February is month two of my marathon training and month two of being a member of Tyne Bridge Harriers. As before, the first Tuesday in the month for the Harriers is the 5k Grand Prix handicap. I had been quite pleased with my last outing, even though it nearly killed me, and so thought I would give it a second go. I mean, I knew what to expect this time around, right?
The background is that I am aiming for a sub-four-hour marathon and am supplementing my running with lots and lots of gym work. My running consists of one long run a week, two Harriers sessions, a recovery run and a tempo run. I also have one cross-training day and a rest day. However, my rest day is only a running rest day as I usually train in some way or another every day of the week.
January was pretty poor training-wise. After the first Grand Prix, the weather curtailed practically all of my intended speed sessions and I had significant problems with my left knee. I had run 13 miles on the Sunday prior to the GP and limped home with a knee resembling a blood orange that had been in a fight with a cheese grater. So, come the day of the GP, it was taped up with Kinesiology tape AND a knee strap.
The race itself
I knew the drill this time and so registered early and jogged down to the Quayside with the pack. Because my knee was poorly and I was being a brave little soldier, I had cunningly parked my car at the start of the race. This meant that if my knee gave up, I could get home without limping back to the library where the club meets. It would also mean that I could slip off unnoticed without people pointing, laughing and throwing things at me like they did when I was at school …
It was a well-organised start and I lined up with two others. A young lad of about 4 years old and a girl who looked far too fresh and fit to be starting at the same time as me. Surely, there must be some mistake? But no: we were off. Before we reached the first corner, I quickly asked everyone’s previous times and if we were going to help each other along. It transpired that I was the slowest but, yes, we could pace one another.
This was good, and it lasted for, oh, I suppose a good two or three minutes. Those of a certain age will remember the fictional Looney Tunes character Pepé Le Pew. Pepé is a skunk who, madly in love, relentlessly pursues another skunk. The problem is, the female skunk is really a cat who has accidently had paint spilt on her. Anyway, the main thing to visualise is the cat attempting to get away from Pepé and running like a mad thing. Pepé is always seen just behind the cat, never breaking sweat, easily keeping up with the cat using a bounding motion, while the cat gets more and more scared and puts more and more effort in to getting away.
Imagine now then, that my two running companions are both like Pepé, only this time running ahead and breathing easily, while I am the cat, wild eyed, wonky kneed and gasping for air.
Before we had run very far the pair of them started to pull away. At about the mile mark, the cold had penetrated;
- My nose – Mucus was running down my face and if this wasn’t bad enough, we had to run through several groups of people on the Quayside. I must have looked a terrifying sight to these poor bemused people. Why is that funny little ginger bloke chasing those two joggers?
- My bladder – I have no medical training and so do not know if the cold can decrease the size of ones bladder, or increase the speed of urine creation. Suffice to say, I needed a wee pretty urgently.
- My lungs – Imagine brain freeze on the chest and that is what it felt like. My chest felt like I had swallowed a block of ice that had somehow grown arms and legs and wanted to escape the hard way.
- My knee – It felt like someone was hitting it with a mallet every time I took a stride
By the time I reached the Swing Bridge the foetus and his companion had left me behind. I had not quite lost the will to live at this point but had resigned myself to a poor time. I had also been caught by runners who had set off after me. There was worse to come, though. As I was about half way over the Swing Bridge a car drove past and tooted its horn. Lost in my own pathetic thoughts of revenge on the runners who had passed me, this caught me a little off guard, and it is the only time in my life that I have almost suffered from involuntary evacuation of the bowels. Cheeks nipped, I soldiered on.
By the time I reached the last half mile point, all enthusiasm for running, running clubs, gyms and life in general had evaporated. I was wrecked. At 48 years of age, I decided that it was a bloody stupid idea to keep trying to run faster. Sit back, settle down, know your limitations, be a proud plodder and the pain will go away. Sure, you can keep running but take it easy, no one cares how you do, no one is bothered about your feeble times, even if you become the best you can be it will still not be fantastic, give it up. No one cares … except, of course, I care. A final push saw me overtake a couple of runners and I was off again and nearly there. Then, all of a sudden, a blur came past me. At first I thought it was a ghostly apparition, I had dust in my eye, or I was having another mild vertigo attack. When the blur cleared and I focused, it turned out to be another runner, tall, skinny as a rake, and only a couple of years younger than me, but he was moving so effortlessly, so quickly it made me feel like an old donkey next to a gazelle. How on earth can someone run that fast, at that age (and be Scottish)? I felt sick: the exertion, the sheer effort of trying to keep up with my starting companions and the realisation I was a donkey hit me like a ton of bricks. I was defeated again and staggered over the finish line, a small, broken, ginger/grey running dwarf, bereft of oxygen, self-respect and hope. I managed to hit the stop button on my Garmin and began to greedily suck in air for all I was worth.
After a couple of minutes I started to feel better physically. Mentally I was still hacked off but I could now breathe more easily and the pain in various parts of my body had subsided to mere dull aches. I did feel a little nauseous but otherwise was OK. I stole a glance at my watch. Based on the times of my two running companions at the start, and the vast distance between us at the finish I was not expecting good news. But hey, it looks like a new PB. That cannot be? Not for the first time I cursed my failing eyesight and headed for a streetlight so I could see the numbers on the watch. I had done it after all, I had knocked 20-odd seconds off my previous PB!
No wonder I had felt tired and was struggling. A new PB with a dodgy knee, aching chest, full bladder and nose full of mucus: just think what time I could do if I was fitter and it was not so cold. Why, I could be quite good. I mean, I have only been running a few months and if I train harder at the gym, lose a few more pounds, move to Scotland (or Kenya) and do some more speed sessions …
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