The main reason why it took me 7 seasons of triathlon before I signed on the dotted line for Ironman UK in August 2009 was the marathon at the end of the race. I had a real mental block about this; I couldn’t imagine the effort required to run a marathon after cycling 112 miles. It wasn’t so much the distance involved, it was just that I knew how I felt after climbing off the bike every time I’d done a century bike ride: marathon running wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I also had a history of marathon running, and I knew how much completing a marathon took out of you.
My marathon running history is quite ancient and undistinguished, but it nevertheless exists. My first marathon was way back in June 1982 in Stoke on Trent. I was a first year student at Keele University and I remember a Kiwi mate returning from the sports centre to the hall of residence one miserable January evening and blithely announcing that he had signed up me and another friend for the Potteries Marathon that summer. Until then, my sport of choice had been squash, and I was just about good enough for the University 2nd team (moment of fame: I won the only rubber in a 9-1 hammering at the hands of Manchester University – I seem to remember that their 10th player had cried off at the last minute and they had to drag someone in off the street).
Marathon running was just starting its 80s boom and the Potteries race was one of the most prestigious marathons in the country. It boasted about 8000 entries and a course that was far from flat, including a legendary 25th mile up a long straight hill. We had no idea about training or kit and just set out to run harder and further and faster each time. Or standard circuit was almost 8km and our target was to run this in under 30 minutes – I can only remember one of us actually aver achieving this. Our running shoes were primitive, my weapon of choice being a pair of Nike Oceania shoes which had lamentably poor forefoot cushioning in particular. They obviously qualify as “retro cool” these days as there seems to be interest about them in various online auction sites.
I seem to remember that on race day itself ?we were late for the start by a few minutes and as a result we set off at far too fast a pace. Nutrition was primitive at feed stations – we took on water or electrolyte drinks tasting of lime squash with a teaspoon of salt stirred in (not much has changed there, then). I remember a hilarious moment when Bob, the Kiwi, took a digestive biscuit from a spectator and Budge smacked it out of his hand giving him a right telling off. Without a sensible nutrition strategy the inevitable occurred and we collectively hit the wall. The last 6 miles were torture. Nevertheless the 3 of us crossed the line as a group in 3 hours 52 minutes, not a bad effort everything considered. The following day, however, I had muscle soreness the like of which I have never experienced since. It took me fully 3 or 4 minutes to walk the 100 metres from my bedroom to the hall refectory for lunch.
Undeterred, the following year I entered 3 marathons. Unfortunately, my two training partners dropped out: one, Bob the Kiwi, because it was his final year and work took over; the other, Budge, succumbed to our gruelling training regime and ended up in plaster with stress fractures to the shins from too many 18 training mile runs in crap running shoes. In my second season I ran the Derby Ramathon in 3:21, knocking over half an hour off my PB from last year. I could have gone a fair bit faster if I’d known how fit I was. That was followed up by my second go at the Potteries Marathon. This wan’t quite so successful due to the fact that the day before the race I’d been helping out as a roadie for the Students Union Ball, and the day itself turned out to be the hottest day of the year. I can’t remember my time, but I think I just sneaked in under the 4 hour mark. The final race of the year was the Robin Hood Marathon in Nottingham. I have a feeling it was early October and cool and I’m sure I would have set a pb in that race had it not been for the giant sized bowl of spag bol I consumed the night before. The spectacular consequences of choosing wholemeal pasta became apparent in about the 20th mile where I had to ask a Nottingham resident for emergency use of their loo. 27 years on, I apologise. Still, I managed 3:30.
My 3rd and final season of long distance running was less successful. I only entered a single race: the Adidas British Marathon in Bolton in August. I hadn’t trained properly at all and just returned from 2 weeks holiday in Spain prior to the race. I ended up with a time of something around 4:08, I think. I did beat Sir Jimmy Saville (he was only OBE in those days) by a few minutes, though, and remember running along with his entourage for a while. It is slightly ironic that the next marathon I was to run was also on the streets of Bolton, 25 years later!
And that was that. I turned to rock climbing, thereafter, although I did try to revive my running when I got made redundant in the late 80s crash. The trouble was, I went too fast and too far too quickly and succumbed to knee trouble after a few weeks of training.
I have my entry in for the Wilmslow half marathon in March already (get your entry in quickly as it always sells out) and 2 weeks later I’m going to line up at the start of the Blackpool Marathon on 11th April, 2010. I am approaching it as a training run for Ironman UK, so definitely won’t be trying to set a time: all the triathlon training manuals say that marathon running is too stressful on your body to contemplate as a training essential. Nevertheless, at the pace I compete at, and with the knowledge of how I seem to be pretty good at recovering from endurance events these days I’m reasonably confident that I will benefit from the extra mileage I’m going to need to put in. Whatever the pros and cons, it will certainly be a strange experience lining up for the start of my first marathon for 26 years.