I've yet to write up my interview with Rachel from Number Six, the Autism Initiatives project in Edinburgh, but it will be coming up any week now.
Just as I was recovering from the flu, and planning to resume training, I succumbed to a cold. I think this is a distinct infection from the flu and not simply a relapse although it’s hard to completely disentangle infections that impact the same systems and sites. I took a difficult decision and resumed training despite not being fully recovered. The cold is nothing compared to the flu and I couldn't suspend training any longer and retain any degree of confidence that I would be ready for the race in time.
Starting again didn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Rather than being refreshed from 12 days full rest I found that instead my joints, particularly by ankle tendons and hips were complaining quite vociferously. I responded by taking down the intensity of my running, so that I gently pad along at a deliberately slow pace and minimise impact. That seems to have worked. I’ve continued to be congested and coughing but both symptoms seem to reduce when I’m actually running.
The last week has seen my sleep interrupted by coughing outbursts and me feeling acute aversion to actually begin running, but great improvement when I set off. The spectre hanging over the whole week has been my training plan’s entry for today. Rather than as usual running two back-to-back long runs over two days, totalling a combined length of over thirty miles, today I ran a single run of 34.2 miles. This was eight miles further than I’d ever run before in my life and ten further than I’d ever run in training.
I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to do it, but felt I should try, or else the whole enterprise might come apart. After all, in less than five weeks, I’ve going to be running 55 miles. This one-off 34-miler was the longest run in the whole training programme and likely the longest training run I will ever undertake.
Last night, I laid out all my kit, and this morning rose on schedule and took the train from Edinburgh Haymarket to Falkirk High. The station is just a couple of hundred metres from the Union Canal Towpath on the John Muir Way, along which I’ll be running in five weeks time. I had decided to run a 31-mile section of the course one way and then loop back from the finish time at Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh to my home in Craiglockhart.
It was a beautiful calm, clear sunny day. I immediately ran through the icicle-decorated 600m Falkirk Tunnel, having begun to work through my month-long backlog of “The Archers”. “The Archers” calms me down and today it stopped me from being overwhelmed by the length of the run.
I’ve been curious for years about what it would be like to run this far west along the canal. I’ve lived near it for thirteen years now, but never managed to get further west than Broxburn. Here it was superficially the same, towpath on the left, water in the right, passing through towns, open countryside and wooded banked sections. But because I’d never run along this section before I had a far stronger sense of where I was on the map of Scotland, strongly emphasised by the chimneys of Grangemouth oil refinery to my left by the River Forth. I was slap-bang in the middle of the country.
After about ten miles my Garmin GPS watch announced it was nearly out of juice and cemented its fate as something I can’t run long races with any more. I’d anticipated this and launched the Runkeeper application on my phone. Immediately my pace slowed. I think this is simple psychology. Without the constant feedback of my pace at a glance on my wrist, I was slacking off.
I wasn’t just training my running; I was training for everything I was going to do on the day. Hydration, nutrition, kit were all getting a good shakedown, and I practiced my planned technique of running for fifteen minutes and walking for one. I soon found that starting running again after a minute’s walk was getting progressively harder. But this is a great way of breaking down the day of running into manageable chunks. At the next level up, I allowed myself to look forward to the next town, be that Linlithgow, Winchburgh, Broxburn, or Ratho, and not to contemplate how much ground I had to cover before getting home.
Before long, the towers of Linlithgow Palace became visible. This felt like progress. I may have been making what felt like laborious little-more-than-jogging movement on the ground, but I did seem to be moving from one part of the map to another.
After about three hours of “The Archers” I couldn’t cope with any more of Ambridge bastard Rob Titchener’s sociopathic domination of his new wife Helen Archer, compelling as it is in small doses, and switched to Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. Richard’s playful stage interviews with other comedians and performers appeal to my puerile side and helped keep me from dwelling on the run, and specifically how slowly it was going.
At Broxburn, I connected with where I’d previously run to from home. This was quite a boost psychologically - I knew I had previously run the distance ahead of me.
I ate normally-forbidden foods - energy bars laced with sugar and starch, and gulped made-up energy drink from my backpack reservoir. The sun shone down on my and I took of hat, then gloves, than jacket. It felt bearable, tolerable, even sustainable. Other runners overtook me every few miles, but I knew none of them were going as far as me.
Into Edinburgh and my own stamping grounds, I felt strange in my lycra and specialist gear as local families no more than half a mile from their homes pushed prams along. My story was the intrusion into this scene and I no longer owned the towpath.
My spirits lifted as the canal passed through Craiglockhart taking me near home and then agonisingly further away. This is what will happen on the day, so it was worth training emotionally as well as physically for it. By mid afternoon I reached Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh where the race will end, and immediately turned round back towards home for the last few miles.
Over seven hours after I has set off from Falkirk, I arrived at my front door.
I feel good that I’ve done this. The numeric record of my longest run ever is far less important than having done a sort of dress rehearsal for the race. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my ten-hour target for the day is over-optimistic. But I believe that I will finish. I’ll be covering the ground using a combination of running, jogging and walking and I’ll have to do what I did today and then another 20.8 miles. I’m falling asleep as I type this afterwards. But I’m going to do it.
We've raised £3,500 so we're 70% of the way there. We have five weeks left to raise the remaining £1,500. That's £300 a week. Scattershot has worked but now it's time to contact individuals one at a time.