Tonky Talk


Paul can taste that sub-3 fin­ish and he likes it!

ear with me, I’m hav­ing to pro­ject. I’m writ­ing this in early March for the pre-lon­don Marathon edi­tion of this col­umn. This is nor­mally the time when I put for­ward my time pre­dic­tions. Reg­u­lar read­ers may know that I’m part of that band of hardy souls tar­get­ing sub-three hours. It’s been a long jour­ney. Hope­fully, by April I’ll be breath­ing the rar­efied air of the sub-3 bri­gade. Oh, to be­gin your an­swer with ‘two’ when peo­ple ask your marathon time. Oh marathon spirit, give me strength! Carry me forth, oh mer­maid of the Thames! De­posit me onto The Mall in glory!

As you may well be pick­ing up, it’s all get­ting a bit much. I’ve never gone for any­thing ath­letic with more fo­cus. The pres­sure is get­ting to me. I’m in a sort of hi­ber­na­tion from other facets of life, pre­par­ing to ex­plode into life one spring morn­ing. And I’m think­ing how I can keep it sim­ple on the day.

First things first: I’m aim­ing for 2:55. I need to go through the half­way mark in about 87 min­utes to give my­self a cush­ion, and I then need to ig­nore the cush­ion. If I think about the cush­ion, I’m go­ing to re­lax into it. It will make me lazy and smother my dreams. Aside from the not-to-bethought-of five-minute cush­ion, go­ing for 2:55 also means I’ll be a few steps ahead of the sub-three pace group and the col­lec­tive ten­sion around wa­ter sta­tions when you’re caught up in the sub-three throng.

Se­condly, I’m think­ing in kilo­me­tres. This may sur­prise you; I do tend to­wards the tra­di­tional in run­ning mat­ters, but when run­ning a marathon I like kms. There’s more of them. When I’m tired I can get lost in a mile. From 23-24, a world can open up, an abyss that I can fall into. I need to stay teth­ered to the more reg­u­lar mark­ers of pass­ing kms. Hit them in 4:10(ish). They’re only two-and-a-half laps of a track. I can do that. Bang. Re­set.

So how will I ap­proach these 26 miles? We know that when you’re go­ing for a time it helps to have a sys­tem in mind. Some peo­ple see it as a 20-mile run to a 6-mile race; some go for a neg­a­tive split. In my last marathon, in York, I’d set­tled on a fairly com­pli­cated for­mula of view­ing the 26.2 as three 10K races, fol­lowed by two Parkruns and, fi­nally, five laps of the track. This is an at­tempt to mir­ror the ef­fort needed in the later stages of the race. The longer the race goes, the shorter the aims: the first 10K slips by eas­ily; the next is a bit harder; by 30km you are deep in the race – the high fives have dried up, you’re noth­ing but a gelchug­ging, wa­ter-splash­ing ves­sel of mus­cle and air. You’re tired, but you can do a Parkrun, surely? And then, hav­ing done that, I know you’re ex­hausted but what’s an­other Parkrun? At the end of that you’re spent, be­yond fa­tigue, a moan­ing, curs­ing beast, but hav­ing come all this way, you can def­i­nitely swing five laps of the track…

This felt good and it was great to fac­tor in psy­cho­log­i­cal restarts later in the run. The prob­lem was I got con­fused some­where near the mid­dle of the sec­ond Parkrun. Also, the times and the 10Ks started to do my head in: what’s the 30km time and what does that mean for the end? And what about the very end, that ir­ri­tat­ing lit­tle .2 of a mile ? When you’re knack­ered, the men­tal arith­metic just makes you weep.

So I’ve re­fined it. I’m racing to 25. The aim is to hit that point in 2:48(ish). I’ve no­ticed in races that the last mile tends to take care of it­self. No mat­ter how tired I am, the fin­ish al­ways pulls me in like wa­ter down a drain. If I can hit 25 in 2:48 I can do it. Oh Lord, give me strength! I’ve got it, my for­mula: 3 x 10K, 2 x Parkruns and a 400m glide to 25. I’ll know then. I’ll have it in my pocket. Then the last mile and .2 vic­tory pa­rade upon the wings of an­gels!

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