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.
Your sun so bright it leaves no shadows
Only scars carved into stone
On the face of Earth
U2 – March 1987
If I think hard enough, I can probably remember each and every one. Not just my marathons, each of which are easy enough to recall, but the long runs which go before, which form the basis of any training campaign. Those twenty-milers which lie at the far end of all those long weeks of running.
2004. A year all about rain. And one glass of grapefruit squash.
It’s a year since I wrote about the first long run of my 2004 London Marathon campaign. A wet and miserable winter run which uncovered some forgotten history on a wooded bluff above the River Wey. A line of tank traps forming the last line of defence for London against a Second World War invasion which never took place.
It was an unexpected and thought-provoking find, and I’ve learned a lot more during my running year of 1 000 miles since then. A year unlike any other I’ve run through.