Post-marathon recoveries are tricky things to get right. After London in April, I abandoned the sport for a fortnight, then ran 30 miles in the following three days. My body was all at sea. There was an illustration of how not to recover after a marathon. After the Lakeland Trails Marathon  in July, I was running sections of the Bob Graham route two days later. Nor was that – essentially, more punishment – an ideal ‘recovery’.

Not one to learn from my mistakes, I am about to repeat the errors of history. Following the Beachy Head Marathon on Saturday, I had not run for more than 48 hours until today, when I stepped out in a new pair of Adidas Supernova Glide 2 (replacing a now-retired, triple-marathon and rather smelly pair of New Balance MR759SR) for a four-mile trot around Tooting Bec Common. So far, so sensible.

Tomorrow, however, and the next day, and the day after that, will test my post-marathon recovery. I plan  to cycle close to 200 miles over those three days, crossing Wales from Swansea to Chester, with – weather-permitting – an on-foot detour up CadairIdris in a Heights of Madness-style assault a distinct possibility too. The weather forecast, particularly for Thursday, is grim. Foolhardy maybe, but it is harder to do nothing.


Marathons are cruel. They slowly but surely destroy participants, emotionally and physically. They wear down the mind, eat away at thoughts, until pre-race aspirations, hope, motivations are smashed. All that is left is a desire for this suffering to be over, and quickly. They wear down the body, finding little niggles that become groaning aches, before reaching the point of near-capitulation. Few are immune. I was reminded of that as I watched footage of Andrew Lemoncello, one of the UK’s finest distance runners, struggling to the finish line, battling the effects of a hideous stitch.

I shattered my marathon personal best by almost 14 minutes yesterday, running 2.50.23. Yet at no point did I feel comfortable; at no point did I feel in control; at no point was I the master of this marathon. Never mind my dream of breaking 2.45. It was never going to happen, not yesterday, not in the London heat, not with the fragility of my physical condition. I should have at least finished in 2.49 (doesn’t that sound better than 2.50?), but I was bedevilled by cramp in the 25th and 26th miles.

From a swift opening 5km of 18.53, I would only get slower. Even at miles eight to 10, I felt desperate, but I forged on, experiencing moments of relative strength followed by bouts of profound tiredness and self-doubt. A fortnight of tapering seemed to have counted for nothing. Still, I went through halfway in 1.21.12. Too fast. I knew it. Deep down, I knew my fate, knew the dreadful struggle that was to be my punishment for starting too fast. It was too late to change things. The first half of the race was run. I couldn’t go back. Now it was a question of how long I could hold on, how long I could survive.

I had another low between miles 15 to 17. Runners passed me in droves. My right calf was stiffening with every step; pain ran along the inside of my left knee. Soon after, I strangely began to feel brighter again. A nagging stitch, a constant companion during the troublesome previous miles, disappeared. Miles 18 to 21 flew by. I wasn’t getting any faster, but nor was the slowdown as dramatic. Then mile 22 came and with it inexorable tiredness. I was plodding now.

Miles 23 and 24 were harder still. My thoughts grew confused, faintness gathered. The day seemed to grow hotter by the second. At each water station I drank furiously, tipping the rest of the contents over my head and down my throbbing calf. An American women shouted, ‘looking smooth,’ at me. I felt wretched. My 5km split from 35 to 40km would be three minutes slower than my first 5km. The crowds, so supportive, so loud, for so many miles, suddenly felt oppressive.

As I approached the corner for Westminster, cramp arrived, like an arrow in my right hamstring. I forced myself to keep running. It is fatal to stop. Once you cease movement, once you succumb, you could be stuck there for several minutes. I hobbled on, the cramp gradually easing, and passed beneath the ‘800 metres to go’ sign on Birdcage Walk. A sub-2.50 was in my sights. But as I tried to speed up, I could feel the cramp beginning to pinch.

Turning onto The Mall, now 200 metres from the finish line, it returned again. I panicked. The finish line was so close, but I was temporarily incapacitated. A marshal grabbed my hand and walked with me for a few seconds, before I pushed him away and forced myself to run. I watched the clocks ticking towards 2.50. It had gone, I knew that. Only a  Usain Bolt sprint finish could save me know. There was no chance of that. I dragged myself across the line, 23 seconds outside of 2.50. Pain, suffering, mental anguish, legs in pieces today: I can’t wait for the 2012 marathon. 

