As a child I used to devour Walt Disney comic books and were it not for lack of time, I still would. However, while I preferred the Donald Duck universe to the Mickey Mouse one, one of the most memorable tales featured Mickey: It was called (in its Greek translation) “The Three Fires” (“Οι Τρεις Φωτιές”) and was made up of three seemingly unrelated adventures which Mickey was thrown into. It was only after solving the third and final mystery that the threads that linked them became apparent and the real identity of the evil genius who was pulling the strings is revealed!
It was one of the few Micky Mouse adventures that, for me, could conjure a sense of mystery and peril hanging over a happily mundane day to day summer existence. It was also long enough to let you get really engrossed in it. The fact that no trace seems to exist of it any longer (despite my searching online before writing this post) has only added (with hindsight) to the mystery surrounding it!
But what am I on about, I hear you ask! I thought this was supposed to be a running blog!?
Well, it is. But as my racing plans for 2019 were coming together, seemingly of their own volition, or propelled by who-knows-what unknown laws of attraction or causality, there was something familiar about the concept of three self-contained challenges all linked together by an unseen thread of… marathon running!
First fire: Bridges, Castles and Beer!
My one 2019 marathon was supposed to be the Prague Marathon, which would be an opportunity to combine a family city break for Demi’s birthday, with getting back into marathoning after abstaining in 2018.
I went through the usual sequence of researching it; entering the race; booking flights, accommodation, dog-sitters, airport transfer; and felt all the usual emotions of excitement and anticipation for the trip, determination in the face of a challenging training plan and curiosity about how 2.5 year old Philip would cope on this latest adventure. In fact, contemplating my 8th marathon, there was just one sensation missing: fear. And I missed that…
There is no question that I (still) find the whole marathon thing extremely hard: Doing the training justice, fitting a long run in a busy weekend for 18 weeks in a row, and enduring through the long run as you get tired, demotivated and the weather turns too hot / cold / rainy or dry. As for the race itself, it seems to only feel harder every time I run it! And yet, contemplating what lay ahead only inspired a sense of mild dread for the difficulties I knew only too well, but without the tingle of excitement of taking on a brand new challenge!
Second fire: Over the Hill and Far Away…
So before my training for Prague had even started, I decided to find a new challenge for myself: with no time (or, frankly, appetite) to dedicate to training for an ultra or a triathlon (I have great respect for both these sports, but they do not currently appeal to me), I decided to seek out the hardest, and arguably most beautiful, of UK road marathons: enter fire no 2, Snowdonia Marathon, on 26 October. Now that, yes, that certainly combined the fear of unknown hardships with the joyous excitement at the prospect of completing that course! With no expectation of a finishing time, nothing I can compare it with (apart maybe the Lakelands Trail Marathon I did in 2012, but with a twisted ankle I hobbled rather than ran that) and just a hope that I’ll prove equal to the challenge!
Third fire: The “One Last Job” Syndrome…
And just as I thought that I had my work cut out for me this year, my sister got in touch to tell me that she intends to run her first marathon in Athens, with Niko (her husband) and Dimitri (a friend of hers with whom I ran my first marathon back in 2011 and whom I have mentioned in this blog previously) and would I fancy joining them?
Athens this year is on 10 November, two weeks after Snowdonia. I ummed and ahed for a bit, as befits the criminal of fiction who is being tempted back to his old ways after determining to live straight, but the appeal of being part of that particular gang was stronger than me! Besides, Athens falls two weeks after Snowdonia, so I can in effect run two marathons while only training the once – and with two weeks recovery in between, what’s not to like?
I then found out that one of the charities we support, the Greek street magazine Σχεδία (translates as “Life Raft”, and is equivalent to the UK’s “Big Issue”) is putting together a team of 260 runners to take part in the marathon weekend: 40 for the marathon distance, 120 for 10k and 100 for 5k. We all agreed to take part (with Demi joining us for the 10k), so there is no going back now!
It’s now two months since Prague, and I’m in week three of my Snowdonia training. My weight crept up slightly in the 6 week break, and my fitness probably crept down. Even though the break in between was a bit longer than I had intended it to be, I do not begrudge me the rest, extra sweets or drinks: If you are going to put your body and mind through an eleven-month long period of marathon training and running, you need a bit of down-time, mentally as well as physically! Otherwise you are in danger of not seeing it through, or hurting something (again – mentally or physically!)
I’ll write a proper race review for Prague, when I get a chance, but I am pleased with both the way I trained (my consistency, how I incorporated strength training, the number and length of my long runs) and the result: a PB of 4′ 15”!
The really scary bit starts now though… taking my training to a level of hilliness I have not taken it to before (can I hack it?), which means that long runs are likely to be limited by duration rather than distance (will they be sufficient preparation for the race?)
And, more to the point, is there something to be gained by cramming all this running in a year, or am I just being silly?
But the answers to these questions will have to wait till November. In Philip’s immortal words, now it’s time to “Go, Go, Go!!!“