In a little over two weeks I am due to run the Florence Marathon. It will be my fourth marathon, and while I can’t claim I’ve ever done as much training as the schedules suggest, I have never been more poorly prepared to run 26 miles.
I take full responsibility for this. You could say I simply have not done enough miles, but things are rarely quite that simple.
I found myself at the beginning of the year with a significant increase in my race times – the reason for this is part medical, part psychological and part lack of fitness – nevertheless it was an indisputable fact and it continued throughout the year despite my best efforts.
This meant I felt I was too slow to stick with the other runners as they gradually built up their marathon mileage. I also spent the summer watching as many Olympic events as possible and adopting a Barefoot Bohemian lifestyle – more on that later – so training fell by the wayside a little.
My plan was to devote September and October to some serious pavement pounding (or sidewalk slogging for my American friends).
But that’s the trouble with plans – they often go wrong and there isn’t always time for Plan B. I got injured and was told not to run for six weeks. Well, more accurately I injured myself. I developed metatarsalgia – an inflammation of the joints in my left foot where the toes meet the foot. As you can imagine a pain on the ball of your foot is far from ideal for running, especially the sort of distances required to prepare for a marathon.
How did I manage to pick up this problem? I spent the entire summer either barefoot or in flip-flops, and that bruised the joints, hence my renaming of the condition as flip-flopitis. The irony of the injury and the title of this blog has not escaped me!
The lesson is always to be at least on track, if not ahead of any training plan, revision schedule etc, so that you can accommodate the inevitable spanner that will get thrown in the works.
Whenever you’re behind schedule something will further delay you. That appears to be a fundamental Law of Nature which seems to have been ignored by Galileo, Newton, Einstein et al, who were all too obsessed with trivial issues like our place in the cosmos, gravity, relativity etc, to consider the big issues.
So here I am, two weeks to go and still injured. My physio has cleared me to run, told me I will cause some damage by plodding round Florence for a couple of hours, but has assured me I’m not likely to cause any long-lasting damage, although it will be ‘very painful for a couple of days afterwards’.
So why am I persisting, I hear the more sensible among you asking. Good question and it’s prompted me to look at motivation and what drives us to do anything.
It seems to me there are a number of things which motivate people, not just to complete a marathon, but to achieve anything in life.
1. Record breaking – the desire to improve past performance. Well that’s not going to happen in Italy. My personal best is just over 3 hours 30 minutes and the way I’m running at the moment I’ll struggle to be within an hour of that time.
2. Financial gain – either to make money or not to lose money already spent. Well there is certainly no money to be made. True, I have bought the flights, paid to enter the run and paid the deposit for the hotel but I’ve never been to Florence before so I could easily turn the trip into a sightseeing weekend and justify all but the cost of entering the run.
3. Approval or recognition – admiration and acceptance of family and friends. I am likely to be one of the slowest runners in the local group taking part, so I certainly won’t pick up any admiration from my running mates for my shoddy performance. My family and friends have seen me do a marathon before and are unlikely to think any more, or less, of me as a result of running another one.
4. Fun. I even struggle writing the word in connection with a marathon, but honestly running can be fun. It just isn’t for me anymore. Everyone goes through a stage on a long run where they question why they are putting themselves through the torment, even question their sanity. But I now do it when I’m not running. That’s not good. I still enjoy short runs but the long ones – especially on my own – are just a tedious, painful and tortuous ordeal.
5. Faith. This is not strictly relevant to marathon running so I’m going to skip it for now. I might make it the subject of a later post, if I even feel the need to poke a rabid dog to stir up some controversy and draw attention to the site. It is undoubtedly an intriguing subject, especially as it seems to me Faith is like the Ace of trumps. It’s the only card you can play which effectively renders all counter argument redundant, however logical or reasoned that argument appears to be to the other person. To persist with the discussion after someone has played the Faith card becomes an attack on something which can not be challenged. Believe me it does not work for pub debates on who is the most stupid contender for US President, who’s the best footballer of all time or who was the sexiest Spice Girl. Anyway, enough. I’ve probably already provoked a fatwa, or the Methodist equivalent, and I don’t need any more problems – not while I’m already trying to cope with my flip-flopitis!
6. Fitness. Running is an excellent way to keep fit but when you consider the toll on your knees and other joints, fitness can certainly be achieved over much shorter distances, and in many other ways. In fact I’ve been looking into an approach to fitness and diet which seems well worth considering. It’s all a bit late to help me with Florence but I’ll be checking it out more thoroughly afterwards. The diet is called the Paleo diet and it’s based on eating meat and vegetables and none of the things we would not have had hundreds of years ago like refined, processed foods. And the fitness programme is largely based on body-weight exercises like sit-ups, push-ups etc and lifting heavy weights rather than endless repetitions of lighter weights. You can get more details on it at an interesting site called Nerd Fitness – don’t let the title put you off.
7. Determination. This is a tricky one because it is often conjoined with one of the above. But it is a factor in why I’m persisting. I am stubborn. I don’t want to quit. I do have a ‘fear of failure’ and it’s my definition of failure. But I also recognise that over the past two years I don’t have anything like the dogged determination I used to have. When things get tough I am much quicker to question if they are worth it and adopt the wisdom of the renown philosopher Homer J Simpson: “If something is hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.”
8. Challenge. This is probably the closest I can come to explaining why I’m going to put myself through another marathon – and I know it’s weird. I’ve almost become more determined to do it because of the set-backs. It’s a perverse battling against the odds. It’s that inexplicable drive to see how far you can push yourself.
It reminds me of a story I was told about my grandfather, a stocky little man who was literally as strong as an ox (but that’s another story). He was only ill a couple of times in his entire life – once seriously when he was confined to bed for what was meant to be weeks. My grandmother had only just let the doctor out of the house when she heard noises from the bedroom. She rushed upstairs to find my grandfather, pouring in sweat, his face contorted in pain and effort, walking round the bed, holding on tightly as he took each ponderous step. She managed to get him back into bed and when he’d recovered enough to speak, she asked what on earth he had thought he was doing. “Testing myself”, was his reply. And that makes sense to me.
So barring a thunderbolt from the offended religious amongst you, or some other calamitous mishap, I’ll be there on November 25 and I’ll slog my way round for no other reason than I’m not admitting that I can’t do it.
A running mate of mine told me: ‘If you can get to the start line you’ll get to the finish’ and I believe he’s right. Although he also told me that I would spend most of the run fending off Italian senorinas because he assured me that my name ‘loosely translated’ into Italian meant ‘Love Gladiator’ – and I know he’s lying about that.
Wish me luck.