The week started promisingly. Another trip to the physio – progress with my Achilles is good. I completed a couple of intense hour-long gym sessions. As my big race draws nearer, I’ve decided to supplement my training with Rory with a few one-to-one sessions at the local gym with instructor, David. He’s got me wearing a 10-kilo vest to get used to carrying the kind of weight I’ll be carrying for the desert marathon and throwing different exercises at me so that my body doesn’t become complacent and to shock it into performing harder. As an added “bonus” the intense exercise means that my lungs are blowing hard and I’m sweating (sorry, glowing) buckets, which helps to simulate the conditions I’ll be experiencing in Morocco.
All this is well and good but, on top of the other sessions I’d done in the week, by the time I rocked up to the start line of the Country to Capital race in Wendover my legs were already feeling sorry for themselves, but I figured that they needed to get used to running when tired.
We sped off at 8.45am, probably a little too quickly. It was good to see a handful of familar faces from the Druid Challenge in November and catch up. I recognised the start of the route (in reverse) also from the Druid Challenge. The route was navigational, with a few tricky turn offs thrown in. Thankfully, a number of people had run the event last year so I made sure that I stuck within sight of them as I think otherwise I would have come a cropper. There’s nothing so dispiriting as thinking you’re doing well, only to realise you’ve gone off course and having to double-back adding another 30-45 minutes to your time.
A trip to the physio the day before had seen my left foot taped up to keep the Achilles shorter to reduce the stress on it while running and it held up well during the race. However, with all the exercise I’d done in the week, I knew that I wasn’t going to aim for a personal best. The legs were too depleted, so being able to keep on going was the aim.
At around the 20 mile mark I got talking to a guy called Dan who’d been struggling. We’d been overtaking each other off and on, so were running around the same pace. We decided to see each other over the finish line. The chatting helped take our minds off our individual niggles, although there were times when we just ran in silence focusing on the race. The rain held off, although it was a little chilly towards the end. Inevitably for the time of year the course was muddy in parts and much of it found its way onto my trainers. There was also one section where the only way ahead was through a large puddle spanning the path. Wet feet followed, but they dried out as I went along.
The last part of the race saw us run down the Grand Union Canal into London. It was very flat and seemed to go on for ever and, as we drew closer towards London, scenically there wasn’t much going on. As we hit the gasworks, Gemma, one of our co-runners and fellow Serpentine runner, let us know that we were only two miles from the finish line. This raised our spirits and we found that well-known little reserve of energy that you keep in your back pocket to see you to the end. As soon as I saw the flags, I picked up speed and sprinted the last hundred metres or so to the finish line in Little Venice, London. I finished with a time of 8 hours 28 mins. Although this was on par with my running pace for the Round Rotherham 50-miler, I was a little disappointed. However, I reminded myself I was running this tired from the off.
At the end there was no collapsing onto a bus or train to take me home. I collected my kit bag and had to walk to Paddington station. I sat down and ate something substantial, having survived on gel and cereal bars and Lucozade all day, before catching the tube back to Charing Cross, looking rather bedraggled after the day’s experience. Managed a five-mile recovery run to Greenwich Park and back on the Sunday, but then felt truly exhausted. Made up for the previous day’s calorie expenditure with a nice Sunday lunch.