Six days to go. Six days until I have the opportunity to produce something special at a major championships. The Zurich marathon, part of the European Championships, has been my main goal for the last twelve months and now it is nearly here. The nerves are already starting to build. The startlist has been analysed and the map of the course examined. As with most championship marathons, I imagine that the race will be a tactical affair. Sunday is not about fast times or setting personal bests, it is about one thing only…who will win the medals.
The European Championships marathon has the additional excitement of doubling up as a team event. The country with the three fastest finishers, based on cumulative times, will be crowned the marathon team of Europe. For the first time in history, Ireland has entered a team of four runners and as an athlete from Northern Ireland, it is great to see that three of the team come from Belfast. Kevin Seaward and Thomas Frazer are established, respected athletes amongst the NI community and with the useful addition of Sean Hehir, winner of last year’s Dublin marathon, we are going in with a strong, competitive team.
In terms of my own build up to the marathon, after a solid first nine months to the year, things have recently been far from ideal. After recovering from my peroneal tendonitis at the end of June, I was quietly optimistic that I was getting back to a level of fitness where I could potentially contend in Zurich. Two weeks ago, I had finished four weeks of solid, consistent training and decent sessions. With the time lost to injury, certain key sessions had to be dropped. The Commonwealth Games 10,000m were looming in a week’s time. Without having run a mile quicker than 4.45 pace since the middle of May, the coach was quite clear in his opinion, the Commonwealth Games were to come off the table and training should focus solely on the marathon. However, opportunities to pull on the vest of Northern Ireland, my country, come rarely. This was a race that I could not pass up, especially considering it was so close to home. I sat down with my coach and we discussed the possible options. We agreed that I would do the 10k provided that I didn’t wear spikes (which were the likely cause of my peroneal tendonitis in the first place), that I would start the race no quicker than 70sec laps and that we didn’t ease down into the race. I doubt many racers that night would have ran a hilly 20miler in 1.45 (55min first 10, 50min second 10) six days earlier. Combine that with an 8k track session two days before the race, it’s safe to say I was not going into the race ‘fresh’. The atmosphere in Hampden Park was amazing and something that will stay with me all my life. The sound really was deafening and constant for the whole 25 laps. Finishing in 29.11 (70sec laps would give a time of 29.10) I came away from Glasgow with an unbelievable experience and a solid result. Considering where I was in June, it was a great confidence boost to run six 4.40 miles back to back and set me up nicely for the lead in for the marathon.
Unfortunately, things started to go awry again. In the hilly 20miler before Glasgow I had picked up a niggle in my hip. I was running through it but the pain was always there. On the warm up before the 10,000m it was more painful than previous but with the adrenaline flowing, I had other things on my mind. The next day however, I was a hobbling mess. Thanks to the NI team physio, Phil Glasgow and his team, he helped ease things out but the pain remained. An MRI the next day revealed little but a clinical diagnosis of psoas tendinosis was made. A few days rest and little progress was being made. With the marathon now ten days away, the decision was made to train through the pain as the likelihood of long term damage was slim and the pain should resolve itself, albeit slowly. However, with my last hard run done yesterday, I had a steroid injection today to try and calm things down in time for start day. And so, with plenty of rehab exercises and rest, I have a long, nervous couple of days ahead of me. I know that I am fit and ready to run well in Zurich, I now just need to make sure I get to the startline ready to go. Running will always present challenges, especially training for an event such as the marathon. Sometimes it is how we deal with these challenges in the build up to our goal, more than the race itself, that is the hard bit. Recent problems aside, I have an opportunity this Sunday to produce something special. I know that on my day I can win, that our team can win and that is something that excites me. So many things can go wrong in a marathon but who knows, this weekend everything might, just might, go right. Tune in to BBC2 at 07.45 Sunday 17th to find out how we get on. If everything holds together you will hopefully start to see me around the 22mile mark, we shall see!