Training generally proceeds in a series of phases over the months it takes to get to the marathon. There’s the early phases where it all seems quite doable, distances for the long runs grow steadily but seem manageable as you get up to the mid 20ks, niggles come and go, stretching and rolling in front of the telly becomes an irregular evening pursuit – QI is a good watch whilst balancing on a foam roller, any Scando drama with subtitles is more problematic (“what did she say again?“) – ice packs can make an appearance, hot water bottles may even feature, slowly perhaps imperceptibly your diet changes as nuts and dried fruit take on a previously little realised ‘treat form’, and regular kit washing becomes all the more important.
This early, Friday I’m in Love, phase is generally relatively pleasant and you gaily carry on your way celebrating the ‘choice’ you made in electing to undertake this crazy time consuming activity. You revel in the improved fitness and physical changes, and appreciate the efforts your body and mind are making to adapt to these pursuits.
This all a prelude to the ‘London Calling’ phase where the long run distance creeps up beyond the mid 20k and begins to approach 30k (only another 12k to go!) without quite reaching that distance. Niggles become a more regular response to your efforts, stretching and rolling in front of the telly is your main evening pursuit, ice packs are on rotation in the top half of the freezer, hot water bottles feature, your diet changes because you’re bloody hungry a lot of the time, and regular kit washing, oh and all the bloody stinky kit.
New highlights enter your shopping expeditions as you visit those sections of running/cycling shops never previously visited to review the gel/shot blok/refuelling/snack you may purchase for the long run that week – “I’m trying this gel this week, it says its sherry trifle/tiramisu/profiterole flavour, just got to work out my refuelling strategy” – or what ingredients you may put together to create your own ‘fuel’ or mid run snack – “I’m trying these date and macadamia concoctions this week”.
In addition, pacing becomes all the more important, and you may even purchase another piece of kit regaling your back with a small rucksack that contains a plastic water pouch which through a tube provides much need liquid refreshment as you pound the streets. The only downside of this is the ludicrous routine you have to go through to get the pouch washed out and ‘completely dry’ before storing prior to your next long run. New trainers may even have been purchased with the associated cooing of your running colleagues as they remark on the great new colour and appearance of said foot covering:
“I didn’t know they did them in taupe!”
“It said it was mouse back on the box, and look at these triangles on the bottom it says here they mean I get a more responsive ride!”
These phases have now been and gone. Distance for the weekly long run has now passed the 30k and is now touching 33k (as I ran today) which in the old system is just past the magical 20 miles (only 6 miles 365 yards to go!)
This is the shitty phase.
The Justin Bieber / One Direction phase where the actual experience of the long runs becomes something to be endured and got through, knowing that getting through it is the only way to get to something way more pleasant come race day.
It is likely that these distances present significant physical challenges, but it is the mental challenge that is perhaps the most shocking (see Bieber/One Direction now makes sense!)
As you tire, the power of your internal dialogue and its ability to distract you from the task in hand become all the more dominant on the long runs. This is less pronounced when you’re running with a group because the sparkling ‘running’ conversation and repartee helps to distract from what you are shouting at yourself internally.
On your own, as I found today, it becomes all the harder to ignore, and the 1st 10k today was marked by dialogue diarrhoea (Bieber/One Direction again) and I came perhaps the closest for a very long time to just stopping. I carried on to a mid-section (the Thames helped here) that was getting back to what I feel I should be able to run – injury recovery is still being worked through – and a very tired final section where sheer will power got me home.
The shitty phase is marked by particular ‘highlights’. Niggles are familiar, stretching and rolling in front of the telly is your life, bloody ice packs and hot water bottles, and the gels/bloks are getting boring now.
You eat, post-run, like this
And don’t go anywhere near the kit, and that bloody pouch still isn’t dry.
The reason it is the shitty stage is because you spend an awful amount of time feeling unremittingly tired, you’re worried about whether you can actually complete this bloody thing. That ‘You’re in’ magazine/email now seems like the worst invite you’ve ever received.
And the bloody distance is so long. There’s still further to go, and you’re knackered doing this distance let alone the 42k you’ll need to do.
What kind of choice is this to be making, finding a regular 3+ hour slot to slog the legs to stumps to complete a distance that’s long, but not yet long enough?
The physical challenge is an obvious reason for doing this. You’ve got to run further than this and you need to build up gently to the marathon distance. Probably easy to accept. So we’ll go with that for now.
However, the mental challenge is perhaps the most important part of this phase, indeed of your whole training, because you will hit this challenge at some point, or points, during the marathon. This is where you will need to be able to draw on your reserves of ‘learnt’ willpower to get you through these sections. It’ll mean you can focus upon putting one foot in front of the other, even focus on running to the next tree/lamppost to get you round and to the end, driving through the discomfort to complete the challenge.
It’s also about learning your ideal fuelling and hydration needs during different weather conditions, focussing on your recovery and the post run fuelling and hydration, plus the stretching and rolling you need on the slogged legs to get them repaired to be ready to run again.
It’s running long, and getting somewhere.
Oh and it’s finally getting that pouch properly dry so it can go away in the cupboard, safe in the knowledge that it’ll be usable again when you ‘choose’ to do this all over again.
Then you’re really getting somewhere…