Six weeks have gone by. The cowslip has grown high and lush beside the country lanes I drive to work each morning, the Sussex fields beyond the office are fast drying out enough for lunchtime running, and the sun is high in a warm blue sky. Our cold wet spring will soon become a distant memory.
The memory of a glorious FA Cup Final defeat does not fade so quickly.
And neither will the memory of my last nine miles in London the month before.
Pain on that scale burns deep into the soul, and I won’t forget it.
Hindsight is such an uncanny witness, and it’s far too easy after any trainwreck to say how you saw it coming, long before. But leafing back now through all those weeks of training, I can see the winter’s warning signs looming large within my writing. ‘It’s a struggle this time,’ I kept on saying. ‘I’m sluggish, and can’t find speed, or motivation.’ ‘I had to stop and walk again, today.’My lack of form perplexed me and mystified me, then. But now I understand it. And I can pinpoint exactly the moment when the course of my race came clear.
Picture the scene. A ski-shop, on a busy spring Saturday afternoon, somewhere high in the French Alps.
‘Tell me, ‘ow ‘eavy air you ?’ the technician asked, as he fiddled with my ski bindings in a Gallically busy, and ever so slightly officious ‘Don’t waste my time, you rosbif plonkair kind of way.
‘87 kilos, old chap,’ I confidently replied, as I often do. It’s my normal weight. A little heavier than I’d like, for sure, three weeks out from London, but I’ll burn some weight off this week, up here in the snow.
‘Non.’ He smiled, and paused. ‘ ‘Ow ‘eavy air you, vraiment,’ he asked again, a little peskily, I thought. What had happened to ‘ze coostomair eez always right’ ?
I laughed. ‘No, really, I weighed myself today.’ He looked strangely unpersuaded – but I guess my rippling muscles were hard to spot. They lurked there, powerfully, beneath my bulky ski jacket, after all. How was this technicien to know, that he was talking to an accomplished athlete here ?
‘Yes, I’m thinner than I look, you see,’ I began, stridently. ‘And, … er, I’m pretty fit. I run marathons, you know’. But it was suddenly beginning to sound unconvincing, even to me.
A silence. A meaningful, pointed silence. And then he looked me straight in the eye, and jabbed a Gitanes-stained fingertip offensively into my chest.
‘Monsieur,’ he sighed. ‘You air not 87 keelo.’
I couldn’t believe it. How could he continue like this ? Had he never heard of the Entente Cordiale ? Or the Versailles Accord ? The Geneva Convention ? Surely the Warsaw Pact has something to say about such insubordination, or the Treaty of Utrecht must have done, once upon a time ? But then it got worse – much worse.
‘Monsieur, you air not 87 keelo. Et bien, mon brave, what eez more, you ‘ave not bin 87 keelo, not for a vairy long time.’ And at that, everyone around me laughed.
Sacré bleu! I was horrified – frankly appalled. But short of placing a call directly to the Elysées Palace and calling out the gunboats to blockade Calais and Boulogne, there was little that I could do. I figured that raised eyebrows and a nonchalant shrug might be the best response, although in truth I never was that good at carrying off a Roger Moore.
And in fact I couldn’t shrug it off, not at all. That thought stayed with me as I struggled to carve my powder turns, and even worse, as I gasped my way up the mountain road later in my pathetically inadequate and pitiful impression of high-altitude training. What if he were right ? I ate less, or at least less than I might have done, all week.
So as soon as I got home, I weighed myself again. 87 keelo. No problem there. But then at Easter with my parents, before my final 8 mile triumphalist end of training progress around the Warwickshire lanes, I stepped onto their scales, just to make sure.
94 kg. Et un trés grand zut alors. Crikey. I’d never seen a ninety-anything before. And hang on a moment – seven kilos over … that’s how much ? More than a stone.
I’m not quite sure when our scales went wrong. Maybe it was years ago, but I don’t think it was. More likely when the kids were bouncing on and off them one night last autumn.
Now it all became so awfully clear. My gleeful surprise at finding I hadn’t put weight on over Christmas. My relative ease, last spring, in keeping my mass in check. For once, it had seemed I didn’t need to hold back at the trough, despite my lower mileage than in other years.
And most telling of all, my inability to run fast last winter, for any kind of distance. To get my feet moving, or to climb the hills. Sure, I was ready for a marathon, since the distance was in my legs. But it wasn’t going to be a fast one or an easy one – that much I knew.
All through that final week, I ate conservatively. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never starved myself. But I didn’t pile up my plate for days on end, as I had in years before. That was a mistake, most likely.
Did it make much difference, though ? I doubt it. Because far more troublesome, for certain, were those extra sixteen pounds. Those two full bags of potatoes which I knew I was condemned to carry all the way from Greenwich to Docklands, and beyond.
By race weekend, I’d lost one kilo, just two pounds, and my confidence, low as it had been, was shot to hell. I knew I wouldn’t run a fast race, so I resolved just to run it as best I could. I had no plan – not really – except perhaps to wait for the struggle to begin. And that’s exactly why it did.
April is ancient history now. Six weeks have gone by, and I’ve been running for a month. Too much, too soon, as always – a tough ten miler just three weeks out was bound to give me problems, however much I felt I had to run it. A sore knee was my reward, so I took up cycling (yet again) for a week or two. But now I’m fine, and I need to run lots more, to lose that weight.
Two keelo have gone, but there’s still five more left to go. So I’m going to brave that lunchtime heat again today, in just a moment. At least I will – just as soon as I’ve finished this packet of crisps.
And then I’m off to buy some bathroom scales.
63. Henry VIII’s consumption and the rocky road to running ruin
114. Mont Blanc morning – Flaine, France
111. The plan
79. In sickness and in health
117. Come on you Irons ! FA Cup Final, Millennium Stadium