I won’t be running Milton Keynes this Monday. It’s a decision I’ve made after 13 weeks of training, of awful and aweful weather, of mid-run Snickers during the long runs, of anxious glances at the watch at the 400m mark at each track session. Of ignorant sniggers by groups of girls (mostly wearing hideous tights) seeing a compression tight, of one-way train rides back to Oxford from towns at the edge of Oxfordshire, of hopes made and torn.
Torn is now. Weeks ago I pushed myself too hard on a run, doing a 6.30 minute mile, and then something pulled. People call their weakness an Achilles heel – but there was nothing metaphorical about this one. This one was real.
The tissue took 3 weeks to heal – or so I thought, and when I resumed training, anxious that I was not able to hit my timing, it seemed fine at first. Then it struck again. The muscle would tighten, and even a 10k became a stretch, when I was doing more than four times that before. At first I didn’t even know it had a name: I thought this “calf injury” would fade.
It did for a while, and I was soon able to ramp up my paces slightly below the weekly targets I had set for myself. Soon I was hitting half marathon distances with little trouble, and a lot of mid-run stretching. Then at one long run at 30k, it struck yet again. Like lightning bolting through the entire lower leg. I was at the end of St Giles, and limped back to college, getting a kebab along the way. One of my college porters later told me that while driving, he saw me running at the other side of Woodstock and wanted to give me a lift.
That night I became conscious of some slight voice that whispered I would not be able to do the marathon after all. I hushed it, but over the next week of anxious rest, it echoed back. I had not peaked in my training: the most crucial phases of tempo and distance work were left undone. The training calendar on my wall, on which I wrote “BOSTON 3:05”, was half messy with all the timings I had jotted in the first 8 weeks, and half clean with the white blankness of failed runs.
As the marathon draws closer, over the May Day weekend, I’ve decided that that blankness will extend to the box “RACE DAY”. The UK will not have a decent marathon in time for the September deadline to qualify for Boston, that doesn’t clash with my exams. I won’t do something if I can’t do it well – and there’s little time to train now.
I guess I won’t be running much till then. Running makes me, and I would not be the same complete thing as I would usually be. Running has given and taught me a lot of things: to be patient with progress, to be disciplined with pleasure and ignorant of pain, to believe in people when they don’t in themselves, to be more forgiving. The education hasn’t stopped, I suppose. It’s now teaching me to accept with serenity the things I cannot change. In due course I hope it also gives me the courage to change the things which should.