My brother in law, Gearard, and I embarked on our latest long run yesterday in preparation for the Belfast Marathon in May. This time we stepped the distance up to 15 miles, our longest effort yet. It was chilly but thankfully dry as we set off on the first of several loops round the village, well wrapped up to ward off the icy wind. This will be Gearard’s first marathon and my tenth.
Long distance training runs are as much mental as physical and I always find the first few miles the hardest as you dubiously eye up the road in front of you. No matter how many times I set off on such a run I always experience the same emotions. Anxiety and a sense of hopelessness, convinced this will be the time I’m caught out and shown up for the running fraud I truly am.
Given this, I’m always grateful for running company. I normally run on my own and it’s tough hitting the road for over two hours with only the voices in your head for company. Voices that whisper you’re not good enough and urge you to stop and give up with every passing step. Having someone with you helps to keep these harbingers of doom at bay. It keeps them in the shadows.
Gearard and I found a pace that suited both of us and by the second loop I had found my rhythm and felt much more comfortable. We ran at a conversational pace. The secret of the the long run is to travel well within your optimum pace. It’s all about discipline and conserving as much energy as possible for the latter stages of the race. Slow and steady wins the marathon battle every time.
Refuelling is also very important so each time we passed the house we made sure to take a quick timeout to get much needed fluids on board. On race day itself we will also have energy gels which give you a concentrated hit when you most need it. They have rejuvenated me many times when I’ve been running on empty. Such tactics are essential if you want to avoid the dreaded wall.
I used to be obsessed with times and achieving personal bests but those days are behind me just like the miles passed us by yesterday. I run to complete the course, I’m not overly bothered as to how long it takes me. This coming marathon will be one of my slowest but I’m okay with that as, in other ways, it will be the one most precious to me. I’ve conquered that side of my ego.
We completed the 15th mile still on our feet and able to converse easily. Much of the route passed by in such a fashion and I can’t say I was struggling or in pain at any stage during the run. I guess that comes with experience. Next month we will step it up again to 16 miles, our training peaking in a 3/4 marathon in early April. After that we wind down or ‘taper’ towards the big day in Belfast itself.
Running a marathon is a big step to take, many see it as the ultimate physical challenge. In order to take that big step, you must first take many, many little steps beforehand. The 26.2 miles is simply a lap of honour, the culmination of months of effort and hundreds of miles. It is about dedication, focus and battling the inner voice that tells you to stop. I must not let that voice win, I cannot let that voice win.