, failing to hold down what I’d usually manage with ease. I’ve done the going off too fast and conking out around 18 miles to battle through to get to the end, desperately outside my ‘target time’.
Ahh there’s a concept that should test the greatest minds – the ‘target time’. This basically refers to your aimed for time, the time from which you base the marathon pace that you aim for in your training runs. And the pace that will underpin your marathon efforts.
However, it is a concept that come race day can prove to be completely elastic, a flexible feast, movable, revisable, forgettable, as the sheer enormity of the challenge you face bites you on the arse,
Hard – that’s why those glutes hurt so much once you’ve finished.
And that’s why the doubt bubbles up, why it hangs around throughout your training, the day before race day, the morning, those moments you’re waiting in the starting coral. We’re not professional runners, we fit the training in and around our lives, and we prepare the best we can. But ultimately, we’re doubting runners because there are so many variables in such a long race, so many things that can go right, and so many things that can go wrong.
Think Mo missing his drink bottle in London, and Dibaba dropping hers.
So why don’t we just dissolve into a big pool of doubt?
This is perhaps the biggest thing you learn in completing a marathon – that you can get through that challenge, no matter how bleak things felt at the time you got through it, and your training has got you there, to the end, to the finish. All so you can watch a small, short video clip of you crossing the line – wondering if the slightly pixelated figure really is you and surely that 15 seconds of footage can’t really be worth £9.99, can it?
Rather like David Beckham in his pants, that footage, that last 15 seconds is basically all that the training has come to, that point, getting across the line, just a human being putting one foot in front of the other, a person in a piece of clothing.
Yet it is so much more than that – the running, not Becks in his undercrackers.
It’s you overcoming your doubts proving to yourself that you can be mentally and physically strong (even though at the time you probably feel at your weakest) to get through it all.
What I keep getting from completing these events, and watching the London Marathon the following weekend, is the difference in each experience. So again I almost choked myself with the water jets to the back of my throat from the water packs issued on the course because I couldn’t quite crack the “suck and squeeze” instructions. But I got round it by biting each pack and squirting it into my hand-held water bottle whilst running. It was forcing myself to take the last gel, and eat the pre-prepared dates and cashew butter that helped sustain me for the later stages of the run.
It was pushing through the locking hamstring at 22 miles that might have slowed or even stopped me before. It was being ‘shouted out of my head’ by my running club colleague at 18 miles to focus on my plan rather than how hard it all seemed at the time. It was knowing that even as you come back onto the main road on the front after pounding the promenade that race organisers haven’t really put the West Pier on the back of a flat bed truck which is slowly driving away from you because the finish never seems to get any closer in those final painful miles.
It was also that I’d found an approach to training that worked for me. That helped me to tackle those doubts head on because I felt well-prepared, fit, and ready to run as I stood in the starting coral in my new orange peaked cap (again I succumbed at the expo to make another gratuitous kit purchase – but it was a good one as I stood out and was easily spotted by my fantastic supporters around the course).
Of course I was wearing other running kit as although the naked runner may face far fewer chafing and bloodied nipple challenges, arrest is perhaps the most likely course to a prematurely ended race.
That preparation was totally different from what I have done before. Let’s whisper the first bit I ran a lot less, most weeks only twice a week. For the other training time I worked on strength sessions working my calf muscles and quads particularly. I got far more flexible doing yoga for runners. I stopped running when I felt a serious niggle and treated it quickly with hot and cold and appropriate massage.
I also had extra massage just before the race, ironing out through well positioned kneeling and elbows some proper knots in my shoulders and left calf so I left floating and relaxed. I even got my haircut – not sure what the training manuals say about this, but I’m going with it. There were bits I really enjoyed and other bits I didn’t.
Yet I finished in a new PB of 3hr 33mins and 07 secs. I’ve taken 42 mins off my marathon time since the first Brighton marathon in 2010.
This picture was taken at 2.5 miles and it sums up how it all felt.
I raised my arms like that when I crossed the line, and I still feel like doing it now.
But have the doubts gone? Am I a newly totally confident runner? Not likely, I’ve got a place in Brighton 2015 and the doubts will be there again, some the same, some different. There’ll be more when the ballot entry goes in for London 2015 just because of the previous six straight failed ballot entries that have preceded it.
But I overcame the doubts again, shattered them again, am ready to shatter them again. And as you revel in being a marathon runner you shattered yours, drove them away for at least some of the time and raised your arms, and bowed your head for the medal. All the preserve of a fully fledged marathon runner. The best at putting one foot in front of the other.
Surely that beats standing around in your pants?