End of an era
It says something when you can run a marathon in under 2 hours 37 minutes saying to yourself “I don’t care about the time”. If it helps, that time equates to running every mile (and the 0.2 mile at the end) in under six minutes. Try doing that for just a few miles, and see how you feel. But if you’re Paula Radcliffe, that’s not even that fast. She not only holds the women’s world record marathon time (2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds – we’re talking 5 minutes 15 seconds a mile for that time – don’t try that at home), but the three fastest ever women’s marathon times. And her world record time was set in 2003 – nobody else has got close in the last 12 years. The men continue to set their own new records every few years, sometimes more often, so it really does feel that there is something special about her record (in both senses of the word). The lifetime achievement award she received yesterday in what was her last competitive marathon was very well deserved and a lovely touch.
To achieve that kind of performance requires a dedication and persistence most of us can only dream of. Although running 140+ miles a week is probably the stuff of nightmares rather than dreams. The difference between a 2:15 and 2:37 time is probably close to 90 miles a week, not to mention the massages, ice baths and other regular practices required to allow your body to cope with those kinds of demands. And avoid injury which that kind of punishing schedule can lead to.
Back in the world of the mortals, it’s now five weeks until the Edinburgh marathon and bang in the middle of the really hard part. That’s weeks averaging about 55 miles with individual runs increasing to 24 miles or involving 18 miles with the last 8 at race pace, but without the buzz and lift that comes from running with others and having crowds giving encouragement all along the way. Sometimes, it’s hard just to keep going, never mind worrying about how fast you’re going. But there are always the training runs that remind you of the progress you’re making. Last week involved a strange kind of run, designed to give you an indication of whether you are on track to hit your target marathon time. The concept is simple if unusual. You run 800m (that’s just under half a mile in old speak), somewhere around 8 times, with a break between each 800m. The trick is to try to run the fast 800m sections in the same time in minutes and seconds that you want to run the marathon in hours and minutes. Got that? So for a 3 hour marathon, you would try to run the 800m repeats in 3 minutes, with a 3 minute rest period in between each one.
So I tried that, and after the second 800m I thought, this is not going to be fun. I was right. But it turned out it was doable if more than a little tiring. And then a little perspective kicked in – two years ago, I couldn’t even have sprinted at the pace I was doing these repeats in. And I’m doing my weekly long slow runs at about the pace I ran my last marathon in. So even for us amateurs, significant progress is possible, way beyond what we probably think we are capable of. I was greatly encouraged yesterday with a new half marathon record on a training run where I was only running fast for the last eight miles.
But for all that, I have still got no idea how I am going to run 26.2 miles at my expected pace. I’m just trusting in the training plan, the fast that the final two weeks will be about getting race sharp, and the runners and supporters on the day getting me the extra speed and stamina I need. If you are in Edinburgh on May 31st, I would be particularly happy to see you at about mile 21. I’ll even try to smile for you.
And now it’s sunny, if freezing, outside so I’m going to get my winter running kit on, gloves and all, and go for a run.
My poor sandals are also showing the strain of this year’s training!: