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Paul Northup’s VLM Update – One Week to Go!

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A week today it will all be over. After the months of training – dark mornings and gale force winds seem to have characterised my preparation – I will have completed the London Marathon. I’m conscious that my blogging has fallen away in recent weeks (I tapered early on the writing front). So here’s a round-up of where I’m at and how I’m feeling about the Big Day.

A train of two halves

My training has been a story of two halves.

  1. Up until mid- to late-February it went much better than I could have hoped. I felt strong and fast (for me). The miles didn’t seem to be a problem and I felt in the shape of my (older) life. Then I strained my calf just before Bourton and the wheels came off the plan somewhat. In retrospect, I was peaking to early.

  2. Post-Bourton, my training has felt like a desperate attempt to get back on track, to recapture form. Panicking about the calf, I switched running shoes after gait analysis and I felt like I was learning to run from scratch all over again. After two weeks with the new, neutral shoes I switched back to my trusted and moderately supported trainers and things started to come back together. Slowly but surely the calf tightness and pain subsided. I managed the Gloucester 20 (walking a couple of hill sections in the last five miles with my calf burning) in 2 hrs 20 mins. And two weeks later I managed the Cardiff IAAF Half Marathon, where I felt strong and pacy for the first nine miles before the heavens opened and I slowed dramatically, finishing in 1 hr 27 mins.

After Cardiff I started to get my mojo back. I was putting the miles in and the calf was causing me little trouble.

And then at the speed session last week I aggravated my groin! Immediately, my pessimistic self thought that would be that; I’d have to withdraw, and all the training would be for nothing. But I reached out to James Oram and he kindly shared wisdom off the back of his groin injury last year. In the light of this, I iced and rested – and this morning I managed an OK 13 miles with Will Pearce, Jon Howes and The Encourager (Chris Hale), with the groin still intact.

I’m as ready as I can be.

Sometimes, you can lose sight of the wood for the trees with your running. In the detail of each week and the annoyance of the injuries and niggles and watching times and splits you can forget the progress you’ve made. Sometimes, it’s important to take a step back and look at the broad sweep of things. To get some perspective. Tapering has, at least, given me this.

I can look back over both of the two halves of my training – the good and the bad – and can be encouraged. Because I’ve done:
• 2 runs of 18 miles
• 3 runs of 20 miles
• 2 runs of 22 miles
• And even in weeks when I’ve not run long, I’ve done one run of at least 15 miles since Christmas time
Those miles in the bank are what I’m trusting will carry me through next Sunday.

My plan for the day

I’m going up on Saturday. On my own. I’m kipping in the familiar surroundings of the little office I work in on my London days. Apart from meeting up with Juan to give him his race pack, it’s ‘me time’. I can do my own thing. I can get into the zone. I’m being completely selfish about the 24 hours before the event. My family will track me from home.

Once on the starting line, I’m aiming to set off at just behind 7-min/mile pace. My plan is to run the first half at that even pace. The hope is that I feel strong and fresh enough then to push on and do the same again. Or, if my dreams come true, to put in a few sub 7-min miles in the second half and to run a negative split. We’ll see. It’s a long way and all sorts of things can happen. Especially in terms of the way I manage to stay fuelled and hydrated.

Sustenance and support

When it comes to fuel and hydration, I’m really weak. I had a great chat with Charles Goodwin (The General) a couple of weeks back and I realised that the secret elixir to his astonishing form as a vet has a lot to do with the way he manages his diet. I credit him for waking me up to the blindingly obvious with only two weeks to go! I can’t turn the tanker of my diet around in time for this marathon. But training for London this year has convinced me that nutrition is the next part of the package I need to pay proper attention to if I am to really get back to the form I’d like to before I hang up my running shoes.

I have a condition that means my body doesn’t always properly absorb all the goodness of the food and drink I put into it. (I won’t bore you with the ‘men of a certain age’ details.) This makes running the marathon distance at the pace I know I’m capable of elusive. I’ve run three before and always struggled to feel strong and hydrated to the end. And I know how vital it is to have that long-lasting fuel and hydration on board. Having spent a good few hours in the care of medics at the end of my last London marathon in 2014, I plan to drink at every available opportunity this time.

But food and drink are only two forms of necessary sustenance.

I joked on Facebook a few weeks back that I needed to blog about ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’s Family’. And I’m conscious of just what a huge debt I owe to my nearest and dearest. They’re looking forward to life after the London Marathon. To us all having that bit more family time together.

You’ll notice, too, that I’ve mentioned a few Striders by name in this blog. And that’s because I would have given up on more than one occasion had I not belonged to the club. I’ve never trained really seriously for a marathon before. And I’ve never trained as part of a community before. Thank you Striders. I hope I do you proud. And thanks again for the place!