In recent years, a major public health initiative has been the ‘Couch to 5k’ training programs. Indeed, a simple internet search of the phrase provides a plethora of results, from free NHS plans to those set up by private, online coaches. Type in ‘Couch to World Championships marathon’, however, and the results are a lot less specific. But that is where I find myself. In mid-June, with seven weeks until the day I am due to race against the best in the world, my total mileage for the previous six weeks had just broken into double figures. Andy Hobdell, my coach, has always said that one day he would like to write a book on his experiences of coaching. By now, I alone, have given him enough challenges to write several chapters. I am yet to see how this particular chapter of the book will end.
Those who have been following my blog will already know that towards the end of May, I suffered a recurrence of a labral tear in my right hip. The pain had become nearly unbearable and any pressure through the leg would cause instantaneous shooting pains. Having suffered a labral tear previously in 2014, the diagnosis was caught relatively early. I am glad that there are so few side effects from MRI scans given the frequency that I seem to require them these years. Following the scan and a subsequent injection into the hip, I was prescribed a period of rest. Three days turned into two weeks which turned into a month. At the start of the rehab process, no crosstraining was allowed. With any flexion of the hip causing discomfort, I was confined to either standing or lying for as much time as possible. With the rest, the magic of the human body began to occur once more. The pain eased to an extent that I could walk. Another week passed and now I could jog. Two minutes of walking followed by thirty seconds of slow jogging. It was not exactly the world class training that I hoped to be doing. On the 20th June, frustrated at struggling through a two mile run in fifteen minutes, I texted Andy. Mentally, I had thrown in the towel. I had not run properly in over a month. The World Championships were getting closer and I had convinced myself that even if I did make the startline, I would not run anywhere close to the time or position that I wanted. In my eyes, the time had come to change focus to Berlin, seven weeks after the World Championships. ‘Let’s wait and see’ was Andy’s response. With no-one else waiting in the wings with the qualifying time, withdrawal from the marathon was a decision that would not need to be made until nearer the startline. From having had so much expectation and hope for the marathon at the World’s, to say that I was frustrated would not even come close.
And then something changed. Maybe it was the endorphin release that I felt from running again. Maybe it was running in the sunshine, with my vest off, feeling the rush of the wind through my hair. Gradually, five miles became ten. Ten miles became short sessions. Short sessions became longer sessions. Long sessions became long runs. Andy is pushing me as hard as he dares. Given the time constraints, this is a phase of training that we have never attempted before. Essentially life has boiled down to three day cycles. On the first day, Andy kills me. Not metaphorically speaking. He literally makes me run, and keep running, and keep running. By the time the warm down comes, I am staggering from one side of the pavement to the other. Even the simple art of breathing is painful. As I crawl into bed, I know that the following day is a recovery day. Ten miles in the morning and five in the evening. All at six minute pace at least. The next day is more miles, again no slower than six minute pace. And on the fourth day the cycle restarts, with another day of death.
This training is not sustainable. It is a high risk strategy but it is the only strategy left. With time so short, there is no doubt that I have already started my World Championships race. The race to make the startline in a level of fitness where I can do myself and the vest of Ireland justice. This is my fourth week back from my injury break. Mentally, I am starting to believe again. I have no idea where my fitness will be in four weeks time. It is, and will be, a complete unknown. I do not have the time to race before the marathon. In the past, I have been able to raise my game on championship race days. I have to trust in myself, that this time, it will be no different. For now, though, it is back to the grind. Tomorrow is a day that I go to die once more.