Friday, 14 February 2014

Aches, Pains and Melted Brains - Marathon Training

Wednesday morning. 5:59am

My eyes flutter open and I immediately wonder what time it is. I know I have to be up at six, any later and I’ll be rushing; which is a strange thing to be worried about when you know you’re going to be running.  

I roll to my left and reach for my phone. I’ve barely lifted it from the dresser when it begins to vibrate, the familiar alarm tone coming a split second later. That’s three days in succession I’ve woken at the exact time I wanted to. My internal clock has always been pretty good, but this is getting absurd.

The snooze button glares bright red at me, daring me to press it. Not being one to pass up a dare, I accept. Sadly however, snoozing is not on the agenda.

I check the weather. It is -4 outside, not factoring in the wind. Holy shit that’s cold. I put the phone down and roll to my right, pulling back the curtain to see if the sun has come over the hills yet. Not quite, but it’s clearly trying. Like me it’s awake, but not quite ready to swing its legs out of bed.
Sunrise, as seen from my bed
Before long the alarm goes off a second time. Nine minutes in what felt like two. It’s time to pull back the duvet – the worst part of any morning. The cold bites immediately, and as I reach the sliding doors of my bedroom I immediately notice that the air con unit is irritatingly silent. I must’ve messed up the timer again. Bugger.

Dress, stretch,  a quick glass of water and it’s time to go. This  is the second run of the week, it's usually 4 miles on a Monday, 6-8 miles on Wednesdays, like today, Friday could be anything from 4-8 miles and the long runs on Saturdays are now almost exclusively half-marathons or more from now until April. I’m not eating before the midweek runs; trying to train the body to get used to running on empty, like it will be in the final throes of the marathon. I’ve not read that anywhere, it’s just a theory I devised because I hate eating first thing in the morning.

As I open the door to leave I hear the air con kick in – at least the flat will be warm for my return. It’s 6:30am.

The first few strides are horrible. My body growls at me for making it start work so early, and all the old pains in my back and knees give me a sharp reminder that they still exist. Thankfully they soon realise that bed is gone for the day, and start behaving as they should.

Barely 100 metres in and a terrible thought hits me. I’ve left my gloves at home. I’m wearing base layers on my top and bottom half, a beanie and sunglasses, so I look faintly ridiculous, but I’m grateful for all of those and think about going back for the gloves. Of course, I spend far too long deliberating and before I know it I’m at the left turn for the high street – too late.

I pass the office. There’s nobody in there yet thank God, which was not the case this time last week – although I’m still not sure why Makoto was there so early. He’s pretty eccentric at the best of times, so who knows.

Right turn, towards the rail tracks. The lights start to flash and I hear the bells going over the music on my iPod. Without thinking I sprint for it, going under just as the barriers start their descent. Nothing worse than getting stuck there before I’ve even warmed up. There are plenty of traffic crossings to come still, so highly likely I’ll have to stop at some point anyway. I hear the train rumbling past behind me, and feel sorry for the commuters already heading into work at this ungodly hour.

I say ungodly hour, but actually this is the best part of the day. I realised that on my Thames River Walk back in September, when I was often on my own first thing when the day was still and the sky just gaining its colour. 
A dude wandering in a school field well before first lesson
This is also when I start to drift off and think about whatever. Usually a song sets me off, reminding me of a person, place or specific event, and from there the mind wanders aimlessly. I believe this is what people refer to as “the zone” and I want it to last for the whole run.

Often I can cover several miles in this state before something blasts me back to reality, but today it’s short. About 15 metres ahead is one of the major junctions and the green man has begun to flash. It’s a four lane road and I’m going to have to sprint. Only being a couple of miles in, this isn’t so bad, better than stopping anyway, so across I go.

What song am I listening to? Oh, it’s finished. Despite the fact I was singing along to it moments ago, I’ve already forgotten what it was so I wait for the next to begin. Another junction approaches and the man is staying green. Well done Sir.

It’s time to go through the underpass. Infuriatingly my sunglasses are steaming up. I ignore it and push on, the brief downhill slope helps lift the pace again and as I come up the other side I see another runner. This is a genuine shock, as it is only the second one I’ve seen in the month I’ve been here. He’s an oldish guy and I wonder if he’s doing the Tokyo marathon, which is just a couple of weeks away. If I was shocked though, he looks utterly bewildered at the sight of a Gaijin coming towards him – it is always this way for me in Sano.

Left turn, and now I get the best view of the run. Or it would be if my glasses hadn’t steamed up so much that there’s now just a tiny gap in each eye, right by the bridge of my nose, so I am essentially running cross-eyed. Realising this could end badly I decide to wipe them, but in doing so my hand slips to the volume button on my phone and suddenly Van Halen is melting my brain like that scene with George McFly and Darth Vader in Back to the Future.


With vision restored I admire the mountains before me. One stands out above the rest and is amusingly called “The Man”. Apparently “The Woman” is around somewhere too, but I’ve not seen her yet.