When time is all that matters

There was an advert – for Lucozade, I think – at Custom House, the DLR station for ExCel, that read: ‘ When all you think about for 3,29 is 3,29.’ What runner could not empathise with that? There lies a runner’s obsession: time.

Tsegaye Kebede wants to break the world record tomorrow, dipping under 2,04 in the process. Dwight Yorke wants to run beneath three hours; Matthew Pinsent wants a sub-four hour effort; Joe Pasquale wants a five-and-a-half hour marathon.

The Holy Grail time of 2,45 has consumed my thoughts for months. So much so, I’ve run almost 30 marathons – more than 750 miles – since January 1 in pursuit of just one marathon of that time. But why? No-one cares but me. Should I run 2,50, for instance, my family won’t disown me, my girlfriend won’t call the wedding off, the world won’t spin off its axis. But it does matter, every second matters. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be a runner.




The gun of the 2011 marathon is now a mere two days and 15 hours away, according to the countdown clock on the VLM website. I took a trip to ExCel today to pick up my number. This might be my fifth London, but I still feel a tingle of nervous excitement when I hear The Trap – the anthem of the London Marathon – blasting from the speakers.

That reminds me, I’ll be hearing Heather Small’s Proud a few times before the weekend is out. And Search for the Hero. And Chariots of Fire. Still, it affirms that London isn’t just another race; this is one of the greatest races on the planet, a day when 36,000 people are bound by the identical goal – to run 26.2 miles.

The exhibition at the ExCel is, unfortunately, a corporate jungle. Virgin branding is everywhere. Same story as regards Adidas. And what happened to all the freebies? I’m sure there used to be more stash flying about at registration in previous years. A goody bag containing a Mars Bar (useful) and a can of London Pride (not) was all runners got this year. Another victim of the economic downturn, perhaps?

I am also discovering what it is to be a ‘championship’ runner for the first time. We have a ‘rest and changing marquee’ in the Blue assembly area, apparently, and can use Shooters Hill Road to warm up. Very nice! I’ll try to enjoy the relative luxury – unless I run a sub-2,45 marathon or sub-1,15 half, I’ll never be there again.


Body falling apart

I knocked out 222 miles in February, 13 fewer than January (a month that was, however, three days longer). As you can see, I’ve become pedantic about mileage. My London Marathon training of years gone by has traditionally flagged in February, my efforts plagued by injury or plunging motivation. Not this year, it seems. Not so far.

With the marathon now six-and-a-half weeks away, I’ve reached the point of no return. Just a few more weeks of 60-plus miles, another three or four 20-mile runs, and the odd race (maybe a 10k, maybe a 10-mile?) to survive. Easy.

Someone who came across this blog earlier today did so by tapping the words ‘marathon training body falling apart’ into a search engine. It was a blunt reminder that I need to avoid the dreaded body-falling-apart syndrome that can afflict marathon runners.

Roding Valley half-marathon

There are plenty of pre-London Marathon half-marathons to test one’s mettle: Bath, Brighton, Fleet, Reading, Silverstone. Unfortunately, they are/were all fully subscribed. Hence I found myself in Essex  today, taking part in the 29th annual edition of the Roding Valley half-marathon.

After running a short loop around Woodford, we commenced a long loop, with the course climbing to Chigwell, crossing the M11 and passing through Buckhurst Hill en route to Woodford. A second, identical long loop came next, before the finish on the track at the Ashton playing fields.

The race is described as ‘undulating’. Hilly would be a more fitting description. Of course, what goes up must come down, but the downs didn’t seem to compensate for the ups, while the longest downhill section was ran into the teeth of a headwind. I lost count of the hills. They kept coming, never terribly steep or long, but steep enough and long enough to disrupt momentum.

Even so, I did what I intended to do – running six-minute miles from start to finish, feeling comfortable but lacking the sharpness to run any quicker. My reward was a time of 1,18, 20 for 13th place out of 888. I tapped that time into a race calculator to estimate my ‘projected equivalent’ marathon time (highly dangerous, I know), but the answer was pleasing nonetheless: 2, 43, 19.

