From Couch to Marathon

So much for no longer playing catch up. I’d returned to cold, grey England buoyed up at the prospect of devoting some solid time to work and ‘getting ahead’, a vague term for working on a few of the projects that have remained firmly on the sidelines while I played at Ironman training. Life however had different plans and within twenty-four hours it was clear I would be continuing to play catch up for another week. It’s as if the moment I decided to free up more time for my work the universe decided to free up more work for my time. Still I’m optimistic that another week will see me finally catch up and have a moment to breathe.

While I’ve yet to fully realise the benefits on a professional level, the emotional gains from my decision to temporarily retire from Ironman have been manyfold. The burden is gone. I feel no sense of obligation to train and none of the guilt from failing to meet this supposed obligation. I am left without doubt as to the correctness of my decision.

But where now? Training has been the common theme holding together my life – and this blog – for a number of years. Last night, I sat on the sofa, watching TV and eating a bag of crisps; it amused me to think that within a week of quitting Ironman I had devolved into a regular couch potato. It would be easy – dangerously easy – to become carried away by the excitement of not needing to train to the point of never bothering to train. That was never the intention and thankfully there are no more crisps in the house.

There is one event on the horizon: the Brighton Marathon, nine months from now. Sufficient time to rebuild a broken run without interruption. Sufficient time, I hope, to mount an attempt on bettering my marathon best of 2:50. My biggest challenge is in my head: I lack confidence, I am afraid, each time I run I wonder if I’ll be up to it. I have memories of a period when I was capable of endless miles, when I ran eighty, ninety, one hundred miles in a week; they seem distant now, but those memories represent where I need to be.

I’ve allowed myself till August, do what I want, then on the first I start to run again. Slowly. Speed and distance gradually progressed, time on feet built up. Until the end of September, when I hope to be ready to progress. October and November: I’ll push for mileage, develop the volume and prepare for a transition in December towards greater structure, mostly hill work, but not too much yet. February and March: will see the greatest focus, more time on the track; then taper and race in April. My copy of Lydiard’s Running to the Top. has come off the shelf to help guide me.

For now I’ll do as I feel, possibly eat too much, probably drink too much, definitely catch up on my workload and make headway on new projects. I am enjoying this new found sense of freedom.


  • It is obnoxious of me to point it out, but with the Brighton marathon as a goal, you are really risking setting yourself up for exactly the same sort of situation as you’ve had these past couple years with Ironman! It’s pretty soon – I know single-sport is more straightforward than multi in terms of training, but that’s an ambitious PR to break. Are you sure 2013 shouldn’t be a year without _any_ demanding performance goals, only consistency and pleasure, with enough base that you can decide on spur of moment to do a long race for fun?

  • James

    I disagree with Jenny in that the timing is bad for Brighton – 9 months is ages – you’re not really going from couch to marathon. Get yourself a plan though and stick to it. 2:50 should be acheivable without the massive mileage you’re talking about so there’s no need to be afraid of that.

    On a different note I just read Richard Whitfield’s IMDE report. An excellent debut which should make you proud!

  • Thanks for both comments.

    Jenny – always happy to take any input and it’s fair to question whether I am, perhaps, simply setting myself another life-dominating goal. I hope not, but it’s always a risk. I am relying to an extent on the length of time before the race and viewing the project as long-term; I’m deliberately avoiding entering any races at this point, rather waiting to see how I progress over the next few months. August/September will be about building up mileage, but I plan to be very responsive to how I feel and to adjust my targets accordingly. I am excited, even motivated, by the thoughts of running again and believe it will be more manageable, but I am also more aware of the signs that I am ‘burnt out’ with a sport or training and will keep on top of those.

    Slipping in the 2:50 probably reflects a need on my part to set ambitious goals, and you may be right to flag this as a repetition of the last year, I should perhaps emphasise that while I am thinking about this goal I am primarily committed to enjoying training and if I find, in January that means abandoning thoughts of a time I will do so. Let’s see what a couple of months of running brings and how I feel about it then, both in terms of the need to train and its impact on my time.

    James – the period of time, 9 months, is what I’m relying on to deliver me that goal. As to the volume of running, when I did 2:50 I was probably on 50-60 miles per week; the really big mileage came later, and led to all the problems I’ve had since because I rushed it, tried to train bike and run at the same time and didn’t properly support that volume. Should I head that way again the plan would be to take 3-4 times as long to hit the volume and to do so without other sports and with much better support. It’s certainly not a requirement for a 2:50 marathon. I’ll take it as it comes.

    It’s not specifically big volume I’m afraid of. I’m actually nervous about just running, I’ve got so used to being on insufficient training, struggling to run as far as I used to, I find it hard enough to take the first step out the door at times! Just something to overcome and if I build up gradually, as I did when I first started we’ll be fine. My mistakes in the last couple of years has been to dive in too quickly and try to get back to where I ‘should’ be.

    Thanks too. Rich had a great race, I’m very pleased with it (even if he isn’t) and looking forward to supporting at Wales to see how he goes there. Think he’s got a lot more to give.