No Half Measures

In just under 13 weeks I will run my first marathon. Should I say ‘attempt’ my first marathon? Am I being presumptuous, over confident? After all this is a big shift for me, twice the mileage I’ve ever run before, a further 13 miles / 21KM beyond my longest run to date. No, must stay positive, let’s say ‘run’.

My training started in earnest 3 weeks ago, I am following a Runners World 16 week plan. As with half marathon training plans I have followed the first week was easy going, even felt like a backwards step from the mileage I’d been achieving. The distances and intensity always ramp up through the first month or so, but with the marathon plan I am noticing this ramp is steeper than I am used to. And balancing life with getting enough miles in your legs isn’t easy. I am quickly learning that the first real challenge of attempting a marathon is simply fitting the training in.

I commute over an hour each way to work, I have a demanding job and often work long hours. It is not so easy for me to throw my running kit on in the office and go for a lunchtime plod around the City. Thousands do every day, I see them when I nip out to grab a sandwich. I know a lot of businesses support and encourage staff in pursuing a healthy lifestyle and I honestly don’t think the company I work for would stand in my way if I wanted to. But it is hard, when you work in a small office where everyone is working flat out, through lunch and often late into the evening, to head out for a ‘jog’ in the midst of it all. It’s just a perception thing.

So I squeeze my weekday runs in before and after work. But I’m not great in the morning, I can be quite disciplined in setting the alarm and will drag myself out of bed, turn the kettle on and squint at the news, but I like/need a little time to just come to and figure out what day of the week it is. I am not good at pulling my kit straight on and heading out the door. I find that I am generally a bit stiff first thing and need 10 minutes for my legs to loosen up and by then I’ve no time and need to be on my way. Consequently I rarely run in the early morning and so don’t take advantage of that time when the rest of the family are still asleep.

Instead I tend to run in the evening after work. Sometimes I mix it up with my commute and run home from the train station, which gets the job done and gives some practice running with a pack. But I enjoy these runs the least somehow. Otherwise my ritual is get home, briefly greet family, pull on runners and head straight out before the siren song of the fridge and sofa becomes overpowering. Then with the wind behind me I get back in time for bedtime stories. Marathon training is tough but without family support I think it would be much much tougher still.

There’s no doubt that the right support is vital to both training for and running a marathon, but there’s different kinds of support. There’s the ‘cheering’ kind on race day along the route, there’s the chivvying kind during training that gives you a gentle (or not so gentle) shove out the door when it’s dark and raining. But there’s also the kind of support that’s neither positive reinforcement nor encouragement, it is the quiet support that might simply be an approving look from your wife that says “you’re late home, the kids are in hyper mode, there’s homework to be done, dishes to be cleared, bedtime to be managed… But don’t worry – you go, go and pound a 6 mile tempo run. Really, it’s OK.” And that is possibly the most important kind.

There’s always talk about the commitment made by runners who sign up for a marathon, then more talk about all the hard work and dedication when you actually run the thing. But the unsung heroes are our nearest and dearest who sign up for a huge commitment by proxy. They unwittingly agree to months of support and sacrifice too. Already my family are putting up with a lot, and my training plan has only just got started. Their encouragement and patience has been fundamental so far in keeping me on track, and will be vital if I am to have any chance of crossing the line in September.

Hopefully they’ll still be speaking to me by then and will be at the finish with lots of cheering!

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Also feel a bit blessed with where I get to run…

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Harvel 5

This is a little after the event, but would like to share it anyway.

What do you get if you cross a quintessential English village fete with an inter athletic club cross country race meet? You get the Harvel 5; a Hash House Harriers event consisting of a 5 mile route along country lanes and through picturesque woodland around the village of Harvel in Kent.

The Hash House Harriers describe themselves as “a drinking club with a running problem” so their events are always as much about the social aspect as the run itself. Many years ago I joined in a few Hash House Harrier runs in Dubai which entailed heading off into the desert in a convoy of 4×4’s to a designated base camp, then a group run at sunset before settling in for an evening of drinking games around a massive campfire. At some point a stack of takeaway pizza would appear to soak up an excess ‘hydration’. I have fond memories of these desert ‘soirees’, they were always really good fun. Though I suspect for most the running bit was perhaps secondary to the pizza and beer!

Harvel wasn’t quite as hardcore, although I confess I didn’t stay long after the ‘down downs’ (Hash Harrier post race ritual involving… You guessed it – beer!). It was very much a family affair with Ice Cream and WI cake stalls to keep supporters entertained while the runners were out. My wife Sarah came too with our children Millie and Ned to cheer me on. We’d arranged to meet friends Pru and Matt with their kids, Pru and I ran while Sarah, Matt and the children mucked about on the village green sampling said cake and ice cream.

800 runners set off from a well organised stabled start; signs in the grass verge grading runners from sub-30 at the front to “Finish by Monday eve!” at the rear with some more sensible target time slots in between. I shuffled myself in with the 40 – 50 minutes crew.

There were a lot of running club teams in the line up and because of that I think, it certainly felt more like a race than a local village fun run. Five miles is a distance that feels like it ought to be quite quick too and the pace seemed brisk to me. It was a very pretty route, undulating, generally inclined upwards for the first half then down to the finish. Overall not especially challenging but very enjoyable all the same. I managed to get home sub 45 mins and clocked a 5KM PB split in the process, so even though I am generally less about the time and more about the journey, I was nonetheless chuffed with that.

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Me ‘attacking’ a hill – haha (photo by Fast2Foto)

The race was really well organised, cheery marshalls all the way round and lots of supporters too. There were a couple of water stations which is great for this distance and both served beer as well as water, yes beer! Can’t say I was tempted myself but nice to know its there if you were!

I did hit the beer tent after finishing though and a pint of Hogs Back ale put the cherry on the cake of a lovely day. We lazed about on the green for a while, it was a sunny afternoon and lots of runners, families and friends seemed happy to hang out.

I really enjoyed this run, my family had a lovely time too. Harvel Hash House Harriers were warm, friendly hosts and put on a great event. We will be back next year for sure.

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And it was also a bit muddy… (Photo by Matt Clements)

For more info check out their website http://www.harvelh3.org

And thanks Fast2Foto for some great pics.