Three unfortunate things happened this week:
I drive from Lancashire to London. As I leave St Annes on Sea on the Fylde coast, I reset the mileage clock to zero. I watch as the miles tick by. Reaching the end of the M55, I turn right onto the M6, cross over the River Ribble and continue past Preston. On I go: Bamber Bridge, Leyland, Wigan, Ashton-in-Makerfield, St Helens, Warrington. Places slip away, somewhere out there, beyond the crash barriers of the M6. On the upwards ramp of the Thelwall Viaduct, high above the Manchester Ship Canal, the clock reaches 50 miles. It is a long way, I conclude.
I go to the track. The session is 8 x 600m repetitions with a 200m jog recovery. I feel relatively human on the first three. The wheels fall off on number four. I am wheezing like an old man. I complete a fifth out of sheer idiotic bloody-mindedness. I feel terrible.
Test run time: 10 miles on the undulations of Streatham Common. There is a rattling in my brain, like something is sliding around in there. It is worse when I am going uphill. This cannot be good, I tell myself. I feel not a shred of enjoyment. I want to be doing anything other than running. I cut the run short, completing eight miles. My wife insists I go to the doctor. She (the doctor, not my wife) looks in my ears, down my throat, listens to my ailments. ‘You’ve had tonsilitis,’ she concludes. ‘Or glandular fever.’ She writes a prescription. Isn’t gladular fever serious? I think as I shut the door of the treatment room.
Wouldn’t it be bad luck if I had a race on Saturday? A 50-mile race? I do – or, at least, I did. There will be no South Downs Way 50 for me. The inevitability of the decision crystallised on that Wednesday run. Questions about feebleness were outweighed by the oppression of screaming common sense. Nor was there any point in trying to second guess the machinations of my failing body. How could I run a near sub-three hour trail marathon at the start of March and be a shuffling wreck of what I was just six weeks later? How could I run for three hours in the hills of the Lake District only last week, yet feel so wretched days later? How did I get through the Pendle Fell Race on Saturday? I cannot answer these questions; things have just (and unfortunately) transpired this way. The backlog of sleep deprivation caused by becoming a father three-and-a-half weeks ago will not have helped. I woke up today feeling as bad as I have for a fortnight. The culprit? My old friend, running. Non-runners would not understand the enormity of making the decision not to run. I was hoping to run very well at the South Downs Way 50, to comfortably run under eight hours, to see what my potential in ultrarunning is. There will be other races and it is not the end of the world, but, for a few minutes or hours, it can feel like that. On this occasion, I have no choice. Running is making me ill; running is stopping me from getting better. Now I have made the decision, I only feel relief.