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Demon Bashing

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

By Paul Willgoss

It’s getting closer, time has stopped being measured in months—or even weeks—and it’s just days now until I line up in Sherwood Forest and start running for 50 km (31 miles) in one go.

The Ultra is so beyond anything I’ve ever done before that the nerves are beginning to jangle; the old demons are trying to resurface.

The nerves are runner’s nerves—how will I do, will I make my target time, will I get injured in the last couple of days, how should I carbo-load…

The old demons—am I doing too much, will the heart be OK? The disembodied voices of physical education teachers telling me what I can’t do echo in my head.

The answer to both, I have learned, is to review the year—the running I’ve done, the weight I’ve lost and the fun I’ve had.

It’s been a hell of a year so far—personal bests at every distance from 5 km to marathon, and not by small margins. Seven minutes at marathon distance was the most eyecatching, until the Great North Run. The Great North run is where my running first started and is a special run in the U.K., with 40,000 people lining up on motorway (no cars!) and running for 13.1 miles. With the London Marathon, it’s rightly lauded as kick-starting the recreational running scene in the U.K., and the fundraising that comes from it for a huge variety of causes is truly superb.

This is all well and good, but what made it really special this year? A 16-minute improvement on last year, over a minute a mile faster, and a 10-minute personal best for the distance—2 hours, 19 minutes, and 58 seconds.

That, for me, is fast!

And it’s just what I needed. The sound of the crowds along the route cheering me on—often shouting my name—has drowned out those disembodied voices. I doubt my PE teachers would think that 2:19:58 is a fast time, but I did it and enjoyed it and my legs are fine two days later.

Which also helps with the runner’s demons. My legs are ready, the carbo-loading approach I used for the half can be scaled up for the Ultra. Injuries and things on the day will always be there. And my heart—it worked. When I ran hard it sped up, when I eased up on the hills it slowed down. It never went too fast, or too slow. It recovered as quickly as it should’ve done and just kept beating away.

The demons never really go away. You just beat them down for a while, and then they creep back. Sometimes they creep back with good reason and it’s time to get yourself checked out, and the rest of the time you find a big stick—in my case, a 10-minute personal best—and hammer them hard.

So wish me luck, for soon the days will turn into hours and the hours into minutes—50 km is a long, long way, but a lot shorter with the demons’ voices quelled for a while!

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