Want an insight into the pain, the glory, sore nipples, buckets of sweat and killer bushes that is my marathon training? No? Oh well, go away then. But if you are interested in my latest efforts, then please read on…
Welywn Garden City 10 Miles
I feel like I’m 12 years old, waiting for a PE lesson to start. This is probably something to do with it being 10:30am, standing on a school field in a pair of short shorts. I’m at the start of a 10 mile race, with nearly 400 other runners ready to tackle the streets of WGC…right after we do a lap of this school field.
It’s my first race since the ’08 marathon. I look around me – everyone seems to be a proper runner: lean, kitted out appropriately, many in running club colours. There is casual chat around me regarding running, families and the like. I’m just here for the training, to log my first double figures of this campaign and hopefully get in under an hour and a half. It’s also payback time: I had entered this very race in ’08 but had to pull out due to injury, instead watching Steve and T “8-head” go round it without me. Today, I have my girlfriend, Michelle (aka “Shell” to me), along for support, and perhaps Si and his family, no doubt ready to take a photo of me looking in some bad way that he’ll post to Facebook within two seconds of taking it. For now, Shell snaps away as I warm up minutes before the start.
The air is cool, and the sun is threatening to break through and make it uncomfortable for a run. The local MP does some inspirational speech that few people will remember seconds later, as the horn goes and we stream through the starting gates. “Beep!” goes the shoe chip to start my own personal clock. I tuck in midway through the field of runners as we trample a route through the grass. Taking the inside and passing a couple of others as our legs threaten to tangle, I feel like I’m in a proper race. Don’t get boxed in! Use your shoulders! Get in a medal position! Ok, I better calm down, I’m nowhere near the front and it’s not the Olympic 1500m final. This is illustrated quite clearly when we go to get out of the field and come to a small exit that seems to be constructed to only fit about three spotty kids across, not a hoard of athletes who have no wish to slow down and break stride. Great planning. Soon though, I’m out on the streets.
Somehow, I’ve isolated myself. There’s a woman running in blue shorts some way ahead of me that I’m focussing on (not her bottom you see, just, err, as a marker, you know) but there’s not much directly behind me. Suddenly I panic – I’m not last, am I? I glance over my shoulder and see a steady line of people some way back. Phew. I wave to my fan club (Shell has now been joined by her friend) and appear to get a few photos taken of me. On I go.
The drink stops are well-received, although I struggle to handle the small plastic cup. Running with it is fine, it’s just when I try and take a sip I feel like Ted Striker in “Airplane!” There are not too many hills over the two-loop circuit, but my thighs certainly are telling me when I’m going up them. More conditioning is needed if I am to tackle NY, methinks. I pass Shell again, trying my best to look strong and fast. As soon as she’s out of sight, I revert back to a slower, more slump-like posture. It’s beginning to hurt now.
Si appears out of nowhere and cheers me on, iPhone at the ready. The kids are instructed to wave, but seem to be a little bemused at who it is they’re exactly cheering on. Nevertheless, it’s great to see familiar faces and spurs me on. We go through residential areas, on pavements, passing kids going about their Sunday hanging around. Marshals lurk around every corner, pointing in the direction to take, dressed in fluorescent green vests. With my sense of direction, this is probably best, otherwise no doubt I’d end up in St. Albans.
I’m at my lowest now. I’ve just seen the 7 mile sign. 7? 6 was ages ago – it surely must be 8 by now. “Not long left!” said the marshal a while ago. That’s just cruel. All very well her sitting there doing next to nothing, but don’t give us false hope, say it how it is. “Go on! You’re knackered and have about half an hour of running ahead, but keep going!” would been preferable, and more honest. My legs are heavy, my vest is awash with sweat and I feel I’m slowing down. C’mon Andy. A runner in front of me stops, walks for a bit, then continues before I catch up with him. That’s not gonna be me – I don’t stop. Left foot follows right follows left…
More photos, and then I get the sense of being on the back straight. The 9 mile marker has suddenly appeared, sooner than I expected, and this gives me a boost. Either that, or it’s the energy gel I took 15 minutes ago. I pass one of the club runners and feel proud. ‘ave it, Harlow Runners. I run round the school – I must be nearly there! Then I see one of the most hated sights in races: people who’ve already finished, walking back to their cars with their white finishers’ bags. Damn you! I still have work to do and you’re basking in the glory already. I continue. When’s it going to end? Down a long stretch, I see a crowd gathering. Time to up the pace, bring on a strong finish. Men in front of me suddenly are left in my wake as my burst surprises even me. Just before the school entrance I see Shell…and we enter our very own race as she dashes to try to capture me crossing the line. Ah, let’s give her the shot she wants, slow down a little, relax. I come towards the line and in sight of the announcer who sees me: “AND HERE COMES NUMBER 350 <quick check of the list>……..ANDY MALES! GIVE US A SPRINT FINISH!” My brain switches to show-0ff mode – I run harder. I sprint. I go for the line like I’m running for Great Britain. The crowd (to me) go wild as I approach. And look at the time! 1:27! I’m under 1.5 hours! I smile as I cross the line and celebrate, not that Shell captures it. Ooops. I think she didn’t keep up with my sprint. That’ll teach me to showboat! I collect another medal for my meagre collection, my goody bag and slowly walk back to the car, smiling smugly at the runners still coming in.
