This time last year I started a round of marathon training feeling in the best shape of my life. I was coming into it fuelled by 8 months of solid training and PB progress. I’d got through Christmas without gaining weight for the first time in my life. I did a massive 4 minute PB for 10k on New Year’s Day. I was more than comfortable at 13.1 miles and keen to go above that distance and see what I could do. I felt strong. I was raring to go.
I started January this year once again facing a 10k ‘race’ on New Year’s Day and a winter marathon training cycle. The way I felt at the start of 2017, however, couldn’t have been further from the year before.
Training badly over the summer had led to a few different overuse injuries and three months off with a condition that had weakened my lower legs. I was feeling distinctly not strong. Physically I was weak and out of condition. I’d put on a stone in weight. I hadn’t run further than 5 miles since October and wasn’t even sure my legs would let me go above that. Worst of all, I had lost a considerable chunk of my mental strength. There was a point just before that New Year’s Day 10k when I was very close to not even starting my training for London, never mind getting far enough to consider giving up. I just couldn’t be arsed and I felt terrible, like I was letting myself down before I’d even started and worse, I didn’t even care.
That was a familiar and frightening feeling, that tipping point before full on self destruct. We’ve been here before, I told myself. We’re not doing this again. There’s too much to lose.
So I started the training plan in the hope that my legs would make a start and my brain would catch up eventually. It’s going ok so far.
I’m now three weeks in. I’ve modified the plan a bit this time to reduce the impact, which means I’m actually only doing three runs a week. That’s not many for a marathon plan, but it allows time for cross training and gives me better recovery times for my lactic heavy limbs.
At the start of week 1 I had a dodgy knee and a painful hip flexor on my right side, both a sign of the strength I’d lost since these were old niggles I used to get in my pre-Eagles occasional runner days. The running didn’t feel easy but I was managing each session, and I wasn’t worried about the niggles because I knew what would fix them – a good bit of strength and flexibility work and a proper shoe fitting.
I’ve found a vinyasa yoga class to do once a week at Tribeca Studios in Ealing and I love it. The teacher never mentions chakras or any other crystal infused new age nonsense. It’s a tough session that opens my hips out, activates my glutes and stretches my calves properly, and I have already felt the difference in my alignment and form when I’m running. I’ve even started using the most effective moves at home as part of my stretching routine.
My shoe issue was resolved by the fabulous team at Up & Running in East Sheen. I popped over there at the end of week 2 for some advice as my knee was still niggling and they couldn’t have been more helpful. They gave me a completely common sense explanation as to why the shoes I’d been using were causing me a problem and tried me in 4 other styles, showing me on video playback what each pair did for my gait. I left having been sold the best shoes for me regardless of the fact they were £65 cheaper than the ones I had gone in there intending to buy. I have since ordered two more pairs to get me through this marathon cycle and I love them. My knee is in tip top shape and the shoes are perfect. I am a very happy customer.
(Incidentally the dark blue hue and the fact they are Brooks Vapor 2’s has lent them the nickname #vaporubs).
Having got my shoes sorted and my body properly stretched out, the running is starting to get easier again.
I’ve gone back to the track, which I still love. Even puffing round 10 x 400m at a slow 10k pace, the thrill of being back on the track and putting in some technical miles has re-ignited my inner Olympian (there are slow Olympians – remember Eric the Eel? I could be Duff the Dodo).
I have done a hill session, which I still hate but given that I have signed up for the Wimbledon Half in March will become a necessary evil. And the important thing is that I ran the hill reps and my legs didn’t drop off.
I’ve been committed enough to have headed out of the house layered up with buffs and hats in frost and snow storms to make sure I get in my soggy six milers mid week. I have been stared down by two foxes in the dark. I have discovered the fun to be had in arranging long runs with a good running buddy who shares your pace – something I missed out on last year, since I kept my Rome adventure quiet.
It’s been great rediscovering some of the things I love about running, and actually specifically training for endurance races.
Yesterday Catherine, my aforementioned long run buddy, was busy tackling the Box Hill Fell Race so I did my pre-parkrun 7 miles on my own. I missed her but I did enjoy my run. One of the lovely things about Spring marathon training is the bright cold mornings, with the early winter sun making the frost sparkle and turning a normal suburban streetscape into a glittering ice palace. Even the fact that your breath is visible in cold weather is helpful to a runner – if you can’t see where you’re going for self inflicted fog then you’re going too fast, slow down and even out your breathing!
I was using my fail-safe tactic for running enjoyment yesterday and had my Disney tunes on. There are times when I’m out in the chilly air, it’s all going well and a particularly joyful song comes on when I am completely and totally happy in the run. Nothing feels like an effort and I have a big grin on my face, and I am reminded that we’re doing this for ourselves, not to ourselves. The runner’s high is a real thing, and the headspace is a true luxury.
When I started this plan I knew it would take me a while to get back to full strength. I’m not there by any means yet and don’t expect to be for a little while longer, but between the yoga and the running I am definitely getting there. The minor niggles in my knee and hip have ironed themselves out and my compartment syndrome seems to be staying in the background (I am considering walking about with a small piece of wood or perhaps a rabbit’s foot in my handbag to ensure this remains the case). My abs are on their way back, and my legs are regaining definition.
But the return to physical strength isn’t the most important thing about getting back into the marathon training routine for me. It’s finding the strength to say yes to starting the plan in the first place. It’s keeping ticking the sessions off regardless of the temperature outside. It’s going from enduring the run to enjoying the endurance, and feeling that return to mental strength come back with every pound of trainer to pavement.
I don’t know what will happen between now and April, I don’t know whether I’ll get to the start line and if I do I don’t know what the targets will be. I’m taking each run as it comes, neither worrying about being slow nor putting pressure on myself to speed up.
So at the moment I’m back to that feeling of not caring, but in completely the opposite way.
Who cares about pace or target times? I’m just here for the run.