My computer hard disk crashed yesterday, which seemed appropriate. It wasn’t the only hardware that was suffering.
The Bath Half Marathon last week gave me a useful opportunity to experience the thrill of racing again, and to assess my fitness levels.
The appalling weather also offered a good ‘dry run’ (if that’s the correct word) for running a race in the wet, if that’s the weather which should be served up by the London Marathon.
A successful day, but I’ve paid for it since. My legs have been stiff and heavy. My motivation’s been tested, and found wanting. Hell, I felt tired. I still do.
How could I even think about marathon training without mentioning it ? Because you do get tired, very tired. That’s not just on an individual run, either, although there is lots of that, particularly in the final miles of whatever masochistic distance you’ve selected for the day. And that last half mile of a 3 miler can be just as bad as the last 17 of a 20 miler. Are you kidding ?The problem with marathon training, is that it’s all about the red line. You’re always tempted to push towards it, to gain optimum performance. And if you go beyond it, you might get a bit more speed in the short term. But there’s always the risk that your engine will eventually crack up. The great paradox here is that, over time, as you get fitter, it just gradually wears you down.
Just for a minute then, let’s forget the smoothly progressing daily numbers in that Hal Higdon spreadsheet. That’s the theory, but it belies what we all know, that it’s not actually like that. So, how does a marathon training programme REALLY go ? Forgive me, but my inkling is that most of them evolve something like this:
A sweet, heady time, it’s that halcyon soft-focus season when you make the commitment. You’re running pretty regularly, and your ‘regular’ (read ‘sporadic’) long runs of 5 miles seem deceptively easy. The sun is always shining, or, better said, it’s always shining when you go running. Key warning phrases start to appear in your mind, like: ‘If I just keep this up, and maybe add a longer run or two at the weekends, then marathon training won’t be hard at all’. Other danger signals include running a (much shorter) mass participation race, or worse, being inspired by watching the TV coverage. The latter option carries the desperate danger of even more minimal effort levels, yet significantly more beer.
2. Starting out.
A programme of 18 weeks gives you plenty of time to build things up quite gradually. Assuming you’ve already reached a basic level of fitness before embarking on such madness, then the moderate mileage required in the first few weeks of training may even be more restful than the running you were doing before. The marathon is months away still, yet hangs like a particularly juicy and already satisfying carrot at the end of those easy 3 milers and 6 mile weekend runs. This is a breeze. You can even miss a few weeks of training at this stage, and it probably won’t affect your marathon. Fantastic !
The first month has gone by, and the weather doesn’t always seem quite as good when you head out the door. The long runs are getting longer, but 10 miles is still more than manageable, and you’ve doubled the distance already. No sweat – this is fun ! It’s really no harder than that half marathon you finished so strongly last year (note that the memory of even the most principled people is criminally selective when it comes to recalling pain).
The second month sees the long runs up to 15 miles. It’s a bit tough, and what’s strangely puzzling is that 15 seems at least twice as long as 13. But you’ve told your friends you’re running the marathon now. They’re gratifyingly impressed, and hey, you’re halfway through the training. Great !
The start of the third month and you’re up to 18 miles. It’s a big hurdle, and you have to walk a bit. Well, quite a bit. But you finish it, and deserve that long beer afterwards – marvellous ! And, when you’re that much fitter, in a month or two’s time, it’ll be so much easier (won’t it ?). The snag is, the midweek runs are a bit longer now. Those three milers are suddenly all fives and sixes, and doesn’t the programme say there’s an 8 or 10 miler in the middle of some weeks as well. What, are they joking ?
Nearly three months have gone by. You’re more tired than you can ever remember. Your feet hurt. Your legs hurt. Your brain hurts. You can’t reliably recognise your family. Your legs and body are permanently burning, struggling to rebuild themselves as you break them down, day after day. It’s like a permanent hangover, except without the wild night beforehand. You’d be much too tired, anyway. Worse still, if sometimes you can run just a bit faster now, why does it ache all the time ? And there’s that final 20 miler in just two days’ time. How can you really be so much less fit than when you did that 18 miler last month ? Isn’t it all this training supposed to be making you stronger ?
Three weeks left to reduce the mileage and build strength for the marathon ahead. At first, it feels like no rest cure at all, since there are still plenty of miles enough for anyone. But after the first week, you seem to be more tired than ever, despite running less. Now why is that ?
8. Final week.
Aches all over. No sleep. Fat stomach. Tired legs. No chance. Congratulations – your physical and mental preparation are now complete. You’re ready to run !
So, then, let’s see. Where was I ?
Well, let’s just say that I’m definitely running a bit faster now. Or at least I think I was, until last week. But it aches all the time. And I’ve got that final 20 miler in just two days’ time. And why do I feel so much less fit now, than when I did that 18 miler last month ? Isn’t all this training supposed to be making me stronger ?
And, now I think of it, who ARE those strange people living in my house ?
47. A taper text
111. The plan
100. Half a million steps
112. Forests of fire and iron – Surrey Hills 1
97. Only scars carved into stone – a summer 20 miles
26. Great North Run
You really captured how it feels during marathon training. Part 2 could be how it feels afterwards. For me it’s joy, soreness and sadness that the whole thing is over with.