When I started out on this voyage of discovery after the Dublin Marathon in 2018, I knew there would be a struggle or two coupled with pain, failure, and learning. After all, why else was I doing this other than to find my limits and take lessons from it? Last year, 2019, proved very fruitful. The two big target times for the marathon and half-marathon didn’t fall but I made huge strides towards achieving them. Then this year happened.
how it started
I write this post on the day that exactly 12 months ago, I toed the start line for the Waterford AC Half-marathon. It was arguably the most difficult, hilly course yet. Aiming for the elusive 90-minute barrier, I wore the fate-testing number ‘130’. I started that race with a PB secured from Clonmel 3 months previous of 1:32:42. I finished the race on 1:30:22 having given every ounce of myself. Sadly I lost it all on one mile about halfway through. Any other course and the 90-minute mark would have fallen. There was great disappointment but also great optimism in knowing that any other course would have delivered.
There was also great pride in knowing that I had cut my half-marathon PB by 6 minutes in just 12 months. I eased through the last few weeks of December 2019 just keeping things going. From January, all eyes would be on the Tralee Marathon. I closed the year with a total of 2410 miles. Therein was: 3 marathon distances, 1 50k, 1 marathon PB, 2 successive half-marathon PBs. I also had the ability to run previously out of reach targets at will – it was a good year.
how it’s going
January came, along with news of the first cases of COVID–19 in China but it wasn’t a problem, we thought. Training continued perfectly through January and February (even had a sneaky leap day marathon in February). Then March delivered Ireland’s first Lockdown due to the virus. That was it; game over. No official marathons for the remainder of the year. No races of any kind. I tried to stay focussed, taking to the treadmill for occasionally crazy 45-mile weeks with 18-mile runs therein.
After 9 weeks on the treadmill, Ireland had hit its peak of cases. I slowly emerged from hiding to take to the roads again. I sustained a reasonable weekly distance until the end of June. Then I had a wobble in terms of my will to keep going. After the wobble came a bang! I broke my ankle while walking.
That really was the final nail in the coffin having gone from struggle to struggle over the past 3 months. At some point that following week while hobbling around on crutches for a while my mind split. It wasn’t an even split though. The vast majority of my thoughts had simply given up altogether. Only a shadow remained, wondering how I was going to get back on the horse. During August I took to the bicycle for a spot of ‘failed running’. I hoped that my fitness would at least benefit from it. Sadly even that came with doubts and anxiety post-workout. I wasn’t comfortable pushing myself anymore. A decent cycle of between 16-22 miles left me exhausted, pained, and panicked in the aftermath. Basic, everyday activities became a struggle and a worry.
Carrying that mental load does weigh one down considerably. You feel silly trying to talk about it – young, in the prime of life, with a perceivable fitness level that many would strive for. Ignoring the head though, it doesn’t lead to good places.
The struggle was just too much so I quit midway through August. When September arrived I gave myself a good talking to and tried to get back into it again. Partly urged on by the #BVSC ‘Equinox’ 5km Time Trial. However, as soon as the time trial was over, I called it quits again in the last week of September. A mess, fretting about my health. Devoid of any confidence in my ability to run, and constantly concerned that every effort was damaging. It was not a good place to be. October didn’t register a blip until the last week when I told myself that I needed to get a grip, again.
take down the mountain, one chip at a time
I set myself a goal in that last week of October. A goal that had no distance aspirations nor pace requirements. Sticking to the treadmill, no need to venture out. The aim: to run at least 3 times that week and for a minimum of 20 minutes each time. Such was my state of mind, I didn’t try to run past 20 minutes. However, I did manage the 3 runs that week. The following week, I repeated the same routine. A very small amount of cardio work in physical terms but a huge amount of brain work in psychological terms.
The third week saw a big change in my attitude. I looked forward to my sessions on the treadmill and started to have a little fun. Throwing in things like 5 minutes of barefoot (well, socks on, I’m not that crazy) and mixing up the pace. Nothing excessive but just a little interest. I kept this routine going for the entire month of November and have started December the same way. Each week that passes, I find myself getting a little more adventurous. Be it with pace and/or run format, pushing some of them to 30 minutes with intervals.
This kind of work is not going to do much for me physically. I do not intend to fool myself that it will. Mentally however, it is getting me back to a place where I feel happier about running. That should provide me with enough belief to get back on the road at a time when I choose to. Hopefully my basic cardio fitness will get something from it also. There will be no leaps though. I don’t want a repeat of September; I don’t want to find myself quitting again.
There’s also the curious case of the extra 5kgs that have appeared on the scale since June. That needs to be tackled. Nike recently gave members of their Nike+ app, 3-months free membership of the Lifesum app. I’ve been using it for a week now and I find it great. Mostly, it’s not that I lack willpower about eating right, it’s that I lack the will to care. Having the app present numbers to me helps me to focus greatly. Week 1: down 1.5kg and looking forward to being Christmas Day ready!
As long as I can keep my new focus going til the end of the year, I am hopeful that 2021 will begin well. Even with such modest steps for December I still aim to checkout of the year with about 1300 miles completed. I suppose that’s not so bad for a guy that pretty much stopped running in July.
As I said at the outset, this journey was always going to be laced with failure and learning – without the former the latter cannot exist. This current struggle is difficult but I have to hope that I’m mentally strong enough to get through it. My body will follow if the head chooses to lead.