Oh! Haven’t you heard? Did I not tell you I’m running the London Marathon???
26.2 miles. Pretty long right?
From where I’m sat that’s nearly one third of the way to France! If I set off from my flat in Dulwich at a good pace I could be in Calais in 14 hours. In fact, if I set off from sunny Sunderland at that pace I could be in Scotland in 10 hours! I could be a running jet-setter. I mean I might need to invent ‘boat-shoes’ to get across the oceans, but let’s be honest, the world needs boat-shoes.
Welcome to the running mindset. What I have found is that a vital part of training seems to be mental mathematics. If I run for 12 miles that’s just two 6 mile runs end-to-end. And I can smash out a 6 mile run on any given Tuesday after work. So twelve miles is a cinch!
When running long distances It’s all about breaking the run into tiny, wee chunks, so that your brain doesn’t realise it’s running long distances. The problem I’ve found with marathon training however, is that running long distances plays a major part. So I’m forever finding hacks to force my brain into accepting that this is normal behaviour.
I’m not just battling fitness, I’m battling common sense…
Often I find myself asking “What the hell am I doing?”
This happens quite regularly. I get an idea.. I set a challenge… I try something new… Or in this instance, I try to run a marathon.
Twelve weeks before the London marathon I was hanging out with friends. It was a great weekend. An isolated cottage on the coast of Alnwick. So isolated that when we turned up on the Friday night, the power grid for the area was down. We sat by candlelight and caught up on our latest shenanigans. I expressed my latest urge to try and re-establish what it means to be healthy, waffling on about how “If it ain’t growing, it’s going“. We spent the weekend quaffing beer, walking dogs and laughing at how it’s far easier to play Bananagram when you can use swears.
Late on the Saturday evening when beer and wine were severely influencing both ego and conversation, we started chatting about the London marathon. For the past three years I’ve participated in the London marathon purely as a spectator. I’ve watched friends complete the race in incredible times. Every year I get inspired to take part. Every year I submit my name into the ballot. Every year I am unsuccessful and slink back into normal life. This year was no different. November arrived and so did the email notifying me I was not running in the marathon this year. So as I was slurring through a soliloquay about how I had accepted 2018 was another year London Bridge would not be blessed with my blistered feet, I was surprised when one of my friends interrupted me offering a marathon place.
“Someone from the Teenage Cancer Trust team can no longer compete. I can get you a London Marathon place if you like?”
“Definitely!” I exclaimed without hesitation.
Those close to me know that the best time to ask for something is after a couple of jars. When full brovado has taken over. When the drunken superpower of ignorance has prevailed over both logic and reason.
I would’ve said yes regardless of my sobriety, but any other time I would have also noted that there was a significantly short time to get my body marathon ready.
“Are you serious? Of course I’ll do it!” I announced to the room beaming with excitement.
The following Monday I received an email from Teenage Cancer Trust confirming my place. ‘Excellent’, I thought. I’ll finally be running a marathon. Another tick on the old bucket list. I was already imagining myself steaming over the finish line arms in air, grin on face.
When filling the online form I’d been asked what time I’d expect to finish. Without blinking I clicked ‘four hours’ and moved onto writing my donation page. It was only when I arrived home from work that Ashley pointed out that four hours is pretty fast for a non-runner. In fact four hours is pretty fast for a seasoned runner. What on earth was I thinking?
That’s the problem. I wasn’t thinking. I just expected to jog to the park a few times in preparation and breeze through it. No biggy. I mean I play football every week and I’ve always been generally sporty, so why stress?
“Virgin offer a training plan if you go the their website” Ashley hinted. She also instantly knew I had not thought this through. Not an uncommon occurrence in our relationship. I’ve always thought we were a good team. I bring the common, she brings the sense.
“Good idea.” I nodded.
I downloaded the training plan. I studied the schedule. I became immediately more aware of just what I’d signed up for.
That breeze had just turned into gale force wind.
Virgin Money offer an 18 week schedule, gradually building up your muscles through regimented runs and interval routines… A sensible approach.
Week one consists of three sessions:
- Tuesday – 10 minute walk, 20 minute easy run, 5 minute walk.
- Thursday – 10 minute walk, 30 minute easy run, 5 minute walk
- Saturday – 10 minute walk, 40 minute easy run, 5 minute walk
Each run builds on the last. Makes total sense.
However, I was late to the party. Six weeks late. My first week was more of a baptism of fire to my feet:
- Tuesday – 50 minute interval training
- Thursday – 45 minute interval training
- Saturday – 10 mile run
A ten mile run to end the week? Are you joking? That’s not a thing! Why would I do that?
Well I did. I tottered my niaive little toes to Clapham Common, looped twice and came back.
Surely, this is not what Saturdays were made for.
What did catch me off guard was the feeling of achievement and satisfaction. I can’t remember the last time I ran ten miles. If at all! And it didn’t feel too bad. I mean sure, there were moments that I wanted to stop, but mainly out of tedium, not out of exhaustion. Maybe this whole marathon thing was going to be ok.
My team and I were out for lunch with a client in February. We got onto the topic of the marathon (surprisingly). We were chatting about how Eddie Izzard (who, fyi, I’m obsessed with) had managed to run 27 marathons in as many days. One of the guys recommended I read ‘Born to run‘ by Christopher McDougall.
