Houston Marathon countdown: four weeks to go – and I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22 (miles…)

The 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon is exactly four weeks away. And that means I’m in the peak period of marathon build-up, completing the longest runs I’ll tackle before I line up somewhere in Downtown Houston just under 28 days from now.

Now, various marathon training plans have all sorts of different answers as to when you should do your longest run. The prevailing logic is that your longest run should be three weeks before the race which, in this case, would be next weekend.

Hmmmm, next Sunday is Christmas Day.

Now, I’m not averse to doing a big, long run over Christmas, although I’m minded to delay any long run to Boxing Day, when it can also double as a useful exercise in burning off the excess turkey, trimmings, mince pies and Christmas pudding I’ll likely consume. But even then, for various reasons including the demands of spending time with the family and spending Christmas in my home town (which is fairly hilly and where I don’t know the running routes so well), I decided to do my longest run this weekend.

So today I set out to run 22 miles. That’s… quite a lot. It’s only four-and-a-bit miles short of a marathon. And it is at the limit of what many experts suggest you should do as a pre-marathon training run. But I really wanted to do it as a confidence boosting exercise – based on my experience of the final few miles of the London Marathon.

I’d never run more than 17 miles before the start of London, and I struggled massively in the final few miles, my pace dropping off dramatically. This time, for all sorts of reasons, I’m feeling a lot fitter than I did four weeks before London. And I reasoned that the confidence boost of doing a 22-miler was worth the not-inconsiderable effort.

Reflecting on it now, I think I’m right. Although my achey legs aren’t exactly thanking me. But they’re get over it. Mind you, I won’t really know if I’m right until four weeks from now.

Another big boost of that 22-miler is to compare it to my efforts four weeks before the London Marathon, when I managed precisely… 0 miles.

With just over four weeks before London I managed to come down with an annoyingly serious illness that sidelined me for ten days or so. I was finally able to get back out running with three weeks left, but my crucial long run on that weekend was done at considerable effort and what seemed like a comically slow pace. It was all I had.

That, in turn, prompted me to do a long run with two weeks left before the marathon, which was more successful – but I still struggled in the closing stages. And that, in turn, meant I probably wasn’t quite fully rested for the marathon itself.

That’s not an excuse, by the way: I’ve always made a conscious decision not to look back and mull on what might have been with anything related to running. There’s always something you could have done to prepare better, or train more, or run faster.

Still, the fact I was able to knock out a 22-mile training run today – as opposed to lying on a sofa under a blanket feeling sorry for myself – is a tremendous mental boost that I’m in better shape for marathon two than I was for my first.

Then again, it’s also sparking the onset of that old random running annoyance, pre-run paranoia. I’m probably in better shape for the Houston Marathon than I was for the London Marathon, so I really, really, really don’t want to get ill this time. And it’s winter, and lots of people are coughing and spluttering. And I’ve got to fly to Houston in the not-too-distant future, and long-haul flights are well known for germ spreading, and…

Fingers crossed. Fingers very crossed.

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