It was around 9:55pm on Tuesday 24th February, 2015, when I had something of an epiphany. Or a realisation, if you will. There I was, heading back along Elland Road into Brighouse, having just done four intervals of three minutes at threshold pace with ninety second recoveries, now trying to find my ‘marathon pace’. I was beginning to wonder the wisdom of going for a training plan that seemingly includes a threshold interval at least once a week, because at this point, I was knackered. Here I was, trying to find a reasonably steady pace at which I could float along at and get into some real rhythm. Instead, I seemed to be rocking and rolling. It then dawned on me…’well, I am training for a marathon. Of course it’s going to be tough, you plum duck!’ I figured that maybe that’s what a session like this was designed for – to wear you out so you could get a taste of what it might be like when you’re some way into the actual marathon and when your body is starting to go ‘crikey!’ Am I right? Well anyway. I somehow got a 6:56 for mile 6 on that run and I’ll take that after running back and forth at varying speeds along a busy A road.
Yes, just as I anticipated, marathon training is getting harder and harder to fit in around family life and work. That run came after an early start at work and an evening meal which possibly wasn’t too happy I thundered it along Elland Road, my saag tikka masala burning inside. Hmmm. Never again. But luckily I suffered no ill effects from that run and I gleefully enjoyed the rest day on Wednesday. Because I put myself through the ringer again with a 70 minute run on Thursday morning, ascending through Rastrick, along Ainley Top, then up Weather Hill Road. And down it. And up again. And down again. Right onto Cowrakes Road and a very steep hill before reaching Salendine Nook. By now I was convinced I should be certified for taking on this route. Down into Milnsbridge, then up and down towards the town centre. I had around 6:40 left of my run at 8 miles. I was down to do 70 minutes steady. Sod it. Let’s go for a mile 9. I had the pavement. The initial negative gradient. I even had all the green men at the traffic crossing. I began to tire but seconds from the end, the watch bleeped! A 6:26 for mile 9. 13 seconds later, job done. My mile times had been reasonably good for a hilly run – ranging between mid-7 and low-8 minute miles, even on the stupidly steep stuff. And to boot, a nice drenching due to that weather phenomenon we call ‘drizzle’
The weekend called and Saturday was 50 minutes in 10 minute increments, with pace moving from easy to steady, to marathon pace (which at present I’m aiming between 7:00-7:15/mile), to hard pace, and back to easy. I made it a circular up to Hipperholme, towards lower Wyke and back into Brighouse. The route was another undulating one but all in all my pace was satisfactory over the 7 miles I managed within that time.
Yet the real test was another big step up in terms of distance. This time, 18 miles. Unlike the previous week’s twisty turning route up to Lepton and back through Kirkheaton and Deighton, I kept it relatively simple this time with relatively few previously unknown turns to navigate. For some reason I’ve always had a penchant for wanting to run the A643, Lindley Moor Road (and later New Hey Road), the road that leads to Lancashire. It was a sense of seeing exactly how near I could get to Red Rose county before turning back. A passage of sorts. A journey. In the end, not too near, but the result was further up that road than ever before from Brighouse. I plotted to get all the way to Quebec Road, turning onto it to Pole Moor, circling around back towards Scammonden, following Hey Road into Stainland and following that road all the way back to Greetland, from where I knew my way home.
Getting up to Pole Moor was taxing, but by no means too difficult – plenty of hill climbing through Rastrick and across the top of Salendine Nook, through the village of Outlane, which was a nice gradual hill. As I got nearer the top, the beautiful hills and surroundings became apparent. I was last up this way during last year’s Huddersfield Half Marathon, but I was too busy grumbling around that race to notice my surroundings for too long. This time, I turned onto Quebec Road and was truly awestruck.
In my eyeline, the Emley Moor Transmission Tower and Castle Hill to the left, and Holme Moss – finally, I could lay sight to it – and it’s own transmission tower, as well as the village of Slaithwaite below. I was busy taking photos at this point and I stopped for a few minutes around halfway (on Moor Side Lane) to stretch, refuel and admire my surroundings. I had got up here all on my own. Without a car, a bike, or public transport. I’d ascended the hills and this was my reward. I was truly the only one around at this point, and it felt amazing to have bore witness to this. My appetite for exploration and discovery beyond my personal confines was truly satisfied.
I was experiencing calf and hamstring tightness but I continued through Scammonden and then Stainland – but just as I reached the bottom of Stainland Dean, I had to stop to stretch my right achilles, which was now having a gripe. This killed any momentum to get up the hill which became the whole turtle-in-peanut-butter scenario, but the rest of the run became a battle of mind over body. I was grateful to arrive at the Calder Hebble Navigation, but as I got to within two miles of home, I began to question myself. That has never happened before, and I quickly found myself reminding myself that I, and I alone, took this decision to step up to marathon and that I clearly had the heart to sign up. There is no going back. And so I carried on. But it turned out my route into Brighouse town centre wasn’t going to lead me right towards my home address, and I stopped at 18.08 miles in the town centre near a local pub. I briefly put my head in my hands, and then set off on a recovery walk/run which was pretty sore. My body was aching all over, and all I wanted was to get through the door.
My three year old kids were sat on thesofa watching Netflix. One said ‘have you been for a run?’
‘And did you run very far?’
‘Yes darling…, very, very far.’
I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting to ever question my belief, but that bloody chimp decided to announce itself having previously been denied any acknowledgement of its existence. This was a gruelling run, a beautiful one, but a tough, punishing route which is what you get with climbing up to over 1,000 ft altitude and then following up with some undulations through the second half of your route. But I was positive enough to put this route in store for myself, and I have never underestimated the challenge. I think it is just a long time since a run ever truly bruised me like that. It isn’t going to get any easier just yet, with a 20 mile run coming up in a week – which incidentally I’ve already prepared and am hugely excited for. For things such as this, I must remember that however tough this challenge gets, I must approach it with a positive mindset and with the same ambition as I do planning the routes and sessions, to putting them in action.
It is true that making this training fit around a work/family life balance is never going to be easy, but ultimately, it’s about finding a way. I have the will. Absolutely. And though right now I feel somewhat sore and broken, I will no doubt be out pounding the streets tonight for a recovery run. The date is getting ever closer, and without doubt I will be prepared.