“It’s about a Mexican tribe who run ultra marathons without breaking sweat. You’ll love it. Talks about bare-foot running. What Eddie Izzard was doing.”
Bonus story: I once saw Eddie Izzard training for said marathon’s in Putney. I got excited and screamed “Eddie!!” as if we were old friends. He had no idea who I was, but was clearly confused at the familiarity of my greeting. He slowed and gazed at me confusingly. I grimaced at him like a kid on e-numbers. He offered a half smile before upping his pace and setting off over Putney Bridge to get away from this madman… What a ledge.
One thing I had noticed about running is that listening to music can be quite distressing. If I hear music I tend to match my actions to the beat like I’m in some sort of budget music video. If I run with music, my pace is completely irregular. I match each step to the beat. The songs can literally dictate whether I saunter or storm down the street.
My solution was to listen to podcasts and audiobooks instead. There’s something quite calming about someone reading to you while you exercise. So I decided to give the book a chance and downloaded Born to Run on Audible.
Within minutes I was fascinated. The book is a perfect balance of personal testimony, sporting insight, biology and history. I ran as I listened to the story of Caballo Blanco and the Tarahumara tribe. I was engrossed in the story of 100 mile ultra marathons and genuinely started looking forward to my runs. It’s not often that a book comes along and completely changes your world, but this? This was my running Holy Grail. It took me a couple of weeks to finish, but once complete, my perspective on running had been flipped forever.
One of the key aspects focuses on how homosapiens have evolved with the ability to run super long distances due to the elasticity of our muscles. We are by no means the fastest, but we are the best at endurance. Early humans used this skill to their advantage to hunt prey and ultimately survive in a world where neanderthals could not. We are literally ‘born to run’.
Well this just rocked my little world. Here I am thinking that I’m not built for marathons when technically I have the most efficient biological machine on the planet. That’s the moment when running became more than just a chore at the end of the day. I now willingly accepted it into my routine.
The runs got harder, the miles got longer the sessions more intense. But every run I could feel my technique progressing and my muscles developing. In fact my calves have never looked so thikk!
The worst part of any run is still the boredom. The longest run in my training has been 22 miles. I ran this over Easter while I was home seeing the family. The route was hilly, the weather snowy and the whole day was a classic shade of English, dull grey. By this time I was listening to other books I’d been recommended and had been mixing it up with ‘No Such Thing As A Fish‘ and ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno‘ podcasts (both hilarious btw). But regardless of entertainment, three and a half hours of pounding the pavement is enough to numb anyone’s noggin.
On that particular run I managed 18 miles at a pace that would see me finish the marathon in four hours. But by mile 19 I’d slowed as fatigue crept into my calves. However, if I can do 18 miles with hills and snow I should be able to smash 26 miles on the flat London roads with people cheering me on (here’s hoping).
My worst run was a twenty mile slog from Dulwich to Wimbledon with a lap of Richmond Park at the end for good measure. I’d been out with friends for a few beers the night before and on a team night out the day before that. I was hanging! I was in no state to be running a bath let alone running around the sites of South London. After twelve miles I had to start ringing people for moral support. I learned a hard lesson that day. Booze and marathons do not mix nomatter what the Tarahumara tribe say.
But the best part of marathon training is the food. I’ve always been a fat man trapped in a little man’s body and this training regime is like a golden ticket to to the calorie club. I burned 3,200 calories when I ran 22 miles. That’s the equivalent of nearly two days food! That means I needed to eat six meals just to stay alive that day!! (Or something like that).
Every Friday night before a big run I have to carb load. HAVE TO. It’s a necessity. My standard carb fest includes a giant portion of pasta (enough to fill two large sized earthlings), garlic bread (full baguette), salad (the greener the better), fruit (grapes or blueberries), a glass of red (obvs) and often a cheeky whiskey for good measure (not sure if this helps with running, but what the hell).
So much guilt free food! This is a perk I can definitely work with.
At the time of writing I’m two weeks away from the big day. I’ve ran 204 miles in two months. It’s a Friday night. I’m en route home about to pick up ingredients for a particularly large carbonara in prep for a 13 mile run in the morning and I’m genuinely looking forward to it (both the run and the carbonara). If I can get excited about running a half marathon then I’m optimistic about the big day. I can do this.
What would be amazing is, after reading this you donate some of your hard earned money beans to Teenage Cancer Trust. Regardless of the challenge I’ve set myself, the bottom line is that the London marathon is an incredible platform to give voices to those that need it. If being out of my comfort zone can help those in need, then I will willingly throw my body around London for a few miles.
Lastly I need to say some big thanks to those that have entertained me through my none stop waffling about Eddie Izzard, the Tarahumara and how much guilt free food I can eat. Lummy, thanks for getting me into this adventure. Grant, thanks for recommending Born to Run. Ben, thanks for all of the advice (and the handy tennis ball). Hollie, thanks for the Chia seed bars. Ashley, thanks for pointing out the obvious and keeping me on track. And finally thanks for all of the sponsors, it means a lot.
If anyone is planning to watch the marathon my number is 24357. You can also follow my progress on the day with the Virgin London Marathon App.
Wish me luck, sponsor me here and I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from Born to run:
“You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”