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At the time of writing, it is only a little under three weeks to the marathon: the culmination of twelve months’ (to the day) training. My metamorphosis from overweight, unfit, lardy bloke to speeding bullet is almost complete. The fat has melted, some muscle has replaced it and I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been in my adult life. The great thing is that I am still improving, so provided I maintain my training, I could improve even more.

This month’s training has gone well for a change and I have only missed four days due to injury -result!

At the beginning of March, I knocked 12 minutes off my previous half marathon time, and last week reduced my 5k Park Run time PB by two minutes and seven seconds from February’s time which was itself a PB. My weekend long run has increased to 22 miles and I have completed the final one before I taper for the marathon. I have run 188 miles in March which is not too shabby considering I had four days out with injury and had to ease back into it.

So, why am I improving so quickly? Well, I don’t think there is one single reason but rather a combination:

  1. I am training hard and as with most things experienced rapid improvement in the early days. Soon I will plateau and see diminishing returns for my efforts. The key is not to become disheartened, and accept that in future I will reducing PBs by seconds and not minutes
  2. I train with a club. Tyne Bridge Harriers has improved my running immeasurably. The structured training sessions and encouragement, as well as lots of tips, have helped me to structure my training in an efficient and effective way
  3. Every run has a purpose. I never go running without the run serving a specific purpose. Speed work, long runs, recovery runs or endurance runs: all have their place and all play their part in my training
  4. I train at a gym at least four times a week. I think that too many runners neglect their upper body and especially their core. I am convinced that the work I do in the gym has helped to make me quicker and increased my endurance.
  5. I have a personal trainer. My PT provides encouragement and support. He ensures that my strength training does not compromise my running and gives me tips on running form and avoiding injury. Although I have had some injuries, these have mainly been as a result of my experiments with various running shoes. I am convinced that the reason my weekly mileage has increased relatively injury free has been as a result of resistance training in the gym.

I completed my last long run on Sunday. It was in a beautiful part of the North East, on the edge of Newcastle, but right in the heart of the countryside. I only discovered it last week but it will be a regular run from now on. It is a country park which stretches for around 12 miles in some really beautiful countryside. Traffic free, the route climbs for the full 12 miles, rising around 800ft with great views and run mainly on trails: much more forgiving on the quads! The return descent is welcome at first, but of course after a couple of miles’ running downhill the novelty wears off and you begin to long for some flat ground. On my first run I spotted a deer, a squirrel and some rabbits as well as hearing a woodpecker hammering away at a tree. This sparked a conversation between myself and my running companion as to whether woodpeckers ever had headaches?

My second sojourn to the park was the first time in over three months that I had attempted my long run alone. I was prepared though, and so I had my trusty iPod strapped to my arm. It was a tough run with no one to talk to, but 22 miles later I returned to the car: all before 10 am. Anyone who says that they don’t have time to get fit obviously does not have an alarm clock!

That’s it, all done. It is now time to begin to reduce the running and enter what is termed the taper phase. This is simply a controlled and gradual reduction in running volume and intensity in the three weeks leading up to the marathon. The theory is that you allow the body to repair from all of the previous 14 weeks’ training so that you are fresh on the big day. We shall see if it works.

So, what have I learnt in the last 14 weeks or so? Here goes, and in no particular order:

  • blood blisters hurt like buggery when you slice them with a safety pin
  • ordinary blisters hurt like buggery when you slice them with a safety pin
  • surgical spirit is good for hardening your feet and stops you biting your nails
  • running long distances is not all about fitness; mental toughness is an important element
  • make sure you go to the toilet before you set off running
  • do not pull off blister packs without checking that the skin is not going to stick to the plaster
  • many people seem to think it’s funny to toot their horn at groups of runners. Very odd!!
  • never judge a runner by their shape
  • never judge a runner – you may receive a slap
  • some brands of underhosen ride up and nip your bits
  • nipple guards are one of the greatest inventions ever – I mean ever!
  • Kinesio tape is great for strapping up aching bits and bobs and it stays on for days
  • if you do decide to break wind whilst running; exercise great care. You should also probably slow down a little or even stop completely. (Unless in a race. If in a race it could actually help you to set a PB or at least make your nearest competitor drop back a little way behind you)
  • always make sure you listen to the club coach’s instructions. The last thing you want is to think it is two seven minute sessions when it is actually three!
  • the latest running gear does not make you go faster, but it does help you “feel” faster and is linked to point 4 in as much that if you feel great you will run well
  • energy gels taste like donkey urine (I know this because I have spoken to someone who survived in the bush by drinking nothing but donkey urine and not, despite the rumours, by virtue of tasting it myself)
  • Garmin watches are fantastic but can turn you into a running bore
  • when running a Park Run at -1 degrees Celsius make sure you wipe the mucous from your face before you reach the official photographer
  • Birds seem to like to crap on runners. Indeed, I think there may be an unofficial competition between the crows and the seagulls in my locale. I don’t think they receive as many points for hitting me as they do for faster runners, but obviously they can hit me more times and rack up the points that way
  • the guy standing towards the outside of the running pack on a club night not talking to anyone is probably a nutter and you should not talk to him. (It’s probably me.)

With all of this new found knowledge, I move towards my first marathon since 2001. My last marathon was the London Marathon and I ran it in 04:20:09. It was a fantastic day out and I still remember it vividly today, even though I was disappointed with the time.

I have been asked to predict my time for the Marathon of the North. It is a tricky one because although I think I have had better quality training this time around, I cannot turn the clock back and I am 12 years older. When I first embarked on my training the aim was to achieve a sub 4hr time and I suppose that remains. However, on a good day, with low temperatures and the wind coming in from the right direction………………. 3:45?

If I do achieve a 3:45 you will hear the cheer, even if you are on holiday on the other side of the world!

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