Wednesday, 18 April 2007

The Red and the Burning

Dear all,

The London marathon takes place on Sunday 22 April 2007, at 9:45 (mass start). I will be at the blue start, and wearing number 1283.

I'm not going to tell you my target time for fear of eternal humiliation. However, it might involve running at around 6 minutes and 40 seconds per mile, or 4 mins and 9 seconds per kilometre. All the training has been promising. Only one small, though distressing injury, and I've managed to get the miles in. A good week's sleep and everything should be fine. Now we just have to wait for the unexpected train wreck ... which is probably taking shape in the profoundly sore throat I've had since Monday. Could it be hayfever, or is there an aerobic-capacity infection brooding there?

There are no online runner alerts on the London Marathon website, as far as I can see. You will have to wait for the email, or check for provisional listings after the race is completed (i.e. Sunday evening):
News will also be available on BBC Radio Five Live, and
Or if you get lucky you'll see me at the finish on TV on BBC One. Start looking at 12:35, but don't expect me until 12:40 plus however long it takes me to crawl over the neophytes who push their way to the front in order to walk the first mile.

It's been some time since I last wrote. I have not been stationary since the 2:58.46 outcome in November. There have been some good moments. For example, the one when I woke with a hangover on Boxing Day after a splendid Christmas dinner that concluded with port. Being more or less incapable of anything else I read the running club newsletter and saw that there was a race at Lamasland at 11:00. It was 10:45. Lamasland is just over a mile away. I got my kit on and ran to the start line. The gun went off as I arrived at the back of the crowd. So I started and after half a mile or so managed to ask someone how long the race was ... 4 miles. I wasn't too unhappy with 24:32, given the port. It was certainly an improvement on the Bedford Half Marathon a couple of weeks earlier, where I fully expected a PB and spent the last ten miles wondering if I was going to collapse from dehydration or hypothermia first. It was my only bad race so far -- and I learned just how damaging a bad race can be -- and it taught me that in fact you can't just ignore serious diarrhea in the morning, no matter how fit you are.

Since then there's also been the Buntingford year end 10, the Folksworth 15, the Stamford St Valentines 30k, the Bury 20, the Cambridge Boundary Run, the Stafford 20, the Ashby 20, the Sandy 10, and the Oakley 20, all of them but one involving new personal bests (and it did shine, snow, hail, sleet and blow very fiercely during that one). That's a lot of 20 mile races.

The Cambridge Boundary Run is worth a mention. You run around the boundary of the City, as close as you can without running in silly places. There were only a handful of burning tyres on the route. There are very few signs to direct you: you carry a map. At the start of the week it was billed as a 22 mile run. Every day it crept up, until it reached 25.6 on the Saturday. That's 0.6 miles short of a marathon. A friend of mine took a wrong turn, and ran a marathon. It had been raining heavily all week, and most of the course was off-road. Some of the paths hadn't been cut free of brambles. I was bleeding at the end, though you couldn't really see for the mud. It was a tough course. I jogged it at 7.6 mph, and came 10th, albeit only because I saw a mile from the end that there were three Cambridge University Hare and Hounds shirts 400 metres in front of me. There's nothing like a little institutional animosity to pick up your heels. There was a room full of trainee masseuses at the end. One took my calves in hand, leaned over to her colleagues and said "these people: their muscles is different from ours, isn't they?"

The Oakley 20 miler was the last, one I'd intended to run slowly, and succeeded for the first mile by falling in behind some 50 year olds who didn't look like they were going anywhere fast. Then they ran miles 2-12 at 6'35"-6'40". Then one of them stopped (the end of the first lap) and went home, and the other started jogging. I had no choice but to carry on at more or less the same pace, and inadvertently hit a new PB. I spoke to a guy who finished just ahead of me. "Well chased" I said, as he'd fallen well behind on one hill then later flew past me. He explained: he had to go up the hills slowly because his hip didn't rotate properly. In fact he was technically disabled. Now that's not the first time that I've had a conversation like that, and I'm wondering if it tells you something about the competitors or the consequences of the sport.

I'm a little nervous, and desperate to stand behind that ribbon. All we -- me and forty thousand others -- can do is rest and hope that the sweltering weather forecast is wrong. Say a silent pagan prayer on Sunday morning.


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