Happy new year, dear readers! I hope you had a good festive period and Father Christmas emptied his sack to your great satisfaction. It seems like only yesterday I was kicking off 2013, pondering how to approach the year. There were no runs in the diary. I still had a bike. I even thought I was going to Portugal in May. A lot has happened since, to put it mildly, and if you ignore those last two points it was a thoroughly decent affair. It’s all a bit different this year though, and actually rather worrying. For the first time in my life, I come into the new year knowing exactly where and when the first event of the year will be: Manchester, April 6th. It is now official: I’ve signed up for a marathon. What on earth is wrong with me?
I only actually got the entry in a couple of weeks ago, but luckily I had already looked at the date and counted back to when I should start training, and after realising with some horror that it should be with only a single door open on my Ninja Turtle advent calendar, I planned ahead and began to ease my way in during November. Basing my “training for training” runs around the general format of the intended programme; a tempo run here, a 10 mile slow Sunday run there, you know? 25-30 miles a week, mostly low speed, so it didn’t suddenly become a vomit and injury splattered disaster when the shit got real in the run up to Christmas.
Today marks the end of the fifth week of ACTUAL TRAINING and it’s surprisingly gone rather well so far. Just from the last three weeks alone I’ve managed to hammer in over 100 miles despite the festive period. The big Sunday run has been completed every week so far, creeping up from 10 miles at the start of December, to 12 and then 15 last weekend, the furthest I have run for nearly a year. More surprisingly though, I actually managed to get a couple of runs in on the days where to be honest, you now have to begin questioning my mental state. Most ridiculouly, Christmas Day, which on paper sounds like the behaviour of a seriously disturbed individual but in practice was actually a thoroughly enjoyable and bizarrely rewarding affair.
Waking up bleary-eyed early on Christmas morning, after the inevitable Christmas Eve Guinness marathon, I was delighted to see a beautiful crisp, clear morning after days of storms and gales. The training runs that week had all been fairly horrible affairs, with rain coming in at 45 degree angles and several of those really nasty runs where you feel great up until half distance then turn to head home straight into a 70mph headwind and realise that’s what has been blowing you along. But this was different; calm, bright, with blue skies aplenty. So, despite rather stupidly drinking a glass of the fizzy stuff while opening my presents, I grabbed a (large) bottle of water and decided to go for it, heading out into the morning sunshine. After all, I could always cut it short and jog back if it all suddenly went wrong and I started chundering Irish stout all over the Bedfordshire concrete.
Happily, that never happened, and despite falling over heading into the last couple of miles – and I mean a proper, full on stack rather than one of my usual uncoordinated stumbles – I chipped round the full seven miles slightly ahead of target pace and felt strangely great thereafter, my hangover a distant memory and a ready to absolutely dominate my Christmas Dinner. Job done.
I did eventually end up missing a couple of others over the week as I juggled a series of family commitments and suchlike, but they were never the mega important ones and I can now reflect on a rather different Christmas period from years gone by, starting the new year’s fitness push a week or so early and running 37 miles in amongst all the usual shenanigans. It didn’t stop me inevitably putting on around half a stone as I stuffed my face with whatever I could get my hands on, but I am sure that won’t be a big deal in the long run. We’ll see.
So with all that behind me, the real meat of the training programme now begins. Some seriously hard work lies ahead, and it won’t be for another month or so before I begin to understand if the holy grail of a 3:05 marathon is even remotely achievable, or if I will simply be looking to just beat my 3:19 personal best and maybe hit my 2011 target of a 3:15. Until I attempt to push myself at target pace on the longer runs, it’s impossible to judge if I am in any way capable of hitting the cherished GFA time. And it’s pretty important that I do find out ahead of April 6th so I don’t batter the opening miles of the marathon aiming for glory, only to completely blow up long before Old Trafford looms into view marking the end of the race and end up heaving all over the latter stages of the route before shattering my oversized face on the Trafford concrete. My friends and family really don’t need to see that.
Looking at the amount of training I have ahead of me, I realise that it’s a pretty daunting challenge in store. If I complete every session on my training plan, the mileage will be approaching 900 miles, around the distance by road from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Considering my total running mileage for the whole of 2013 was 818.2, that scares the absolute living shit out of me. OK, so I definitely won’t be able to hit every session due to attempting to hold down some semblance of normal life (I’ve already missed seven of the buggers) but it’s still a huge and intimidating commitment I’ve suddenly made. Looking back to 2011, it was closer to 600 miles getting ready for my first marathon, so I’m probably looking at half as much again as I try to shave that PB down towards the ridiculous target I have now set myself. I still don’t know at this stage if I am remotely capable of doing it, but it’s going to be interesting finding out. And so, for the first time since April 2011, it’s officially me versus marathon. Let battle commence.