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The Long and Lonely Miles

Thursday, March 20, 2014

By Paul Willgoss

It’s getting close to the culmination of six years of desire, frustration and agonising waits…

The London Marathon decides its entry on the basis of a ballot (at least for ordinary mortals), and after six years I’m finally in—which has given me a refocus on training plan-based running and a desire to test myself and to do it right in ways that some of my running exploits don’t always allow.

The plan has be written; saved onto my phone, my laptop, and my work computer; and stuck on my desk. Then, each run must be ticked off. I note what walk/run ratio I used, why I might skip a run (only happened twice, both times when I had a cold), and for the long runs, a simple three smiley rating: ,  or .  

All of the advice is that marathons are made on the long runs—those ones where there can only be you, your thoughts and the plod of your feet. Being an externally-orientated person, I love the fact that on my standard route there’s the regulars—the blind woman with her son as a guide, training for a half-marathon, the young dad pushing his baby in the off-road buggy, and the bloke I have the same conversation with every week, and he never seems to remember…

But mostly I wave at, and get acknowledgements from, runners and walkers who I know nothing about. Once in a while I’ll pass someone I know, and very rarely I’ll pass someone who knows me, mainly from the congenital heart world.

I like that runners are a funny breed. And yes, a lot of us run for a cause, to raise money or awareness, but the highest honour is being called a runner by another runner. On those long and lonely miles I’m just another 40-something, slightly overweight bloke puffing his way through yet another tick on the plan.

And then comes London, 26.2 miles of testing my body, my training and my spirit. No marathon is easy, and this one is just the same distance as all of the others. The runners I know who’ve done it have warned me about the crowds, the perils of being boxed in by fast or slow groups of runners, the best places to nip to the loo, and the sheer majesty of the right turn across Tower Bridge. For the non-runners, London is the one they see on the TV, the one where people dress up as chickens/rhinos/get married/knit scarves whilst running. London for them is The Marathon.

For me London is both; it’s the run that as a child I was told I’d never be able to run, as an ultra-marathon runner it’s the one I want that personal best at, and it’s the one where I am more than just that puffing billy of a runner. I’m running for my cause, my friends, and the children born with and yet to be born with heart conditions. So bring on April 13—those lonely miles will be all worth it and whatever happens I suspect the smiley at the end of this run with be


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