I trained pretty hard for the Manchester Marathon, back in April. It didn’t end how I wanted it to. It was the first race I’ve ever had to pull up at. It affected me afterwards. I was pissed with myself, for fucking up my very detailed and bordering-on-obsessive-marathon plan, for having to walk off the course, for being so focused in my training, so sure, and yet losing it when it was my time to step up and run sub-4 hours. Choosing to not finish the marathon felt like a huge conflict between having the balls to put my hands up and say, “Game over. I’m done here”, and a niggling annoyance that I’d not achieved my goal. For weeks after, I even questioned my desire to run sub-4 hours. I didn’t really know why I had set myself a time target. It all felt a little contrived and weird, like I was comparing myself to other runners I knew, wanting to be more like them, to be faster, to be part of the sub-4 crew. It didn’t feel like me and I felt uncomfortable with it. I’d hated the training, tearing around the park at speeds that caused my legs to hurt, daring never to miss a run on my training plan and constantly analysing my pace.
And so it was that in the months that followed the Manchester marathon, I chose to just run. Here and there. Easy and simple. My hip still hurt. I guess it never fully improved, I just got used to it feeling tight. I saw a lot of physiotherapists, and they all told me something different. I didn’t know who to listen to, so I just kept on running. I figured that I knew my body the best, and would follow the peaks and troughs of pain and uncomfortableness – if it hurt, I would stop. And so on. By this point, the summer was starting to end, signalling my Autumn marathon, Frankfurt, and a realisation that I’d not really started any form of training for it. It was 9 weeks out before I actually sat down and figured out some loose adaptation of an old marathon plan I found lying around. Karen helped me work out some longer runs, spanning them over 2 days, back-to-back, and the rest of the time, I’d just run around the local park, or up and down the river. I realised that I’d actually been training for the Frankfurt marathon all along, way before digging the old marathon plan out. I’d been running. Short and longer distances. Fast and slow. I’d just not bothered to label it as ‘marathon training’. I guess I’d been to busy running and sorting my hip out to really think about it.
I talked to Laura, my friend, about the possibility of her pacing me around the marathon this time, to stop me going off too fast, and she agreed. I told her I wanted to finish the race around the 4 hour mark, and that was that. I didn’t really care if I finished in 4 hours or not, I was kind of over the whole sub-4 idea, and far more interested in the notion of just running – of simply putting one foot in front of the other – rather than viewing running as some form of an abstract object, with which I would measure my success against. But also, deep down, and rather conflictingly, I had a bone to pick with the Manchester marathon and my DNF. That city had become a flashing beacon for some pretty traumatic shit that had happened in my life, and in a way, I wanted to prove something to it – which was, quite frankly, pretty absurd – but I’ve learnt not to over-analyse these things. If I wanted to flip-off a city, by running a marathon in a certain time, I damn well would.
It was over long talks with Simon Lamb, my friend and sports massage therapist, that I really started to clarify the reasons why I like running so much. He keeps things very simple, in many aspects of his life, especially running, and I listened intently to him. I didn’t always agree with things he said, but for the most part, I knew he had a bloody good point, which, in a nutshell, was “Keep it simple”.
So I did.
I just ran. If I missed a run, it was no big deal. I started doing some yoga and meditated, and subsequently got angry when I couldn’t do either very well. I ran some more, managed to move my body into a posture that resembled a mangled downward dog, ran a bit more and figured that I was as ready as I’d ever be to run a marathon.
And so I did.
In 4 hours and 44 seconds.
It was my favourite race yet. You can watch it here, Laura filmed it.
I drank near half a bottle of red wine the night before, walked all over Frankfurt city in the days leading up to the race, choosing to spend those moments concentrating on the friends I was with, rather than the complicated-mechanics of marathon preparation that had dogged me in previous race build ups.
I kept it simple, without even realising it, and learnt a great deal in the process.
I will never tire of how much running teaches me so much about myself.
People have been telling me to keep it simple for years, I guess I just had to figure it out for myself (as always).