Before the pain
Two years. It has somehow been two full years since I last ran with Joe. In that time some (many!) things have changed, some things haven’t though….
Last time I ran with Joe, I was preparing for my first ultra marathon (RTTS). Joe and I (along with quite a few others) were out in Chamonix for a stag trip. In an attempt to maintain the training I coaxed a few of the group to join me for a run. Joe was one of those that (willingly!) tagged along. With no preparation though he kept up with us to complete a half marathon with no training.
Fast forward two years later and I’ve now completed over 25 Ultra marathon races (and numerous more on my own). Big changes. Last week I went for a run with Joe. Just like two years ago, with no training or preparation he boshed out a marathon. Yep, some things haven’t changed at all!
It is hard to pinpoint exactly how this endeavour came about, but I think it was a combination of two main things. Living during what I’m sure one day we’ll look back on as the ‘Crappy Lockdown of 2020’, our routines have changed. I spent more time with Joe (virtually!) than ever before. Twice a week we’d join with a few friends for a press-up based workout and challenge. Secondly, with more time on our hands (noticeably through travelling less for work) we get thinking of all sorts. In Joe’s case his mind was drifting back to the university days where he was actively training for a marathon. Due to injury that never happened and I suppose he had a bit of unfinished business he wanted to revisit. This thought, once in his mind, needed to be released….
Initially Joe messaged me something along the lines of “could I run a marathon tomorrow?”. I’m sure he could, most people probably could if they want it bad enough. But it would be hard, painful and possibly regretful (risk of injury etc.). I managed to convince him to wait a few weeks and I’d run with him and support him. I know what it is like to hit the wall in a marathon during a well supported race. Hitting that wall on a solo run is so much harder.
This was not a fool proof plan, nor even a plan really. The basis though was that it would give Joe the opportunity to at least run a few times and remember what it feels like (I think he’d run once, a mile, all year!). Secondly I could plan to support him and be his ‘mule’ for the day – his personal moving aid station.
Joe did manage a few runs in that time. I think he did an 8 miler, a half marathon and then a 20 miler. He was confident. With some support and water he could make the final 6 miles up and complete the task. We plotted a route and finalised times. It was happening.
“Super Saturday” came around and, with no lasting hangover from Liverpool finally winning the Premier League (He’s a big Liverpool fan!), we were all set to run our route along the Chelmer River, covering an out and back from Chelmsford to Maldon to make the marathon distance. So off we went.
Within the first hour, the gaps in our back-of-a-fag-packet plan and the lack of training soon became apparent. Firstly I’d plotted the route. Selfishly avoiding roads and the towns, I had us running along trail paths following the river. I’m now acclimatised to trails. Joe wasn’t. The narrow trails and lumpy ground was already beginning to have an affect on his joints. Secondly, maybe 6 km in, Joe’s watch was completely out of sync with mine. I think his said something like 10km. I was completely confident in my accuracy, much to Joe’s dismay.
This was a big hit to Joe. His base was ripped from under him. What he thought he’d covered in his runs was inaccurate. His expected pace, also inaccurate. It was likely he’d be running for 30-60 minutes longer than he’d hoped and he’d be feeling the pains and fatigue for longer than expected. There was little we could do. We had plenty of food, water and even time, to last but we needed to manage the mental impact. We agreed to run more on the “out” section of the run so that there was less winding through the streets and town as we made our way back at the end. Least that way Joe could focus on “running home”.
And so that is how the run went. As we reached the end of the river trail, we detoured for a few kms into the woodlands of Elms Farm Park before turning around and making our way home. The first 30-ish kms went by with little of note. Our progress was consistent. With three quarters of the distance covered though, the legs started seizing up and we began stopping occasionally to stretch them out. Understandable with no training! I kept passing Joe water (admittedly the further we ran, the more I’d hold it out and force him to keep pace to get it!) and at one point I noticed he downed more than he had been previously. He was clearly quite thirsty now. It was hotter than we expected, despite being a lovely overcast day. Thankfully we’d run past a riverside coffee shop and I knew there was an opportunity coming up to refill the water and keep him adequately hydrated. As Joe ran on, I took full advantage of the water tap available!
With extra water on board we powered on for the last 10km, shuffling along fairly consistently and stopping occasionally to keep stretching. With the added loop at half way we were able to head directly home as we reached Chelmsford and only had a short few hundred meter diversion on the last road. Conveniently we finished outside a Lidl. Fluids and a watermelon were top priorities.
I’ve so much respect for what Joe achieved on this day. It isn’t wise nor advisable to run a marathon with no training or preparation. Being a stubborn bastard myself though, I admire that mindset to set your mind to something and persevere through the obstacles to just get it done no matter what it takes. Huge kudos to this man.