The pain game

I’ve had various brushes with sports therapists over the years – the consequence of bursting the fluid on a knee cap, general knee pain (tight IT band to blame), plantar fasciitis (five weeks before a marathon), scar tissue on the soleus and badly bruising a knee cap (the other one) in a fall on snowy ground.

So it was a novelty to visit a therapist while injury-free. Late-February seemed a suitable juncture. My weekly mileage has been wandering between 45 and 65 for the last two months and I was (I am) beginning to feel the strain. Just to compound the ‘strain’, I ran 15 miles on the morning of the appointment, despite feeling faint within the first 100 metres of the session. The faintness abated after about six miles – which is good that it went away, but not good in that it took 40 minutes. I only kept going because I didn’t feel as bad as the previous night when I had been hallucinating on the run home from a track session. I Googled faintness and running later, and, according to Runner’s World, I can blame it on ‘general weariness’. Surely faintness while running is a tad more serious than that?

Anyway, back to the massage. Everything was tight: calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors and, worst of all, the gluteus maximus. An elbow rammed very hard and repeatedly into the buttocks is never a good thing. I was susceptible to injury in this state, the masseur warned. Stretch, stretch, stretch – that’s what I needed to do. It was the IT band that really made me yelp (rather embarassingly) in pain, though. I was reminded of the extreme legs-on-fire agony when I had undergone treatment for a tight IT band years earlier: there can be no greater incentive to stretch.

Next up: the Roding Valley half-marathon tomorrow.

January – a month of mileage

Marathon training continues apace; the prospect of a comfortable sub-three hour time becoming ever likelier. I covered 235 miles in January, which included weeks of 45, 49, 55 and 59 miles. The pattern was not deliberate.

The month culminated with the South of England cross country championships, a nine-mile battle of attrition and mud around Hampstead Heath in London (picture above).

February started with a quartet of one-mile track repetitions, each in around 5 minutes, 20 seconds, a session which sent my calves into spasm. With 10-and-a-half weeks to go (and a stag do and wedding to negotiate in between), the hard work has only just begun.

Pain by the Thames

No more dreams. Only the grim reality of a five-mile Surrey League fixture at Ham, a muddy cross-country on the banks of the River Thames.

These Surrey League races are fast and frenetic; it is no wonder when runners of the ilk of Phil Wicks – a man who can run a sub-29 minute 10k – head the field.

So competitive is this league, sneeze and a runner loses 10 places. I did a great deal of metaphorical sneezing. I started too fast, maintaining the pace for two miles before dropping back, fading badly.

I toiled. I was running through treacle, battling a relentless Patagonian wind. Runners streamed past me, my marathon legs screamed. I fell over the finish line in 76th position, reminding myself the real finish line is the London Marathon in April.

Sub-3 – seventh time lucky?

Having ran four Flora’s, it is time for a Virgin. The London Marathon on April 17 – 14-and-a-half weeks away – will be my seventh attempt at the 26.2-mile distance.

The marathon, however, has been my nemesis, a constant bridge too far. I ran 3,40s in my first two races during a period when times concerned me less. Believing I could run a marathon in under three hours, I upped my mileage. I have failed four times since: London (a dogged 3,08), Paris (a painful 3,03), London (a disastrous 3,19), then Snowdonia (a hilly 3,04).

I’ve gained a championship place in the 2011 London Marathon, courtesy of a qualifying half-marathon time five seconds inside 1,15. With that sort of benchmark, a sub-3 hour marathon should be simple. I should be aiming for 2,50 and faster, surely?

If 2011 is to be the year, the year of my marathoning epiphany, miles are the key – lots and lots and lots of them. I have never run more than 55 miles in a week; it is around this point in previous years that I felt my body falling apart.

I’m not alone in an ambition to drag myself around a marathon distance course in under three hours. Indeed, everyone has their personal goals, whether they are jogging at the back of the pack, sprinting at the business end, or if you’re Haile Gebrselassie (providing he hasn’t actually retired) chasing a world record.

In lighter moments, I wonder why such goals matter, why runners bother flogging themselves on cold, dark, miserable, wet nights in January. Isn’t there more to life than this? If a runner obsesses over such questions, he or she may as well give up the sport. What’s the point – in fact, what’s the point of anything in life – if you’re not trying your best.

And that is why I continue to flog myself on these cold, dark , miserable, wet nights in January. I will have a sub-3 hour marathon!