[Sound FX: A heavy door creaks, rusty hinges unexpectedly disturbed. A man holds up a lamp, his free arm sweeping through hanging cobwebs sending flurries of dust billowing, and peers into the gloom. “Hmm…” he murmurs, “I think this used to be a blog… a long time ago.”]
It’s not that I actually ever stopped writing here, in fact I have continued to write on all sorts of topics… it’s just that the writings never made it out of my head.
It’s been a really bad spell for me of late, probably as hard as any I’ve faced, and I acknowledge now that I haven’t coped well. Someone who has been through similar things described it as like a bath which is sloshing all over the sides and there’s nothing you can do to contain or stop it. For me, it has felt more like being buried under multiple heavy layers: you feel acutely each individual fear and failure and worry, but worse is the accumulated whole, which pins you down so that you can’t raise your arms to do anything. You know exactly what you need to do (including, distinguishing very lucidly between the things which need to be done most, and those which can and can’t be done), yet can only sit paralysed by the weight of it all combined.
When I started this blog one of my goals was to offload some of the things which go round the tumble-dryer of my head: and yes in these past months, I have written some, but completed none. For example, I have a whole set of part-written different stages of draft for a series of “Survival Guide” for marathon-runners’ families which I had intended to post in the run-up to the London Marathon (maybe next year). Likewise, in my non-running life, I don’t think I have ever worked or fought so hard than in recent months – but achieved or completed so little.
I don’t know why that should be, because in running matters I can be the most organised, disciplined, focused, goal- and results-oriented person. When I need a race on the horizon, I find and book one to commit myself. I take stock of my start-point, plan my training, and do it, over many months and juggled effectively with all the other competing demands of life, work, family. I may not stick absolutely to every session and measure and mile, but am experienced and resilient enough to adapt as circumstances dictate yet determinedly stay on plan overall. By race-day I know how I am, set targets in the context of this particular race, and manage my pace on the day to suit. And even – especially – when injuries arise, I may have a period of sulking but then get off my arse and pick up from the new start-point, however low: planned, measured, focused… and active.
So why can’t I do that with life’s non-running challenges and setbacks? Why can’t the Running John give the other John a good talking to – or, more pertinently, how is it that J listens to all R-Js coaching, recognises and takes it fully on board and then…
39 Half-Marathons later
In other news, tomorrow is my 39th Half-Marathon: in Leeds, my home. Thirty-ninth. You might think that as you run more, they become easier or less meaningful, but that’s not the case. This one is very important, and a new challenge for me.
One of the many things weighing down on me in the last year and months is that this time last year I had an “episode” which turned out later to have been a small heart-attack. On a scale of 1-10, probably less than a 1 (the team at the cardiologist clinic were all smiles and thumbs-up and oh-how-pleased-I-must-be; but I just wanted to punch them) but even so it definitely happened, and now I have to put up with daily preventative medication including beta-blockers which constrain my heart-rate. I have learnt to live and run with that, and have come to understand the longer warmups I need, the godawful first few minutes of running, and the moderated pace – although in truth that is not much different to the pace I had settled at in recent years, having decided a while ago that I could enjoy running more, and for longer, by accepting that as I aged I should focus more on the running than on the times.
So last year I ran Leeds in 1:46:10 – perfectly paced to within a few seconds at 12 miles, then I let go. That had been after my problem, but before I was diagnosed. In September, and by now beta-blocked for the first time, I ran Nottingham Robin Hood in 1:52:31, well-managed but a new Personal Worst.
In training this time I have been cruising some 15-20 secs/mile faster than my Robin Hood pace, so do I set a target to beat that tomorrow? On the other hand RH is flat, whereas the first-half of Leeds is relentlessly and punishingly hilly, so I have to work in an allowance for that. If I allow for my slower starts, the hilly first half, and then my cruising pace to 12 miles, I may still be able to let go that last 1.1 miles… and that will put me somewhere between those Leeds and RH times.
Plus there is the inevitably-dodgy calf and niggling knee, not to mention the weather which seems to be alternate 20-minutes of warm sunshine and stair-rods of wind-driven Yorkshire rain.
My thirty-ninth half-marathon and I still dont know what to expect, and I love it. My thirty-ninth half-marathon and so many variables I don’t know with any certainty what it will be like. Every one is different, every one a journey, and every one a new experience. And in turn, every one goes into the mixer of plans and emotions for the next.
Oh yes, and at my MOT last month the cardiologist cleared me to run my deferred Yorkshire Marathon in York in October. So the Leeds Half tomorrow is also the start of another long journey…
**UPDATED with result**
I don’t think it could have gone any better, including the fact that on the day the weather was bright and sunny with a cool breeze: perfect spring day and perfect running conditions.
I set myself the goal of managing my pace safely: as I have done in recent events to pace and HIT a time rather than BEAT it (a different discipline, but, it turns out, every bit as satisfying). So I had negative splits made up of
- the first, hilly, seven miles at an average of 8:45 pace (actually made up of some 8:30 and allowing three at 9:00 for my slow start and the two big hills)
- seven-twelve (flat) at 8:20 pace which would give me an average overall at 12 miles of 8:33/mile
- twelve-finish at whatever I had left (assumed, 8:00 pace)
which should bring me in around 8:30min/mile overall and somewhere in a target-window between my (unmedicated, hilly) Leeds and (medicated, flat) Robin Hood times of last year.
I knew the first half splits gave me some slack and actually cruised it comfortably and in control, so at 7 miles I had averaged 8:32. I felt ok, so decided to try to average 8:20 by 12… and hit 8:19min/mile. Then I knew I could kick a bit, and finished in 1:48:13, strong, right in my target window, bang on 8:15/mile overall and the last 1.1 at 7:39 pace.
Not bad, for an old git. And how satisfying, that 39 runs out I am still finding such pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t care that it’s a bit slower than I used to be: I nailed it, and honestly think I enjoyed that more!