Challenging misconceptions about running

I made a decision before Christmas that in 2016 I was not going to bust my balls and go for a sub-3-hour marathon at the Brighton Marathon. I’ve tried for the last three years and every year it’s ended in tears, literally. I decided that for once, I would run Brighton without having to run so hard on the day that I collapse; and in training I could take it ‘easy’. With life getting the better of me, I didn’t want to put in a half-arsed attempt at sub-3 when all I really want to do is spend every possible moment with my son or work on developing my personal training business. I’ve enjoyed having no structure to my training and not worrying too much. In reality, what this has actually meant is that since November I’ve not scheduled in any runs and as a result, I’ve probably run on less than 20 occasions.

Anyway, fast forward to yesterday – Saturday 20th February. I text my friend Cathy (she’s doing an Iron Woman this year, dontcha know) and said ‘Cathy, shall I run 26.2 tomorrow? One word response: ‘yes’. Now, the interesting thing is that I haven’t run more than 13.1 miles since November, so this could go totally wrong. Truth be told, I’d had a crisis of confidence in the last week and thought the mental challenge/turmoil of a marathon distance run might do me good. Conversely, of course, it might do me a lot of bad!

I’ve said a lot of times to a lot of people that if push comes to shove, anybody at any time (minus the lame, apathetic and afflicted) could go out and complete a marathon. It wouldn’t be pretty and it wouldn’t be comfy, but they could do it. People would be well reminded of this at times, when they’re having a bad time with their training. The distance scares people because people see it as an ‘ultimate’ goal. When you put something so high on a pedestal, it doesn’t look achievable. That’s bullshit. Be sensible, understand your body and challenge your mind, and you’ll get there. Anyway, off my high horse… I’ve run a lot of marathons and wondered what my muscle memory would be like. We’d see…

I also had a brainwave. Now, I’m sorry if this offends you, because it’s not meant to at all. But. BUT… I get so bored of people banging on about ‘perfect’ training, the critical nutritional requirements of a runner (including carb-loading – SO 1994) and ensuring your kit is bespoke made at a cost of three hundred million pounds. Whatever happened to just running?

Last night, I spent a few hours on my feet doing plastering. I did not stretch or foam roll. I had a pizza, some chicken goujons and some oven chips for dinner. I washed it down with two non-alcoholic beers and two cans of Coke Zero. I went to bed at 12, was still awake at 1 and set my alarm for 6.30am. At 6.30am I woke up. I turned off my alarm and I went back to sleep. At 8.30 I finally got up. I went downstairs and for my pre-marathon breakfast, I had a single banana (I think it was a banana, although it was so brown it could have been a soggy stick or a turd. It tasted a bit like a banana). I also had a cup of tea with a sugar in it and a couple of mouth fulls of water. Obviously, like all runners, I had a shit. Next up was my kit. I put on some brand running shoes. BRAND NEW. If you listen to some folk, they’d tell you that’s madness. They’d say you have to break in your new running shoes and contour them to your feet. I think this is bullshit. I think if you have a pair of running shoes that fit, the technology should be good enough that they’re good to go from day 1. That, and running in them IS breaking them in. I almost exclusively wear Adidas running shoes because they’ve always done me good. The flavour I buy is 100% determined by what is in their annual post-Christmas sale. I NEVER pay more than £40 for a pair of running shoes.

Anyway, out I went. And I ran. I felt good for 10k. Did it in about 49 minutes. I wondered if I could make a half marathon in 1.45. I did. 1.43. I was tired and one of my hip flexors was doing a little too much work but I was in reasonably nick. The 3rd 10k brought the mental challenge of runners’ no man’s land. That bit between 20 and 30k is neither close to the start, nor the finish. The plan was to reach 30k and hold on. At 30k I just kept running. I had the wind at my back, which I earned by running into it for the first half. I like kms 32 to 42 because you’re counting down form 10 to zero. You’re nearly there. Marathon complete in 3.21 with a 5 or so minute negative split. I hold my hands up here – I stopped my watch at two sets of train gates, once at a CoOp, where I refuelled with a Fruit Shoot because it was on offer and once when I went to a cafe to get an espresso to perk me up a bit. That was it. No tactics, just a personal challenge. I ran the whole way and it was alright because there was no pressure – I ran because I wanted to.

marathon route

So why write this blog? To brag? No. To encourage? A little. To show people that’s it’s just movement and nothing to be scared of? Absolutely. To not get hung up on things and worry too much about all the three million things ‘experienced’ runners tell you are critical? 100% yes – THIS. Listen to others and take advice, but do what YOU think is right. With respect to the people who read this (all three of you), you’re unlikely to be an elite athlete and you’re unlikely to win major marathons. There are so many things that can go right and wrong for you. So much of your performance is based on simple fitness and a great mindset. An expensive pair of gait-analysed shoes, the most expensive energy gels and perfectly balanced diets are less likely to improve your performance than a smile on your face, a bit of perspective and a gut-full of determination mixed with reasonably structured training. You’ve seen those fat middle-aged men out there on Sundays, riding bikes, haven’t you? Now fair play to them – they’re exercising. But many of them have bikes worth £3,000, they’re wearing unfeasibly tight lycra and have just shelled out £300 on some aerodynamic handle bars to save them 200g on their bike weight. They could take a shit and lose twice that. They could lose a stone and make themselves all sorts of more efficient. It’s like that with runners – understand yourself and trust your own crazy mind and you’ll get there.

Now here’s my insurance policy. This blog isn’t my recommendation to throw your nutrition out of the window, run in a brand new pair of winkle pickers and not prepare for marathons. It’s my recommendation to relax, embrace what life is throwing at you and remove your anxieties. Bodies are incredible – be nice to them and they’ll take you a long way. Get your mind in the game, too, and your potential is endless.

Now, can someone help me off my soap box?



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