Manchester ’19 was my debut marathon. I enjoyed the journey and the race day has a special place in my heart. Subsequent attempts have not gone so well. But whether it was the aborted attempt at marathon training in 2020 due to COVID when training was going oh-so-well, or my subsequent brush with injury that saw me miss the return of the marathon in October ’21, or my infamous failed attempt at achieving a sub-4 hour marathon (or just have a good time at all!) last year, my racing at Manchester has never gone to plan.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I am pulling out of the marathon this year. After contracting COVID-19 over Christmas, my recovery has been slow-but-steady.
Did I mention that it was slow?
Whilst I am 10x better than I was during Christmas week, I haven’t been able to get back to running properly in January and, in a rare moment that deserves recording (hence the post), decided to take the sensible option and defer my entry.
Before my painful brush with injury, lasting 10 months in 2020/21, I didn’t really think about longevity when it came to running. I am, therefore I ran, therefore I was happy. And if I didn’t run, I was miserable and was told, on more than one occasion, to ‘get some miles in tonight’ by those who know the difference a run can make. They weren’t wrong. I was always happier the following day. During the COVID-19 lockdown, I ran for over 150 consecutive days. I was content, until I got injured, then I wasn’t.
Being injured taught me some harsh lessons. The main one was to embrace strength training. I also learned to know when to listen to my body.
Marathons are big beasts and they are merciless teachers. Attempting one unprepared is foolish. The marathon journey, much like anything worth experiencing, should be savoured, not rushed. And, whilst I could start training next week if all goes well, it seems foolish when I know that I would arrive on race day feeling less than my best. John Kelly’s quote feels apt: To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.
Running isn’t, and hasn’t ever been, about chasing times for me. But that journey of continuous improvement, from the kid who always came last when he wasn’t missing PE due to any number of hospital appointments, to this point, as a 28 year old middle-of-the-pack sub-4 marathon runner, is an addictive one. I know I wouldn’t quite enjoy a marathon where the goal was anything less than to strive for a new PB, successful or not. Going on that journey beside someone who shares that same vision, that drive and ambition to do better come what may, then celebrate, or commiserate with a Peroni or glass of wine, is the embodiment of running to me. There will be other marathons, there will be many other post-race celebrations.
Then again, the sensible choice is expensive. With a race fee of £57, I attempted to defer my entry. The checkout flashed up on screen. £30. An obscene extortion, next year’s race would total £87.
Making the sensible choice is unaffordable when profit is the aim of the event, at the expense of the runner’s experience.
“Can you not just run it?” – a text which spoke to my primal instinct.
The rebellious choice.
I’m a week, maybe two, from being able to train properly again. I will have to build up gradually but I have some experience of what it’s like to build back from nothing. This time, it’s cardio rather than strength that needs work.
Perhaps, the gift is not giving your best in the best circumstances, but being able to adapt your training and your goals, to your circumstances. Logic defies a short training plan, but the temptation endures. You don’t run 26.2 miles with your legs, a marathon is a mental battle. The time, after all, is arbitrary.
With less than 3 months to go, building enough fitness to chase down a marathon PB feels unlikely. Unlikely, but not impossible.
Time, will tell.