Over the bridge and another left and the mountains are gone. I’m now on a main highway, which on my longer run goes for a full five kilometres, but today is about 3.5. With nothing but petrol stations, warehouses and a weird gift shop with a giant tomato displayed outside to look at, I desperately try to recapture “the zone”.

What do I think about now? It’s always the same. I think about home. Sometimes it’s the very recent past, the last year or so. The big events; weddings, holidays, family occasions mainly, sometimes just the odd night out that makes me smile.

Other times it’s less pleasant memories that come to mind; things I’ve done I’m not proud of, people I may have hurt – even people from long ago. There’s no  way of controlling the thoughts that pop into my head, but when it starts getting depressing I stop myself and think of people who have inspired me instead.

Lots of people have run marathons, a few people I know did it last year in fact and so this time 12 months ago were doing exactly as I am now. They managed it, and I’m proud of them for doing so. It’s hard this stuff, but they put the training in, so I can too – and I hope they’ll be proud back.

There’s others too, who inspire me in different ways. Not through physical exertion, but the way they live their lives, deal with different circumstances. It’s hard not to think of Rob and Bells – it would’ve been Thea’s 2nd birthday this Friday.

I’m blasted out of this thought process by the Foo Fighters, swiftly followed by Cotton Eye Joe, which shifts me on to wondering if those two songs have ever been played back to back by anyone before. Not usual bosom buddies I suspect. Odd how my thought process can swing so dramatically. 

I’m not far from the final turn, but before I reach it there is a surprise for me. A gigantic stone head. Seriously. I’ve done this run half a dozen times now, but I’ve never seen this head before, just resting in a car park, divorced entirely from its neck and body and barely an arms reach away. How have I never spotted it? If it wasn’t for Joe and his Cotton Eye then I might have missed it again, so there’s a reason to give thanks.
Did someone lob a snowball at him?
I’ve hit every green light this morning, even the one I don’t need as I take the penultimate turn. The traffic guys are in place now – they carry big batons and seem to stop traffic at random, despite always being stationed next to a zebra crossing. I’ve seen the guys by my house a few times now and one of them recognises me as I come towards him. He waves me forward, a big grin on his face, then steps out and stops the traffic for me. What a legend.

I don’t have a watch, so I’ve no idea if it has been a quick run or a slow one, but I stretch my legs out on the final straight anyway, my hand slipping as I do and once again my brain gets melted by the volume. It's one of my favourite tunes though, and a great one to finish with, so I leave it loud. 

47 minutes to do 9.6km (exactly six miles). I’ll take that. At no stage have I been trying to run quickly, and actually felt pretty ropey at the start, yet this is the quickest I've done this loop. Enjoy it while it lasts I tell myself, before long the knees will start squealing again - it's inevitable.

Right now though, all I have to worry about are my hands. By the time I’ve taken the lift up to the 4th floor they are in so much pain from the cold that it takes me a good minute to get the key in the door.

I wonder to myself, did I enjoy that? Truthfully? I did not. I am not a natural runner, and this stuff does not come easily to me. Admittedly, I might’ve enjoyed it more had I not forgotten my damn gloves, or melted my brain twice, but there is solace to take. I am glad I’ve done it, and not just because I need to clock the miles before April 13th. I’ll feel better today for having done this. I’ll be more alert at my desk, less likely to drift off into daydreams, because I’ve got most of those out the way already, I hope.

Next it’s sit ups, press ups, stretches, shower, cereal and the office. It’s safe to say that Sano Life is somewhat different to London Life. 

Union Jack running shoes - what a knob

PS - This post was based on a run in late January, it's just taken me a while to write it up. I actually did the same run this Wednesday, and it took me almost 50 minutes and I had a nasty pain in my right knee from about four miles - typical given that the day before I'd taken 90 seconds off my fastest time for the four mile route I do. I've got a five-miler lined up on Friday and then 15 on Saturday, which is going to be the biggest test yet, especially as it's been snowing for the last 18 hours - just like last weekend.

PPS - A few people have asked about sponsoring me for the marathon. Obviously, that would be very kind - but I am doing this together with the Thames Walk, so if you sponsored me for that, which most of you almost certainly did, then you really needn't do so again. If the money is burning a hole in your pocket of course, then you can sponsor me by clicking here

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the training and PB's Al and enjoy the cold weather ... nicky and I are into the long marathon training runs too (brutal) and this weekend ran 19.5 miles. I almost died of dehydration due to massive bead, even though i sank 4 litres of water during the run!!! Praying for a chilly april 13th!! If you download strava on your iphone you can use it to track runs and follow others. We are both on there and find that its a great motivation seeing others doing the same shitty training runs that you are doing too when its cold, wet or you would rather be sinking beers with friends. Certainly helps to get me out of bed ... esp as my new nickname is the "prince of mince" due to my procrastinations before heading out for a long run :0). All the best and see you on the 13th Mike