Robin Hood weekend has always been one of the fixtures of my year, a date around which my year is oriented. I love autumn; and that morning in my old home town by the Trent (along with the bright mistiness of the Lakes) epitomises everything which is so special about it.
And now I find myself sitting here on The Night Before Race Day, checking my kit, planning my timings, and with a unique and special buzz of excitement. But this year it is tinged with more than the usual pre-race uncertainties, and a tinge of sadness lurking.
My rituals will be the same. I will get up at work-o-clock early; drive down an uncommonly deserted M1; queue to park with my head-music playing; walk into the arena to pee, check out the gear tent and buy a polystyrene cup of tea; pee again; change into my race-kit and deposit my bag; pee one more time in a hedge; jog up and down by the Trent as the mist lifts and the rowers glide past the swans; one final pee (or attempt) against a majestic autumnal tree; and then join my start-pen, as late as I possibly can to keep my body – and my heart – warm.
When the gun goes there will be a big cheer but I will be silently inside my own head. This year’s song will be different.
And it’s a different plan.
- Slow Mile 1, slow, safe, don’t ruin this
- Lovely familiar bastard hills to Mile 3.5; low gear, small stride, rhythm (pray, this 50th time, that I don’t have to walk for the first time); recover, slow
- Mile 4-9 “Pace-Not-Race”
- Mile 10-12 steady
- Mile 12-onwards….. see what my body is saying
For the last 18 months it’s been saying “Stop. Enough. You’re hurting me.” Not for the first time; but this time it is insistent. And this time I can’t run through it; this time in fact I can barely run. So this time the deal we’ve made is final: I’m allowed one more, and this time really is the last time.
- Mile 13.1 I honestly have no idea how I will feel, what state I will be in.
And afterwards? I can’t even think about that right now…
I want to enjoy that unique buzz; enjoy my rituals; enjoy the course and the crowds and the bands and the autumn morning run; enjoy the last mile.
The. Last. Mile.
Best check my kit one more time.
Well, I did it; and I did it ok; and I didn’t stop once. Like Dr Who and his two hearts: my pump did really well, but the deep emotional one was both happy and… pained.
I warmed up well, paced the first mile perfectly (slowly) and properly, safely managed the hills to 3.5 miles. The middle section I kept my steady rhythm, bit of a dip on the hill at Wollaton Park; and then the run in, flat terrain flat pace. A charming and impressive girl, Emily, from a local ED clinic called First Steps ran up to me just before 11 miles and commented on my B-eat vest and we chatted (or she did, I was labouring too much), and then it was 12. Time for The Last Mile.
I felt ok, legs were fine, stamina fine; just the needle-almost-in-the-red to manage. But I let my stride out; and I ran, allowed myself to run. I was feeling it as I passed the full-marathon split and remembered the emotion of making that turn; I was feeling it as I turned off the Embankment onto the grass finish; and I was feeling it as I ran up to the big yellow clock, and stopped my watch, and stopped – for the last time. It was over. It’s over.
I didn’t want to leave, yet, so I sat on the grass and watched people coming in. It was over. A huge sob came up, and I had to cover my face.
But here’s the punchline. It was a personal-worst (as I knew it would be), by over 13 minutes since my last Half in May, and over an hour over my PB. 13 minutes. That means I have lost a minute-a-mile, in just four months. I can’t argue with that. My body has said “Enough! You’re hurting me!” and this time I have to listen.
So I stood up, collected my bag and T-shirt, changed, had a snack, and went back to the car and drove home wearing my medal. Alone, as I do.
Did. Used to.