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Cruising At Mile 24

I recently did a marathon and, due to circumstances out of my control, I ran once in the fortnight leading up to it and only a handful of times in the preceding month. I was worried going to the start line. I genuinely had no idea what would happen. I figured I'd probably have to walk most of it. I thought I might even drop out. I tried to calculate at what point I'd be able to drop out and still walk back to collect my stuff and get to the train station in time for my train back. In short, I had zero expectations of doing well.

What happened was most surprising. I ran.... And I felt fine. I kept checking in with my body.

Feet? Fine.

Legs? Fine, if a slight ache at the top of my right thigh.

Hips? Fine.

Arms? Fine.

Breathing? Fine.

Everything was fine. It made no sense. I should not be fine. I've barely run for weeks. I started to feel a bit giddy with excitement. I was not exhausted! I was not despairing! I felt happy and I was enjoying myself. Yes, actually enjoying myself. I was having a pretty good time. It was all so very surprising.

I finished the marathon and felt invincible. In fact, I felt so invincible that I'm doing another marathon in April. Because of my invincibility superpower, it seems I am doing this next marathon with an air of nonchalant superiority and little training.

To be fair to myself, there's an imminent cold looming on the horizon, bringing with it the requisite snotty nose and sneezing fits, and this is the main reason for my lack of running in recent days. There are, however, loud overtones of self-belief in there. I hear a little voice saying, "Laura, it's been a week since your last run. Get your freaky barefoot running shoes out and get a wriggle on." I then hear another voice saying, "But just remember. Remember how we did that last marathon on almost no training. You are invincible. You don't need to train. That is for ordinary people. You are clearly superhuman."

I hear the second voice and I think about how illogical this approach is. I know I need to train. I at least need to run with some regularity, just little runs, anything. Little fifteen minutes runs on my lunchbreaks or speedy hill runs in the morning before work. Yet I continue to do nothing.

I do think there is some merit in the approach of 'run less, run better.' I definitely found this in the months before my marathon, when work was preventing me running as much as I wanted to and I found out, against my will, about running less meaning I run better. I found that better quality, longer runs, where I concentrated on distance and comfort then gave myself two full days to recover, was making my runs more enjoyable and I had hardly any aches or niggles while running. My long-term goals are about being able to run large distances over long periods of time so the short burst runs I was doing don't serve that purpose and were also slowing my recovery times. I would do one long run a week then three or four short ones whereas now I try to do two or three long runs and monitor how my body feels during the run and also whether I'm able to do all the normal things afterward, like a day at work or a walk to the train station, without any trouble.

What's happening at the moment, however, isn't running less to run better. It's laziness. It's complacency. It's the same thing that happened at mile 24 in the marathon. I was basically at the end anyway, no need to push myself, I'd already won the fight. I slowed right down, stood munching a banana at the aid station in a jaunty devil-may-care manner, as though I were out shopping, not nearing the end of a marathon. Only when I rounded a corner and saw the steep hill that led to the finish line did a fire light inside me and I scrabbled down as fast as I could, using the downhill momentum to shoot me over the finish line.

I'm hoping that I'll be able to move off from mile 24 soon. I'm still four months away from marathon number two so this feeling of being relaxed and ready is totally false. Four months is plenty of time to get marathon-UNready, if I really dedicate myself properly to this laziness plan.

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