The road to the start line of a marathon is paved with little bits of debris that runners try to turn into signs and prognostications. Mostly they're just debris. This week three things made me reflect on and triangulate my position.
1. I read a tweet from Sally, a cartographer and personal trainer, reminding me that alcohol provides useless calories. Not that I don't know this, but I used to go on the wagon about a month before a marathon, and these days my cupboard has no Science in Sport Go or Gels or Rego, but plenty of good wine from Chile, Argentina and France. Subsequently, knowing that I'm not as light as I used to be, and having hidden from the reality for months, I give in and one morning I weigh myself. I'm 3 kgs overweight, and 5 kgs over ideal race weight. I look in the mirror. It's not obvious. There is a thin band of fat around the waist, however, and my abs don't protrude as much as they used to. I begin to worry. My ex- used to complain about my concern with weight (she also used to complain that my legs were disproportionately muscular), but she never had to carry an extra few kilogrammes for 26.2 miles. Staring in the mirror I persuade myself this is entirely different from an eating disorder.
2. Someone at the running club asks me what my half-marathon PB is. I fumble. "1:23? No, maybe about 1:21." Have I lost focus? Running magazines and trainers will tell you that pain is temporary and glory lasts forever. This is not true. It's ass backwards. The glory of my fastest half marathon has long faded, and I can't remember how long it took. But the pain is pretty constant. This morning my ankle really hurts (thanks to yesterday's 20-miler). I have my feet up and my computer on my knees. I'm worried I won't be able to run tomorrow.
3. On Thursday, at the club session, we ran a 5k loop on the roads, had a five minute recovery, then ran a 3.5k loop, five minute recovery, then ran 800m on the track. In the middle of the second effort, the coach tried a new technique. Fast David was 80m up ahead. Everyone else was behind and out of sight. My Perceived Exertion was very high, and I was happy where I was in the chain. The coach pulled alongside me on the Blue Bike of Hell -- the club's new piece of training equipment -- and started shouting in my ear. "Try harder. For the next 30 seconds I want you to close the gap with David." I had been running perfectly well, I thought, but I succumbed to his advice and ran harder. Coach replaced ego. He continued to express similar opinions at a similar volume for half a minute or so. I narrowed the gap with David. Everything began to burn nicely, and the Blue Bike went off to torture someone else. I almost caught David (if 30 metres counts as almost catching). But I'm not that fast.
What do we triangulate from this? Only that I'm living in the Comfort Zone. And the Comfort Zone is ... perfectly warm and bearable, which is probably why I'm going to stay here for a while. I will no doubt curse myself for this on 26 April, when I count the costs and the seconds drizzle away. I have nothing but respect for those who push themselves into the red zone day-in-day-out, week after week, risk their physical and mental health, in order to shave those seconds off their PBs: respect, but they're borderline crazy.