The road to Berlin goes on, and on……

A long time ago, I went skiing to Andorra. I remember it quite vividly. It was all cheap bars and cheap food, lively music, and short but fairly decent ski runs. It had the sort of ski runs that if it is your first ever ski holiday they would be almost overwhelming, but if you’ve been on two or three you would avoid as being not worth the effort of getting back on the ski lift so quickly again. The reason I mention all of this is that there was a guy on the holiday who I used to work with, and let’s call him Simon (because that was actually his name). 

It was Simon’s first ever ski holiday (first time on skis full stop in fact), and despite suggestions and indeed firm instruction from those around him to book into ski school, he refused. “I’ll be alright” he said, and took the gondola up with the rest of us and decided to just ‘wing it’ back down somehow. Being of a nervous disposition, and frankly not wanting to see him hurt himself or worse, I stayed well out of the way. His closest friend Steve, who could ski well, chaperoned him to the point where he was stood, somewhat Bambi-like at first, with skis pointed vaguely at the direction of the slopes. 

“Which way do I go” was all Simon wanted to know. With a bit of a directional steer from Steve, all of a sudden Simon was off, hurtling downhill, all arms and legs, and the biggest grin on his face I’d ever seen. He crashed of course, albeit into a bit of a bank of soft snow, but got up, dusted himself down, and off he hurtled again. He hadn’t a care in the world. By the end of the week he was skiing runs that I was unsure about even for myself, and I think this was my tenth time skiing. I think that it has been said before that skiing is about 20% ability and 80% confidence – well in Simon’s case it was more like 5% of one and 95% of the other. Go Simon!

And onto the running then. Last week was the biggest week so far – 54 miles on the schedule in six runs, culminating in a 16 miler on the Sunday. That would be the longest run I had done since running the TCS New York Marathon in 2019. It’s fair to say there was a degree of trepidation on my part, not just because my last two long runs had ended slightly short. The first, a 10 miler, I stopped after 9. It was too hot. The second, a 15 miler, I stopped after 14 – I had some fairly uncomfortable chafing. With the second one, if I’m very truthful (and why shouldn’t I be, I am after all really just talking to myself here :D) I could have stopped anywhere between about 10 and 12. There’s always a reason to stop, right? 

So this week I was just determined to get to the end and see it through. All of my midweek runs have so far been going pretty much ok. The easy runs are of course, well, easy (thankfully :O) , and the intervals have been ok, if much harder work (7:30 pace in the main which is basically my top speed). It is the tempo runs which are now the test. The tempo runs are at race pace (8:30 for the marathon) and should be the real benchmark. They started in week 3 at about 4 miles and are now up to 8, plus a mile each side of warming up and cooling down. This week I did this in Nottingham as I was privileged to be asked to look after my gorgeous granddaughter Jessie, whilst my son and his partner played in the European Touch Rugby Championships. 

So the Thursday tempo run also followed a Tuesday interval run at my lowest heart rate so far (I’ll talk about heart rate and also shoes in a subsequent blog post). I was therefore confident, and set off with gusto along the banks of the Trent, a route I know well. After about two miles I knew it wasn’t good. My heart rate was pounding, up at over 160. Now 160 is ok if I’m flat out (and so is 170), but not for the start of a ten mile tempo run – it is only going to get worse from there.

And get worse it did – after mile three and four my breathing was more laboured, the effort too high. After 5 miles I stopped, drained. I did sort of jog another mile to see if I could get to a six mile total out of the intended 10. All that did was add another mile to my Strava count – it did me no good whatsoever. I was very deflated. I’m still 7 weeks from Berlin, with all of the big and toughest weeks ahead of me. Take nothing for granted, I told myself, amongst other things.

On Friday I had a shortish 6 mile easy run when I got home from Nottingham. On the Saturday it was 8 miles, again easy. Thankfully both passed without incident, and I braced myself for Sunday’s big one. A moderate (for me!!) alcohol intake on the Saturday evening gave me a decent sleep, even if I did wake early on the Sunday. I drove for my long run to Ambleside (to get some flattish ground as there is literally none by me bar a running track), my favourite place, some four miles away from where I now live, and set off with a determined air. I am very happy, and also relieved, to say that the 16 miles got ticked off without heat exhaustion, chafing, or other (reasonable or unreasonable) excuse. The week thus finished with around 50 miles completed, which I have to be pleased with. There are probably only two or three weeks in my life when I have run that far, and this programme is a test of both physical and mental resolve.

Another week over then. I don’t know how many miles I’ve run so far – it’s just been a lot. This week is 50 again, next week 56, then 54, then 57 I think – it’s a long August that’s for sure. But after that it is September – and on the 11th is the first proper Great North Run since this horrible pandemic took over (and so much worse for so many) so many lives. I can’t wait until the Great North Run – the phrase “it’ll be emotional” is the understatement of the century. More of that anticipation and excitement next time. I’m going to be blogging weekly again now. 

And so for now I will continue to believe, that Berlin will happen, and that I can do it. I’ll never have Simon’s gusto or confidence, but I am nothing if not lacking in determination. I also found out recently that none other than Eliud Kipchoge, undoubtedly the greatest distance runner of all time, and world record holder for the marathon (set in Berlin four years ago) will be running too. If I said that he’s a hero of mine that would be significantly understating my admiration for all that he has achieved in running and in life. And if that doesn’t get me motivated to ‘go like Simon’ then nothing ever will.

The one and only Eliud Kipchoge leading the way home through the Brandenburg Gate.

Oh and as more than a little footnote to all of the above, both my Son and his partner’s teams won their respective finals of the European Chamionships, and I am so very proud of them both – happy days 🙂

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