I ran a 2:22 at the Wrexham Elite Marathon a couple of weeks ago. Why did go back to the roads?
I wasn’t sure why I was doing it, and I found out.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, and I found out.
The ‘Why’ was a big hurdle for me.
After a sparkling rise up through road marathons to a scintillating 2:20, followed by a tailspin of efforts ending in 2:35, my down-train got derailed by lockdown cancellations, and back injury.
Suddenly, I found myself 3 years away from my last failure.
Distracted by Mountains
In the meantime, those circumstances led to a journey alone into the mountains that surround us. And I loved it. Me and the mountains got on great. We always have. Paddy Buckley attempts, Dragon’s Back, and all the recces in between. I got it. And I was flying.
When the sun rises and the snow is on fire and I’m out on the hills and I feel the cold wind on my face and the gorse scratching my legs and the birds soar above me and the mountains drift away as far as the eye can see and this is adventure and living and life. Why would I turn away from this to the cold, hard, grey, unforgiving roads? Why would I break myself against the merciless measure of the marathon?
The marathon has spurned me and sucked me dry and chewed me up and spat me out. The technology has revaluated what I’m worth and what I’m worth is less than it was. It doesn’t give a s*** about me and it has moved on without me. Nobody cares, my family don’t care, the marathon doesn’t care, my Instagram followers don’t care. So why do I care?
That’s a good question, all you fell runners shouting at your screen right now.
The Marathon Won’t Let Go
Should I give the marathon another crack? Some infuriating voice inside just would not let it lie. Was this the voice of my inner hero, about to embark on a glorious comeback? Or was it the voice of a washed-up has-been, who just doesn’t know when to quit?
Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out. Anything else looked like fear and retirement to me. So I signed up for Wrexham Elite Marathon and started my 12-week training block.
Bumps in the Road or Mountains of Hope?
All was smooth until Covid swooped in 3 weeks before race day. I was surrounded by a flurry of excuses to pull out; Dizzy spells, years since my last marathon, a curtailed build-up, no Half Marathon, wrong side of 40, you’re too slow old man.
Well, it turns out those mountains had helped me prepare for a road marathon in ways I hadn’t understood.
What gets you to the start of a Paddy Buckley attempt? The prospect of covering 60 miles of up and down and across 47 peaks? Nope. Just run up the first mountain. You can do that.
What gets you to the start of Wrexham Elite Marathon? The prospect of 2+hrs holding your hand on a hot stove? Nope. Just run the first mile in 5:20. You can do that.
This became my ‘How’, and I used it like a shield against every volley of self-doubt.
To the Race
Previously, when I ran road marathons, I relied heavily on people. Crowds cheering. Running as a team. Sharing the lead, using the group dynamic to make the fast pace feel calm (see: Eliud Kipchoge breaking the 2hr marathon). On the mountains I was alone, physically and psychologically (see: all my blogs over the last 3 years), I had to learn how to do it.
When I found myself at the halfway point in Wrexham, dropping 10 secs a mile just by virtue of being on my own, those lockdown miles came back to me like old friends. The mountain man had been here before. In the dark. And the marathon man too. He was right there, making calculations, Minority Report style. This time I didn’t panic, I didn’t change my gait, I stuck to my ‘How’; one mile at a time.
Iron Will. Iron Stomach
My stomach strength had also noticeably improved. After over 150 gels out on the hills, gel admin came naturally. The headfog that usually appears at around 20 miles, as the body runs out of glycogen, was nowhere to be seen.
My great friend, John Gilbert, finished ahead of me in third place in 2:20. Some spectators noted “That’s 2:18 in new money” and then qualified “new money” meant supershoes. And that’s the world we’re in. But we’re still here, the unsprung heroes.
My mind was still closing down the final stretch, one mile at a time, until I passed the 26 mile mark. I looked up, and realised there was no more to do, I was going to make it.
I let myself smile, and sprint.
There’s the why. There’s the how.
Sod it. Let’s do London 22.