Where have the past twelve months gone? It feels like only yesterday that I was writing last year’s April blog. Having just completed the World half marathon championships, I was in a manic rush to get out the door to catch a plane to America. Heading to Mount Laguna in sunny California, I was filled with dreams of medalling at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and European Championships. Unfortunately, my dodgey hip saw to it that neither medal materialised, nor in fact did much running occur at all. Another missed opportunity to perform something special in my country’s vest. Such is the sport of running. I am coming to realise that setbacks are inevitable and rarely does a training plan go as smoothly as desired.
The past month has been an unusual one for me. Having arrived home from a good, albeit below par, experience at the European indoor championships, I was ready for a break. With the Reading half marathon a fortnight after Prague however, it was time to continue pushing forward with training. The luxury of a week or two of easy training was one that I could not afford. I went into Reading fit but mentally tired. It had been a long nine weeks of indoor training. The shock of thirteen miles of heavy pounding, along concrete roads, was one my legs were not accustomed to. Finding myself stranded in no man’s land by the five mile mark, it became more of a mental endurance challenge than a physical race. I staggered across the finish line just outside sixty four minutes, two minutes shy of my personal best time. Slightly disappointing but not a bad starting point in which to begin the longer distance training block.
And so began a manic week. The day after Reading I returned home to Holywood. I had already committed to work a number of shifts in Belfast’s Royal Hospital emergency department. After my second long shift in work, I contested the local Queen’s 5k race, Northern Ireland’s 5k road championships. The many hours on my feet took their toll as I crossed the line first in 14.45, much slower than what I was expecting. The following morning, I awoke with the cold, probably more due to exhaustion than any actual infection. But back to work I returned once more. Two days later, and it was the Omagh half marathon this time. By now, I was coughing green phlegm and wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed. However, having committed myself to the race organisers, I was reluctant to pull out at the last moment. I managed to make it to mile seven before I succumbed. One minute I was cruising at leisurely pace, the next I was wiped out. The last six miles of a marathon were never this bad. It was a complete blow out. Looking at my watch, I had dropped to 5.20 and then 5.30 minute miles. With all the power gone from my legs, I was fortunate that the last mile was downhill. I crossed the line in a distant second place, in a pace slower than some of my Sunday runs. I could have taken my pick from the take home messages: Don’t do two half marathons and a 5k within the space of seven days. Don’t run with a cold. Don’t try to work and race at the same time. All very obvious statements you might think. Sometimes however, you have to experience it for yourself in order to learn from it. I had no option the following week but to rest. I took four days off, most of which I spent in bed surrounded by snotty tissues.
There are so many negatives in running that sometimes it is easy to forget the positives. I always try to be thankful for what I achieve in athletics, as I know how much others would give to simply win a race. There is no doubt about it, my schedule for that week was idiotic and not very professional. It was no wonder that I fell ill. That said, I came away from it as British half marathon champion and Northern Irish 5k road champion, and all this just two weeks after the European indoors. It is only when I take a step back and remind myself of how far I have come, of what achievements I have already made, can I really refocus my mind.
The niggles that I had collected throughout the racing week began to settle and my body returned to its normal state. Two weeks of solid training has occurred since then and my strength and speed is quickly returning. With the thought of returning to Stanford at the forefront of my mind, I am eager to get back into hard training to be in the best shape possible. Time is ticking on, and with only three weeks until race day, I want to give myself the best opportunity to run well. Last year, it was my first 10k track race ever, and I just missed out on the Northern Irish record by less than half a second. This year Stanford will be my third 10k track race and I am determined to run quicker and perform better than last year. I am fitter and through the help of my strength and conditioning coach Rich Blagrove, I am stronger than I ever have been.
I am nowhere near ready to race a marathon just yet. My training has been geared towards the shorter distances and different goals. I have, however, not taken my eye off the end goal for this year. Patience is a difficult virtue in athletics, with many people wanting instant success and doing too much too soon. Before Christmas, a friend of mine sent me a countdown timer to the start of the Berlin marathon. I still have the tab saved on my phone and will do until race day (only 169 days now, if you must know). When training has been going tough or I am feeling exhausted, I occasionally open up the tab. It serves as a simple reminder of what my real goal is. That all this build up, all this track work, while necessary, is just a bit of fun. A warm up for the main event. July, August and September is when the real work begins, when I will try and make the step up from solid national athlete to world class marathon runner. Until then, it is just a question of keeping fit, grinding out the training and getting the base work done. That said, I still wouldn’t say no to a personal best and Northern Irish record at Stanford.