If you cannot tell, my excitement is palpable. Next week is raceweek! All the recent (and not so recent) injuries and illnesses, while not forgotten, have drifted far from the forefront of my mind. I can still remember the long days. Each morning, I would tentatively place my foot on the floor beside the bed, wondering how bad the pain was going to be. Or perhaps the months in which I had sciatica and even putting on a pair of trainers to get out the door was a successful day. Then there were the periods when I had excruciating plantar fasciitis to deal with. The sharp, crippling pain in the sole of my foot causing me to scream internally, literally scream, for the first mile of every run. Now that I think about it, I really have put up with a whole truckload of pain through my pursuit of running faster. But, thankfully, no more. Right now, I am completely pain-free. For me, that is a very, very rare thing to say.
Last February, I was also feeling optimistic. I had recently returned home from Murcia, where I had spent time on a Northern Irish athletics’ training camp. I was in as good a shape as I had ever been and my confidence was high. But that is when illness hit. A simple cold turned into a full blown flu. The next six weeks were a combination of easy running and hit or miss sessions, as the body battled whatever infection had set in. All the good groundwork laid over the winter had been lost and it was back to square one.
This year, I was hopeful things would be different. However, having once more returned home from Murcia and the company of the Northern Irish team, I was again struck by illness. As I lay in bed, surrounded by empty packs of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen, I was all too aware that history might be repeating itself. My coach, was also keen not to stress the body more than necessary. And so, much of the first week of February was spent lying in bed, coughing up my lungs, forcing myself to try and at least eat something. Not ideal preparation for the summer months ahead.
Thankfully it was a bad cold, and nothing more. With the Brighton half marathon this weekend, things are again looking on the up. I am in that zone where I have no idea what time to expect. With my last proper race being over four months ago, I am just happy to get the opportunity to soak up that racing feeling. The pre race morning atmosphere. The warm up routine. The feel of standing on the startline waiting for the gun to go off. My coach rarely lets me race, and when he does, it is not simply just for the sake of racing. And so, when it is raceday, it always feels very special.
There are going to be bigger races to come, there is no doubt. The competition for Olympic qualification is on the near horizon. Regardless of what happens this weekend in Brighton, I feel like I am coming out the other side. I feel like I have had two years of injury followed by illness followed by injury. I struggle to remember the last race I ran, in which I exceeded my expectations. Having a good run is all about confidence. It is about standing on the startline feeling like you are going to own the race. That if someone wants to beat you, then you are going to make them work hard for it. Recent training has shown that I am not at that stage yet. The Brighton half will be a useful and enjoyable first test.
It is safe to say, my body, and with it my mind, has not felt as strong or as good since 2016. For the past several weeks, training has been a grind. The sessions do not feel easy. Every run feels tougher than the previous. But I have been here before. I know that in another week or two, things will begin to click. The body will begin to respond, and soon after so will the mind. I do not know what the next twelve, or sixteen months might bring, but I am feeling strong. Perhaps, much more importantly, I am healthy. Be under no illusion, I am quietly and slowly getting ready. Are you?