There is nothing like training with others. It makes the long runs go quicker, and the speed reps feel easier. However, throughout winter, based at my home in Guildford, in the south of England, I have done large parts of training on my own. Athletes may jump in here or there, but few are on the same plan. Having gained selection to April’s Commonwealth Games for the marathon, the miles have dramatically increased. Hundred mile weeks have turned into a hundred and twenty plus weeks. Days off are non-existent and it is a rare afternoon in which I am not training. Such is the life of a marathon runner.
I ended January in a funny place. There is no other word to describe it. I had been based for a fortnight with the Northern Irish team in Murcia, in southern Spain. Also at the same location were several of the top Welsh and English athletes. It was the perfect atmosphere for distance running. Everything was focussed towards one thing – getting fitter. Everyone was on the same page and had the same reason for being there. It can sometimes be tough being located in the same hotel for days on end with virtually no outlet, other than training. For me however, I thrive in the consistency. There are no distractions or other stresses to interrupt the focus on training. And as you might expect, my running improved. I was beginning to scare myself with the ease at which I was running fast miles. I had never reached this level of fitness before and with no niggles in my body for once, I was in a very good place. Then, the dreaded flu kicked in. It started with a little bit of scratching at the back of my throat but had soon developed into much worse. A day off turned into a few easy days, which turned into ten recovery days and before I knew it, two weeks had been missed without any decent running. Such is the ease at which a house of cards can come tumbling down.
The Barcelona half was on the 11th February. For the previous six weeks, it had been my focus and anytime I thought about the race, the nerves would kick in. It is renowned as being a fast and flat course, and with conditions looking near perfect, it was an excellent opportunity to kickstart my 2018 season. But it was not to be. I knew I was still not right heading into the race. For the four days prior to the race, every run was a struggle. My heartrate was higher than what it should have been and there was a constant tiredness that refused to shift. I managed to complete a single eight minute mile for the warm up, followed by a few laboured strides. ‘I will be fine once I get going, the training will carry me through’ is what I kept telling myself. However, running does not work like that. My body does not work like that. It is the closest I have ever come to dropping out of a race, and that was as early as the 4k point. For me, making the finish line that day was an accomplishment in itself, and a big one at that.
I came away from Barcelona dejected and annoyed. In the race, I was nowhere near where I wanted or expected to be. With the recent flu hanging over me, I do not have to look very far for an answer as to what was the cause. It was not how I wanted to start my racing season but sometimes these things happen. The frustration levels are high and I am eager to get back racing again. With the World half marathon championships and the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, the goals for the season are clear. My body is still in one piece, the miles are beginning to increase once more and my energy levels are improving. With five weeks until the first major goal for the year, I am not far off where I want to be. If only I had had the race to prove it.