If there is one image which sums up marathon training, it is probably the one above. Early morning, no one about, weather a bit grey, drizzle, not too warm, sensible people still in bed. But you are out there, just getting in the miles.
Running a marathon is a solo pursuit, some would even say it is a selfish pursuit. Yes, I run often with friends, but finding the will to keep going, to constantly haul yourself out the door on the days when you really do not fancy it, being able to stay motivated when you are weeks or months away from race day, all of that is down to you as an individual.
“having an impact”
When I say it is selfish, what I mean is that you have to sacrifice things that you would normally do – nights out, activities with the family – just so you have the time to fit the training in. Now you could argue of course, that all you are doing here is, for once, putting yourself first and prioritising something which is important to you. And I totally get that. But you cannot ignore that by committing to marathon training, you are having an impact on those around you.
The time commitment is the biggest thing. Clearly this depends on your training plan, but all of them require hours of work each week. building up until you get to the peak of training just a few weeks before the race. And that is the point at which I have now reached. This week will be my biggest week of marathon training, running the furthest and for the longest time since I began training for the Manchester Marathon around three months ago.
My training plan involves running four days a week, with another day for cross-training, and two rest days. In reality, I run five days a week, eschewing cross-training for another opportunity to stick some more miles in my legs. This has meant, for the best part of the last month, I have been running around forty miles plus each week. This week, with a long run still to go on Sunday, I should top out around fifty miles (80km). That is a serious time commitment to fit in with everything else that is going on.
While I mention that marathon training is a solo pursuit, I do not want to minimise how motivating it has been to be back running regularly with the JogScotland group of which I am part, and all of the other runs I have done with friends. That has been an enormous help to get me through what I have found to be a very challenging programme. I am truly grateful to have such a supportive bunch of running friends.
“It is all about the individual”
But when it comes down to it, no one else is going to run the distance for you. And that is what I mean about marathon training being a solo pursuit. It is all about the individual. It is easy to watch events such as the Great North Run in the UK last week and lump all the runners together into one group. But that belies the fact that every single person who goes up to the start line has had their own journey to get there and has their own reasons for running. And their reasons for running may be very different to mine.
While this week is the biggest week of training, I have actually felt really positive and strong so far – I know I still have the biggest challenge to go, the small matter of twenty one miles in the morning – but mentally I am ready for it. That is such an important factor. It would have been easy for me this week to take my car over to JogScotland on Tuesday and Thursday, saving my legs for the Sunday run, but I wanted to run over and back, to get in the extra three miles that that entails in addition to the run with the group, to give me that additional bit of belief and that mental boost.
When I started out on my training plan, there were times when the enormity of what faced me ran the risk of overwhelming me. It seemed so hard. It was over such a long time. There were so many runs. The mileage looked too high. But you have to have faith in the process, you need to trust that you will get there. It was never about running a marathon on week one, it is all about running a marathon on week sixteen.
As well as running with the JogScotland group, I also ran at the beach during the week with a friend and then did my usual Sunday morning 10km and a bit around the Seaton Park and beach area of Aberdeen. I am in the process of breaking in news shoes, which I hope to use in the race, so it is important to try them out on shorter runs first. For the twenty one miler tomorrow, I will be returning to my shoes I have worn for a while.
We have the route planned, a relatively scenic tour of the city, and as the Manchester Marathon route is fairly flat, I have also not put in too many big hills either – apart from, of course, the final three mile uphill stretch back to the house. That will be a supreme challenge, battling on with eighteen miles on the day in our legs (I am running with my friend Jeanette) but one we will tackle together and get each other through it.
The other thing about running a flat course is to get your legs and feet ready for that. That might sound a bit daft but when you are used to running in a hilly area – as we are here – then your feet (and the rest of you) are changing position as you run. A different position uphill compared to your position going downhill. When you run on a flat course, you also do not get the benefits you get from downhill stretches such as a bit of time to catch your breath or to push on. Running on the flat is just fairly relentless and your legs and feet in particular are just doing the same thing over and over again. Just another thing in the long list of things to think about when it comes to marathon running.
One other factor to consider is also my start time for the race. Due to a number of factors – social distancing, the fact the half marathon is also being run on the same day, my estimated finishing time – I am not due to start the marathon race until almost lunchtime. So this means I have had to reconsider my nutritional plans, factoring probably having two breakfasts before I actually start. I will definitely be ready for dinner by the time we finish.
When I heard this news, I was pretty fed up, but it is simply another bump in the road. Now I am ok with it. It is what it is and I cannot change it. It is a bit like the weather on the day of the race. It will be what it will be. No point in worrying about it. For the moment, the only focus is on getting through tomorrow, and then the taper can begin. Three weeks to go until race day.