Going away anywhere for more than two days means working out where I can run. Here, in Sorrento, Italy, I don’t have many options. Mount Vesuvius looks at me across the bay, challenging me. Hmmm…I might walk up part of you tomorrow, but I don’t think even Steve meant that kind of hill running as part of my training. Trouble is, my hotel is a) on a bit of a hill anyway, and b) in Italy, with Italian drivers close to narrow pavements. I happen to like my limbs in one piece, so I decide to tackle the treadmill.
The hotel is full of people over 50, so I rate my chances on taking the only treadmill; I was right – not a soul around. Twelve miles here I come. Except…twelve miles is a long time – both to run, and to stare at my face in the mirror for what will be two hours. It’s damn hot in here, too. Oh well, gotta be done. Shell decides to jump on the cycle machine to keep me company.
The digits on the treadmill cheerfully display 2 hours to go. I get into my stride. 1 hour 50. Just over ten minutes later, it switches to a delightful 99 minutes left. Oh wonderful. I continue, wiping sweat from my brow, arms, neck, armpits. It’s a hopeless task – I obviously have a leak somewhere. 89 minutes. Just think of the achievement. Keep going. Shell’s jumped to the stepper. I start to play a game with my mind – 79 minutes doesn’t mean 79 minutes – it just means I’m in the 70s. Soon, I’ll be in the 60s, and then that just an hour left. I even ramp up the speed a little – the quicker I go, the faster I get to 12, right?
I’m somewhere in the 40s now, and having to resort to music to keep me going. Not real music, of course – I have no iPod with me – it’s the jukebox in my head. It’s been playing Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” for a while now, something to do with “Ohhhhhh, we’re halfway there!” that jumped out at me when 6 miles were clocked up. Various other fragments of tunes float around, repeating lines as rhythms that I run to.
I’m nearly there. There’s enough sweat around me to fill the swimming pool and my left groin is complaining but I’m still going. Shell has long finished exercising and is relaxing with her puzzle book nearby, giving me encouraging shouts every now and again. She also supplied me with an energy gel and became the saviour of my nipples by going and getting two plasters. You have no idea the difference that makes!
Down to the 20s…teens…then it’s single figures! C’mon on! Nearly there…almost beaten you, treadmill. Think you’d win? Ha! C’mon! 5 minutes …4…3…2…1 minute…30 seconds…two full hours and we’re done. I stop my watch, slow down to walking pace and smile as 12.11 miles is displayed. As I limp off to my room, Vesuvius seems to taunt my calves, whispering, “tomorrow…tomorrow…”
Cycle Track Half Marathon
From the glory of WGC, the beauty of Sorrento…to the cycle tracks of Stevenage. After a few days’ rest and carb-loading, I’m ready to attempt another milestone in my training: a half marathon of 13.1 miles. Unfortunately my legs are not the only thing that is ready to run today, and I don’t mean my nose. Something I ate? Not sure, but things aren’t looking good as I contemplate two hours away from a toilet. Ahhhh, the joys of long-distance running…
I leave it to later in the day to recover, which is good, aside from the fact it’s got quite warm out there. For the first time, I’ll have ongoing support, in the form of Shell riding next to me. No megaphone, but at least she can carry the gels and water bottle and keep me company. We set out for what is a daunting run to me as I begin to realise it really is getting serious.
The first flaw in this plan is that I start off more concerned that Shell is ok on the bike; she’s more used to the static kind found in gyms, and it’s been many a year, it seems, since she rode one that actually went somewhere. I remind her that it’s like…well, you know the rest. It feels a bit weird at first, having someone right next to you. I’m not sure if I prefer her in front or behind, but it does take my mind off my running. A couple of miles in and I hear an awful noise behind me – yep, that’s the chain come off. Great. I realise it’s not good for either of us for me to complain at this stage, so I just pause the clock and quickly fix it to get her back and cycling. Let’s hope that’s the last hiccup.
I’m hurting now and strength is being sapped out my thighs by the invisible gods of the hills. This is bad. How am I going to cope in New York with its bridges? Any incline is proving difficult for me. I have a stitch, my right knee is sore, my ear is making me dizzy and once again sweat is cascading down my face. I start to dig deep. “COME ON!” Various outbursts and mantras fall from my lips as I strive to keep rhythm and my legs going. I must not quit.
I’m in Fairlands Lakes now, doing a few circuits. Home is not far away. I raise my arms and spread my fingers to indicate the passing of the ten mile stage. Think of the rest. Think of the milkshake that awaits. The achievement. Think of the…suddenly a bush jumps out me, scratching my arm and hand with its thorns. Stupid bush! Stupid council! Why don’t they trim these things? I’m bleeding, sweating and hurting all over. Great.
Shell has been great, keeping me going, giving me water, encouragement and most importantly not falling off or damaging my bike. I reach the home straight, less than a mile to go. “Time to bring it home!” I say, and start to sprint. Twenty seconds later, I’m barely running. My energy bar is critically low. No showboating this time, Andy, let’s just get home. Soon, I’m running out of cycle track as I finally get near home. 13 miles…13.1 and stop. I’m absolutely knackered. My legs are shot. I’m a mess. And just think – in not so many weeks’ time I’ll have to do that again…twice.