11. What fresh hell is this?!

After three solid weeks of hills, swimming, hills, more swimming, walking, tired limbs, rock climbing, exhaustion, and miles of miles of fun, I found myself less than five weeks from the Snowdonia Marathon, facing up to a week to allow recovery from that phase, intending to focus largely on anything but running. Though at least not without gathering up a few further miles, and testing out a sound new investment. Ironically, after a glorious UK summer, which rained all too infrequently to really get a sense of what to expect in October, we got a week which actually delivered in grey cloud and rainy days. And yet still not get a rainy day run.

I’m now the proud owner of an Inov-8 Elite Raceshell waterproof running jacket, which cost me a fair whack but I managed to secure a small discount on it. It came out with me on the 22 miler I recently did, but never came out of the bag because it never got cold and it never looked like raining. Aside from the run I did to Castle Hill which briefly threatened before typically dissipating, its been anything but a damp training program. Plenty of sunshine. And yet, come Monday, what did it do? It rained, that’s what! And so I got to test my jacket on the rainy streets of Leeds one lunchtime. Pleasingly, I must say, it seems the business. Not a single hair on my head got wet. I’m not sure I got covered in rain at all! Hardier times await, but right now, it seems a sound investment.

My training plan, following three intense weeks full of ups and downs (literally and figuratively), dedicated my Tuesday session to between 60-90 minutes of, well, something else, then a 3-4 mile jog on the Thursday, and a 7-8 mile run on Saturday. All things considered then, I made sure I arrived at Halifax Pool as promptly as I could for another lesson with the Improvers class come Tuesday night. I managed about six lengths of 25 metres prior to the lesson, the latter two of which were a very ropey breaststroke which I had to turn into a front crawl to make it to the end, and a back crawl which started with a great push and glide but ended up with me losing my kick. I went to stand up in a deeper section and went under, but thankfully my experience kicked in to breathe out, and get myself into shallower water on my front again. I decided to save myself for the lesson at that point.
The two days after that, I saw more problems involving public transport during my daily commute which meant I got to do some running at last. Roughly a mile, slightly more, because it was quicker to reach my place of work in Leeds from the nearby suburb of Armley, via the River Aire. Well, they all count, but it was far from ideal, running in my work clothes, my work shoes. Its much less efficient and far more clunky. Not to mention slightly uncomfortable underfoot. Oh well, I got to work on time. Ish.

From that point on, life took over. It was my twin daughters’ 5th birthday on the Friday, and any time I may have had on my day off to go running was quickly thrown into tidying up the house, ordering balloons for the party, which took place on the Saturday, collecting the kids from school, celebrating their birthday at home, and helping my wife prepare party bags for the thirty or so kids attending. The following day was all about the party, and the day seemed to go so slowly as I looked to ensure order amongst the kids stayed in place. In the end, all ran smoothly, and as evening approached and the dust settled, I pondered my position. Tapering was never meant to be this extreme in the first week. True, it was meant to be easier to compensate for three tough endurance weeks, but a whole week without any running? Since coming back into Holmfirth, the only speedwork I was doing was getting off the bus a stop early to run the remaining distance to work to beat traffic congestion, which doesn’t really count and isn’t enjoyable. I had to take some control back.

And so rather than fall asleep on a random floor somewhere in my house – because that’s the sort of thing I can do when I’m mega tired – I got into my running kit and ran a slow 3.33 miles (to be precise) out and back the main road that runs between Brighouse and lower Wyke. It wasn’t the greatest or most enjoyable run – it rarely is at 10:30pm on a Saturday night – but it was a run, and my psyche felt refreshed for it. But I was too tired to wake up early on Sunday, and yet I did thanks to my excitable kids. I never got out for a run, planned to be eight miles, and to compound matters, another problem flared in my right foot, again in the arch, again near the ball of my foot, again, a minor quibble at present. But it did leave me wondering what I’d done to deserve that. A week of hardly any running, and yet I’d exacerbated something? Is that just? Is that right? Its sod’s law, is what it is!

But again, there’s no panic. It’s treatable. The race will soon be here, and I’ll be damned if I’m not on the start line, and I’ll be damned if I don’t finish!

Thursday marked exactly one month until race day. It seems like a good time to take stock of how they training has gone and the position I’m in. For the last three months to have gone pretty much as well as they have done, barring mishaps in a bog here or there, I can’t really think of a phase of training that hasn’t gone that well. Manchester was going fine until injury struck on a routine loop of my immediate locality. London, at times, felt like a battle to make the start line. My knees felt like they were giving up, and it forced me to define my runs not about what was coming up later in the week, not what I was training for, but taking one run at a time, never looking beyond that. I’d pretty much decided I would crawl the London Marathon if I couldn’t run or walk it, such is the magnitude of being a part of it. But Snowdonia, and its elevation, was the first to specifically address a need for a certain type of training, and to actually take it on without overloading myself or setting unrealistic expectations.

Certainly addressing the shoe issue was a big thing, and knowing that neutral shoes are no longer suitable for my gait, meant purchasing a pair of shoes with adequate support. My problems ironically with a Brooks shoe the Pureflow, which is largely a problem of my own making, given I tried to transit to minimalist shoes too quickly, and loaded that transition with too much mileage, to the point where it shook my faith to ever where the shoe again. I ran Manchester in Salomon Speedcross, a trail shoe, less than 50 miles old, because I had no time to replace the Pureflow. The sesamoiditis I suffered effectively reduced my running to a point where I couldn’t see the issue with my gait, and when I did eventually get into the swing of training for London, I had to go through the necessary correction to ensure I had a shoe I was happy with, and one that would take me forward to the foreseeable future. So I’m glad I shelled out for the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 15, for nearly 500 miles later, they’re still going strong, and any problems with my knees now seem to be more about my hip and core strength.

The next three weeks, whether I’m running or resting, I’ll need to really be careful not to incur an unnecessary aggravation of what’s already there and not to overdo things if I do go out on my longer runs. Taper time is here, and I want it to be right. My greatest personal challenge is almost upon me. And there is no going back.