I need to keep this brief. I have a 3 week trip to the US to plan, and am running out of time to bag the perfect Vegas deal and research car hire and book the Boston pre-race pasta meal and find out how long it takes to drive from San Diego to Tijuana and whether the Alcatraz trip goes on a Sunday, and deal with a thousand other miscellaneous impulses, 900 of which will stay on the cutting room floor.
Less exotic was today’s journey round someone else’s daily grind. The venue for the Maidenhead Easter 10 is a sort of business park where we troop up and down the corporate tarmac for a few miles, with a spell of open country in between. OK, so this isn’t the best sales pitch I’ve ever done, but despite the grim trailer, I do quite enjoy the race partly I think, because it’s always on Good Friday, and the start of four days off work is always going to sugar the pill.
I woke at 7, to the sound of spring rain sploshing against the window. I listened for a minute or two, then mechanically reached for my bedside hot cross bun and banana. As I munched and listened to the weather, I felt unexcited at the thought of plodding 10 miles in the bank holiday rain. Sensing a faint urge to shut my eyes and stay in bed, I was able to swat it away and haul myself out instead. I’ve become embarrassingly dutiful about Boston.
Early on a bank holiday, the motorway was empty, and it took me no time to cover the 22 miles. As I turned into the entrance, I could have sworn I saw the local MP, Theresa May, directing traffic. Just past her were the first signs of limbering athletes. I parked up and listened to Radio 4 for a while. There was a documentary on about the early days of the National Theatre, which reminded me that I need to book some tickets for Waiting For Godot at the Haymarket. Sat there for half an hour, the windscreen opaque with rain, until 5 minutes to the off.
As I trotted to the start, I realised that I’d left my neoprene calf strap at home. It’s become a sort of security blanket, helping to keep at bay the fear of another calf twang. This would be my first run without it since the calf went again on the towpath, 40 days and 40 nights ago.
Out of character for an event that usually runs like well-oiled clockwork, the start was delayed for 10 minutes. No audible announcement at the time, but I heard later that a queue for the ladies loo was the cause. It wouldn’t happen in the Olympics.
But then the hooter went, and my mild disgruntlement evaporated.
The race is dead flat, apart from a gentle incline at mile 8, which accounted for the 10:46 in that lap. The main excitement occurred when we were being directed from the main road onto the rural path through the fields of rapeseed and broccoli. Guess who the marshal was? Yes, I’m convinced it was Theresa May, togged up in smart yellow plastic. As I followed her instructions, I wondered two things: 1) what sort of metaphor was this? To be herded from the long straight road onto the bumpy farm track by a leading politician, and 2) was it a sign of my own galloping brain mush, that there is now something fleetingly erotic about a middle-aged Tory MP in uniform (female only, I should point out…)? No kitten heels in evidence today, alas. Luckily, the rain was on hand to act as an effective bucket of cold water, and my thoughts were allowed to drift back to the race.
Let’s talk about splits. They were:
I wouldn’t normally bore people with split times, but I thought it would show something interesting, that my endurance levels have improved. Usually, I start to slow down quite badly after about 5 miles, but this week, just like last week in the Worthing 20, I managed to maintain the pace for the full 10 miles. What brought this home to me was the number of people I overtook in the last 2 or 3 miles. Typically, it’s the other way around..
This is encouraging, and follows something that Phil the sports therapist was saying while subjecting me to another gruelling sports massage yesterday — that his experience was that the static bike seemed to be good for building endurance, while the rowing machine helped speed. In these recent weeks, when I’ve been a little nervous about siphoning too many jarring road miles through the lower limbs, I’ve been hammering away at the exercise bike in the gym. Maybe this is the happy payoff.
The final mile was quite tough but I wanted to push myself just a little, and it turned out to be the least slow of the whole race. The outcome still doesn’t sound too impressive — I came in 1067th out of 1152 starters in 1:40:48. But it’s a PB for the distance by over a minute, so I have to be pleased.
These are encouraging signs, but I have to keep chanting that mantra, that Boston is a one-off. It lives in a different box from anything I’ve done in recent times. It’s not just the Everest of the 26.2 miles, but the non-stop undulations that are likely to find me out. If all my crucial bits hold out, I’m likely to shuffle over the finish line outside the Boston Public Library in well over 5 hours. Perhaps 5½. And I won’t mind a jot, because until very recently, I thought I had no chance of getting to the start, never mind the finish. The real encouragement of these recent runs is what they might enable me to achieve post-Boston. It won’t happen this time, but I’d like to think that I could work towards getting my marathon time below 4:30, and my half marathon below 2 hours. I’m certain I can do it, and the cross training sessions are pointing me towards an understanding of how I can get there.
With 10 days to go, it’s nothing but gym trips and round-the-block looseners from now. I’ve done as much as I can, and more than I feared I’d be able to do. From now on in it’s the head that needs the attention. Theresa May indeed. Pah!