Before taking on the four-minute mile, Roger Bannister and his Oxford colleagues most famously abandoned their training to spend three days climbing in Scotland.
Widely considered a reckless decision at the time, in fact that unwise trip unearthed the missing mental sharpness which proved so decisive at Iffley Road in May 1954.
I’m far from certain that the same approach will work for me in the Almería Half Marathon this Sunday, even though I’ve had my own personal kind of mountain to climb this week.
A trip to Scotland with my back firmly against the wall.
An Aberdeenshire dawn. In deep December. At eight o’clock it’s still almost dark here in Northern Scotland, but I’ve been awake for a while.
A gale has been howling across the sand dunes all night, rattling the windows of my hotel room, whilst the branches of the tree outside are still swaying as if in the aftermath of some apocalyptic explosion.
I grab my windjacket, and head downstairs, past the hotel bar and restaurant where we ate so well last night. I nod in deference to this holy shrine – the hallowed tables where they serve the most famous sticky toffee pudding in all the world.
We were ready for our run around the banana plantation – laces tied, route mapped and dog ready. That’s when Adam told me his last marathon time was 3:15, over an hour faster than mine.
‘No problem,’ he said. ‘You set the pace. I’ll just hang on your right shoulder.’
I ran that first lap too fast. Then halfway around the second, I turned left instead of right.
‘This way !’ chided Adam mildly, racing down another, seemingly identical trail between the bananas.
And if that was at all remarkable, it was only because Adam is blind.
‘I aim higher’. Altiora peto – that’s the motto of my old school, and it’s been a great maxim to take through life, whether for study, sports (especially darts, of course) or business.
Persistence and patience are the keys to achievement, in just about all things, especially when allied with a burning desire to learn and to improve.
I’ve found that sticking to a task, and simply pressing on, regardless of distractions and disappointments, is often the best approach to reaching a challenging goal.
The glass of the second bottle felt moist and cool in my hand. Inviting.
5.30 pm at an exhibition in Earl’s Court, London’s very own suburb of Melbourne. It wasn’t an Australian beer in my hand, this time, even if three of those had slipped down effortlessly the evening before.
One more had disappeared just a moment ago, subsumed in seconds and without a thought. As they always are, at the witching hour which closes any trade show.
It was hard to believe my eyes, really, but it was happening. The bottle, so helpfully handed to me just a moment before, was moving back towards the table. My papers were gathering themselves into my bag.
Time for a decision. I collected my coat, mumbled a few feeble farewells, and headed out into the dusk and the rain, raising my collar and shuffling forwards along the wet pavement towards the tube station.
Thirteen for me today. Cold, wet, grey. Rain spreading from the west in the second hour.
I’ve felt slow, sluggish and lack-lustre in this worryingly intermittent campaign. I wasn’t sure of the reason, since my weight appears to be under control.
Nevertheless, the inability to squeeze into 36L trousers at the sales this afternoon tells its own story. I do need a bigger size than 5 years ago, mostly because my thighs have grown with all that power muscle (ahem) so that I appreciate a more roomy cut. However, this does not usually extend to not being able to do the darned things up.
The truth revealed – that my weight has recently found a new home just above my belt.