Quite a large part of marathon training can feel like a bit of a slog. There’s almost an element of Stockholm Syndrome to it. You’re either running, recovering from running, thinking about running, or sitting at work wishing you were running instead.
However at some point, if you’re really lucky, things start to feel a bit like they might be falling into place. You turn a corner.
At the moment I feel like I’m standing a few feet back peering around the edge of my corner, not sure whether it’s definitely the right one. Like when you meet a friend somewhere you’ve been a few times but aren’t completely sure of and you check Google maps compulsively because you don’t trust yourself to have followed your feet.
I’ve had a couple of good training weeks, which culminated in my first 20 miler of this training round at yesterday’s Kingston Breakfast Run. I’d been really looking forward to this race, especially since the excellent Spitfire 20 had been cancelled this year, because it has got some great feedback over the years. I knew it was a bit like a combination of the old Kingston 10 and the existing Harry Hawkes 10, both lovely runs I have enjoyed in the past. Familiar territory and a good weather forecast meant it promised to be an ideal morning’s work.
Weirdly I wasn’t even nervous. There was actually quite a big group of us planning to head over together – 6 chatty ladies bundled into Catherine’s conveniently massive family wagon at various pick up points around 6:30am and the general attitudes went from horrendous nerves to my attitude of ‘just start running and see what happens’. And yes, I did say 6.30am, the race was due to start at 8am which felt insanely early but did afford a view of this rather lovely sunrise as I was waiting for the girls.
Anyway, we made it to Kingston on time and just about had time for a quick trip to the loos and a rather less quick trip to the baggage queue (the less than organised baggage system was the one thumbs down for this event), and then off we went.
The course is made up of a first lap down the river and with a little mini extra loopy bit at the bottom before heading back to Kingston centre and running a second full lap of about 7 – 8 miles to make up 20.1 in total. I ran the first 12 miles or so with another running buddy, Laura, and we managed to keep each other nicely to just under 11 minute miles.
It was a sunny, pretty run along nicely even towpaths and residential streets. You get to run past Hampton Court Palace and over bridges and other stretches of the river with some lovely views.
Since we were doing training pace we were able to chat, and the miles seemed to just melt away for me. Before long we were at the point I had promised to try some faster race pace miles, and I had to reluctantly pull away for my second lap. The route takes you through the same town square as the finish line as you head out for the last loop and there was a decent sized flock of Eagles waiting there who were in fine voice! I managed to fit in a big hug with one woman cheer squad machine Sonja which gave me a massive lift and I headed out to the river again with a big smile on my face.
It struck me at this point that something felt a bit strange. Then it struck me that the thing that was strange was that I was absolutely fine. That’s not really a normal feeling for me just over halfway through a really long run. Definitely not recently anyway. In fact I felt more than fine – I knew I would be out there for more than another hour and instead of thinking ‘ugh, that seems ages’ I was raring to go and actually weirdly thrilled to still have 7 or 8 miles more to run. It felt more like a privilege than a chore. Which I guess is the point!
I’ve said it before. Runners are weird.
Back on the far bank of the river I thought my watch was having a moment because it seemed to be speeding up a lot. It was definitely going a little bit squiffy, but the next mile beeped at a fairly accurate feeling 10.20. I was torn – according to what I’d planned with Coach Mark that was too fast but I felt great and wanted to keep pushing if I could. Runner’s Catch 22. Or 20.1.
Being sensible about it I decided to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I only felt so good because I’d kept the brakes on for the first 12 miles, so I needed to not go too mad. I slowed up and then got chatting to a very interesting lady, Sophie, who told me all about MQ, the mental health research charity she both works and is running the marathon for. The connection between running and mental health seems so strong. So many of my running friends do it to stay sane or return to sanity. It’s a big driver. My chat with Sophie was a nice reminder of what our sport can do for us.
The chat was so interesting in fact that the next time I was really aware of my watch beeping was at 16 miles – we were already nearly there! Only 40 odd minutes left of this lovely Sunday run! We kept ploughing on until we reached the 20 mile marker (suspiciously closer to 19.75 miles by my Garmin) and something told me to kick for the finish.
The best time I’ve ever run 20 miles in was last year’s Spitfire which I ran in 3:38:32. I crossed the line yesterday in 3:36:48, but at the actual 20 mile point I was a minute under that. I hadn’t realised til I made it to the 20 mile marker how much I wanted to beat that 2016 time in this run. It felt absolutely great.
Meeting all the girls again at the end it was lovely to find that all of us had managed good runs. Catherine did 3:32, and Laura came in a few minutes after me in absolute triumph, all of us cheering madly as she crossed the line of her furthest ever run!
It was a lovely morning for a run, and a lovely route to run on. The road trip element of sharing it with the girls added a lot to the fun, that great feeling of being in it together. Despite running our own races we were a team, and we all won!
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks worrying and freaking myself out a bit about the Big Day on 23rd April. Not sure what pace I’ll manage, worried about the bunching up in the first few miles, wondering if unfamiliar kit will chafe, afraid I won’t be able to handle the madness of the start area or the size of the crowds.
Yesterdays lovely run was quite the tonic. It feels achievable now. More than that, if it’s my day I might just be fit enough to actually have a race plan other than just getting round. I’m already planning my strategy for next week’s final long run before taper, another 20 miler at Dorney. I’m starting to feel ready once again to see what I’m capable of.
So maybe by this time next week – all being well – I’ll be on the other side of the corner, ready to face that last little bit of the road ahead.