Let’s get off on the right foot here – unlike the opening lyrics of the song by Gene Vincent, I do not think I have led an evil life. I am not trying to out-run the devil on judgement day, but the imagery seems to be quite apposite in the current situation. The day in question is of course the Brighton Marathon on 9th April. The devil in this instance is the critical and self-doubting voice in my head when the running starts to get difficult – such as in the first half mile!
On Saturday I completed the longest run of my training schedule – 20 miles through some lovely Northamptonshire villages, such as Stoke Doyle. The twinning is as incongruous as me being twinned with that great marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie! However, on the day, I did not even notice the sign, so wrapped up was I in my internal dialogue. It was a couple of days later when I was driving the route that I noticed it and managed to get a photo.
A point of clarification – it is more accurate to say that I completed a journey of 20 miles rather than a run of 20 miles. I was doing reasonably well at miles 5 and 10, running from Aldwincle to Oundle via Achurch and Pilton, before continuing on to the outskirts of Fotheringhay. It was around miles 11 and 12 that I started to falter. I had a pain in my left knee and I was fearful of causing further problems if I continued to run. Later, I also noted some minor twinges in my left hip. Now, I’m not the most elegant of runners. I would say my style varies between penguin and pregnant duck, with occasional flashes of an elite athlete on a very bad day. I somehow managed to get the 8 miles back to my car with a mixture of walking and funny idiosyncratic episodes of improvised jogging.
Training is not called training for nothing. It is important to try to learn from these experiences so that next time it will be better. The main problem was that I suffered a biomechanical breakdown. My posture was wrong and my strides were wrong. I also had a tactical flaw because my initial pace was too fast. Running on the edge of the road caused some minor discomfort due to the camber and unevenness, and I stumbled a few times early on. My left ankle is already compromised (see Twist and Shout for the details!) and this contributed to the problems with my knee and hip on that side.
However, I believe that the main contributory factor was my psychological status. I was running on a Saturday instead of my usual Sunday, and it had been a busy Friday for me. I was dreading running the distance, the voice in my head said it was too far and that I was not ready to attempt it. I was fearful of injuring myself so close to “judgement day”. All these thoughts created a lot of muscle tension across my back and shoulders, and this naturally impacted on my running style – definitely more penguin than elite athlete on a bad day!
The role of psychological factors – having the right attitude – is critical in every sport. No boxer goes into the ring believing they are going to lose. So, I have been working on trying to develop a more realistic and healthy set of beliefs about my running ability. The run has shown me that I can break the 20 mile barrier, even in an inelegant way. It has shown me that I can find the reserves and determination to keep going – I am that emperor penguin trudging over the frozen waste with food for my chick. I need to stop believing that my hard-earned fitness is as transient and fragile as magic dust that will blow away when I need it most.
So, on the day, it will be a race with the devil – fighting the self-doubts and focusing on crossing the finishing line on Marine Drive!
Oh, just a reminder – I am running to raise funds for MIND, the national charity for mental health. There is still time to sponsor me – thank you!