Tonky Talk

Paul lines up for the Lon­don Marathon with a sub-3:00 fin­ish in mind

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue - BY PAUL TONKINSON

Iwoke up on Lon­don Marathon day 2017, got on the Tube and, as is my wont, took a mo­ment to be grate­ful. I thanked my club mates who’d in­spired me through a win­ter’s train­ing. I thanked my Run­ning Com­men­tary pod­cast mate, Rob, for shar­ing miles with me. I thanked my wife for putting up with me and, fi­nally, I thanked my lucky stars that I had been able to get on with my train­ing with­out in­jury. I’d done the long runs, the in­ter­vals, the half marathons, the tem­pos, the ta­per. If ev­ery run­ner is an ex­per­i­ment of one I’d re­fined my knowl­edge over six pre­vi­ous marathons. I had a plan – I was go­ing for sub-three. A self-created drama had stuck in my craw for a few years. To­day was the day to slay the dragon.

There’s an ab­sur­dity to the first mile of a marathon. It’s great be­cause fi­nally you’re mov­ing, but it feels a bit un­real. I hit the one-mile mark in 6:56 – too slow. I sped up. Per­haps I over­com­pen­sated, be­cause I went through 5K in 20:17 but then I slowed through 10K in 41:28. I felt fine. I tried to chill – con­serve en­ergy, re­lax shoul­ders. It hasn’t started yet. The idea was to float through half­way in about 88 min­utes, so I took gels ev­ery 40 min­utes and sipped a lit­tle wa­ter of­ten. Half­way – 88:17, bang on.

I was in the sec­ond half now, but I was tired. The idea was to main­tain pace to 20 while con­serv­ing men­tal en­ergy for the big push. Meth­ods vary. I chan­nel Al­berto Cova, an Ital­ian run­ner I watched in the 1980s. He won many a 10,000m medal with his short, fast, light strides. When it gets tough I think Cova. Quick steps: 14, 15 miles. Cova: 16, 17 miles. Cova.

This worked for a while; then I caught my re­flec­tion in a win­dow and the ed­i­fice shat­tered. That Cova’s put on a bit of weight! And his legs hurt!

At around the 18-mile mark I had an over­whelm­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that this was go­ing to be the tough­est phys­i­cal thing I’d ever done in my life. Also quite de­press­ing be­cause it was ac­com­pa­nied by the feel­ing that I was ab­so­lutely de­ter­mined to do it. I was div­ing into an ocean of pain that I had freely cho­sen. And let’s be hon­est, some­times it gets ugly in your head. The last five or six miles have an un­re­lent­ing bru­tal­ity to them. You’re locked in a pri­vate bat­tle that maybe you don’t even fully un­der­stand. One is ad­vised at such times to get a mantra to re­peat, sim­ple and res­o­nant or a family mem­ber to think about. So I did; I thought of my youngest son. I also came up with a mantra that is, frankly, un­print­able.

And I had a tac­tic: treat 20-25 miles as a race within a race. So as I crossed 20 miles I restarted my watch, took a breath and dived in.

It worked. It was the first 26.2 where I’ve raced ev­ery step. Ev­ery mile was sinew shred­ding but I held on – just. 21, 22, 23 miles.

At around 24 miles the sub-three pacer went past. That was a tough mo­ment but I held him on a thread in front of me and, around the 25-mile mark, ex­haus­tion blended into a kind of ex­hil­a­rated de­mented panic: 2:51 and some­thing. This was on if I wanted it – and I did, I re­ally did. So I put my foot down and, lifted by the crowd’s glo­ri­ous roar, mined a pocket of en­ergy, reeled in the pacer, rounded the last corner, saw 2:59 on the clock and, to use a York­shire phrase, legged it.

It was only with 50 me­tres to go that I knew I’d got it: 2:59:21. I clenched my fist and swore and re­alised that I was sur­rounded by a fun­nel of mid­dle-aged blokes do­ing ex­actly the same thing.

The next 10 min­utes were awash in waves of re­lief, salu­ta­tions and joy. The real end came for me when I found my wife and youngest son walk­ing to­wards me. That was when, to use another York­shire term, I had a bit of a beef (a cry).

A deep, calm, ex­hausted, bliss­ful YES! It was done. Check out Paul and fel­low co­me­dian Rob Deering’s run­ning pod­cast, Run­ning Com­men­tary – avail­able on itunes and Acast. @ Run­com­pod

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