Tuesday March 27, 2018. I ran my weekly track session with the Halifax Harriers, running two lots of 1000m, then 800, then 600, and finally 400m, with rest intervals in between. I never used to consider myself good at 400m – I once ran 85 seconds for 400m, yet I could smash out quick 10K and half marathon times. That changed once I got regular use of an athletics track and discovered what it was like to run an accurately measured loop, on a surface which gives you that extra zip. In the months since I’ve joined the Harriers, I’ve got my lap times on the track down to just over 70 seconds, with the ability to absolutely sprint from a standing start and hold my pace generally well to the end. Often, the bit lacking is the home straight, where my early effort has me hanging on for dear life. I usually save such a lap for the end of the session, when I’m most tired but when I’m likely to have kept something in reserve.
This particular night, I felt determined. Having just been picked to run for the Harriers in a team relay event later this week, I sensed a chance to work on my speed and prove I could go under 70 seconds. For months, that marker has been elusive. But this night, I was absolutely on it. I kept to the tightest inside line for the most part, hugging the bends if I could and only briefly stepping out to overtake. As I got down the home straight, I felt like I was going to hit for strides again, when I heard fast steps behind me to my right. My competitive urge kicked in. But this wasn’t one of my fellow runners this session – this was a junior member practicing 100 metres. I went into overdrive and found another gear. I gathered another sprint, held it and stopped the watch as I crossed the line. I’d clocked 422 metres overall, and quickly went back into my watch history, checked the last two lap times – and it confirmed it. I’d finally done it! 68.96 seconds. Imagine if I just ran a flat 400 metres with no weaving!
Yet in the days that passed, my knee just wasn’t improving. I’d gone back to exercises from my earlier days as a runner. I was on paracetamol and ibuprofen to alleviate the discomfort, and I was using hot and cold therapy. But this dull ache wasn’t shifting.
I woke at 4:10am that Sunday morning, the day of my final 20 mile long run for London Marathon training, and as I busily prepared myself, I realised I wasn’t feeling anything from my knee. As in, no discomfort, no pain, nothing. As in, everything OK. I couldn’t understand it. I still applied ibuprofen gel as a precaution, but otherwise I felt good to go and well, what a timely boost.
My route this day took me into Huddersfield town centre, which at just after 5am on a Sunday morning is still rife with revellers from one of its most popular nightclubs, The Camel Club, from whatever night they’ve hosted beforehand. This clash of two cultures – the early morning runner to the early hours drinker – came to a head when one lass shouted across the road ‘run Forrest run’! I merely gave a wry smile, as banter is probably the best thing for that situation depending on how you look back upon those enjoying the lifestyle you once enjoyed (now and again). Seeing an ambulance outside the nightclub and quite the crowd up ahead, I detoured past the railway station instead and rejoined my route by the somewhat dilapidated New Street, before heading down into Lockwood and onwards.
Huddersfield is a place I was long overdue a run through, in the sense that I spend much of my training days in Calderdale and occasionally Leeds at lunchtimes. Huddersfield holds many great memories for me. I studied at the university (I hold a dust ridden 2:1 BSc in psychology), I found my favourite watering hole (The Parish pub, a historic pub and now a cracking pub/live music venue), met loads of great people, formed a doom metal band which lasted up until parenthood, had a somewhat hedonistic eight months getting smashed every Saturday (all by mid-2011) in the town’s bars. I also enjoyed four brilliant years of employment in the town and in more recent years, have discovered the Wessenden, Holme and Colne Valleys for myself,, run some brilliant, occasionally challenging , but brilliant, races in more recent years too, and some of my favourite routes take in the area. Particularly the occasional jaunt up Castle Hill.
This particular day, I ran towards Honley village, eventually reaching the smaller and rural Oldfield, running through the main road from end to end before turning back downhill towards Honley. This part of the run was probably the most enjoyable aspect, the quiet surrounding countryside and eventually, the run down Bradshaw Road with Victoria Tower, Castle Hill, standing atop in the distance. I would wind up going past Honley Woods on my left, where I ran the Trail 10K last year, down the road to Netherton, which I once ran in reverse and is absolutely beautiful to run through. I ended up with a jaunt through Beaumont Park before heading home through town for the last five miles. I didn’t half cherry pick my route that day!
Places like this make me want to run. They also make me want to stop and breathe it in. The clean countryside air. The last throes of the night as it turns into day. Barely anybody around, hardly any traffic on the roads, the only sound being my footsteps and my lungs, and the sounds of nature. The discovery and rediscovery of what your local area offers, scenically, and how your two feet took you that far from home. They say marathon training is often about the journey, not the destination. Rarely did it feel truer than this particular morning.
The days have passed by. And now it is almost here. From the day I first ran a marathon, to now, the sub-3 hour marathon remains the one true time target that bears particular significance for myself. Its not strictly about another Good for Age time for London, even if my PB is now no longer GFA standard. The training for this race has run for 18 weeks, but the mental side of training has been there for about 3 years. I fell just short at London in 2016, but having gone in slightly ill prepared I couldn’t possibly complain, only learn. Even as I hoiked myself around Snowdonia and ran two ultra marathons at relatively sedate pace, I knew one day, I would be banking my GFA time from 2016 to head back for London to try and finish the job. I realise if I fail, it’s not the end and there will be other marathons out there to attempt a PB on.
I honestly feel ready for this. My training has gone well about 95% of the time, I cracked my marathon pace runs, my marathon pace intervals during long runs, even as the weather turned really cold and nasty, and my personal best pace over shorter distances became even better. I’ve taken in inspiration wherever I can find it, from my fellow runners and fellow chasers of the sub-3 hour marathon. Of course, there are doubts. The weather forecast has given for record highs on race day – allegedly up to 23C. I don’t feel I cope too well in the heat the longer a race goes on, but what can we all do about the weather? Not much but adapt – slap on the P20, light clothing (Harriers vest and shorts for myself), take advantage of the shower points on course, hydrate well (but not too well, or you might not feel too well), fuel well, and judge my effort carefully. I absolutely believe I’m ready for this, and it will all come down to how I execute my race strategy on the day.
To any of you reading this, and indeed running the marathon, enjoy it. However you made it to London, you earned it, whether through ballot, club, Good for Age, charity or however. Take as much free stuff from the Expo as you can (gratefully). Don’t forget your registration email though. Sleep well. Wake up and get ready to go. Wear your club or charity colours with pride. Take in the feverish atmosphere at the start, the fervent crowds at Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, lining Embankment and Westminster. Behold the finish line as it awaits you. Pass the Tube queues as you proudly show off your race number/medal to access the underground. If there’s ever a time to feel like royalty, it’s here!
Oh, and try to enjoy the run itself. It’s bloody hard, not least without the potential of the burning hot mass in the sky, but it’s within all of us. Be awesome at what you do. Basically…