Chafing at the bits

Our very own John Carroll is preparing for the Virgin Money London Marathon. Photo by Steve Ashworth

WEEK 1

Sunday 3rd January

After recovering from a fairly nasty festive chest infection (self-diagnosed), I try to run six miles. I manage 5.2, going from 9:30 mile all the way down to a 10:36. I am wiped and wheezing afterwards, but console myself with the comforting thought that I am already one fifth of the way towards my goal distance.

Monday 4th January

I go to the gym at lunchtime and run a little (10 minutes), row a little (1K) and use the elliptical trainer, a device that always makes me think I look like I’ve recently learned to walk. And that I’m enjoying my new skill!

Tuesday 5th January

In the morning I run from home to Brixton (about 3.5 miles). I beat the bus I would normally take but at this early hour I could have achieved this if I’d been dragging a tugboat along the road. I also run part of the way home, hitting another 3.5 miles before I get on the train. I’ve worn a hat so my hair is plastered to my skull and I smell. A little. No one says anything, either because they are polite or because the odour is unspeakable.

Wednesday 6th January

Gym again at lunch for a 30-minute cycle on a Watt bike. The fellow on the bike behind me is working so hard I think he might pass me out. Every few minutes he ups his speed and sprays sweat halfway around the gym.

Afterwards, I towel off vigorously, stretch and foam roll my calves, which I am trying to do every day, usually at home. The pain is the kind that makes you laugh, for fear of crying.

Thursday 7th January

I run from work in Soho to Balham, about six miles (my GPS watch doesn’t lock on to a signal until I’m at Buckingham Palace. Perhaps they have their own satellite in the house, so the queen can tune into re-runs of the Royal Variety Performance, to catch those moments she slept through for over the decades.) It bothers me that I can’t get a signal until I’m about 15 minutes into my run, and being bothered by this also bothers me.

I’ve had an Achilles problem lately and it begins to flare up again at mile two. Then it quietens down (or my body simply opens the endorphin sluice gates, allowing me to ignore the discomfort). Whatever the case, the burly little tendon is letting me know that, whenever it feels inclined, it can put a halt to my training. I’ve tried rest, I’ve tried calf raises, I’ve tried giving it a good talking to. Nothing has worked.

I realise fairly soon into the run that I have underestimated how cold it’s going to be. Running in January after the 15 watt sun has finally given in to shame and gone home, is no fun. I’m wearing running tights under my shorts but they do little more than make me look like a mime artist.

Around the three-mile mark I begin to feel lightheaded. I can’t be low on fuel but I get it into my head that I need sugar, so I stop at a garage and buy jelly babies. I eat four and after a few minutes feel much better. The final mile takes me through Clapham Common. Some of the paths are not well lit, so I try to stay close behind a cyclist whose front bike lights illuminate the way. Somehow they fail to pick out the many icy puddles: I do not.

Once home I lower my foot into a bath of cold water, to try to drown my Achilles. The next day, to my surprise, the tendon feels fine. Let’s see how Saturday’s long run goes.

Friday 8th January

Rest

Saturday 9th January

I get up at 7.30, eat some toast with peanut butter and honey and am out into the gloomy damp by 8.30. I’m planning to run 10 miles, which I have not done in months. A friend joins me from mile three. She starts off faster than I’m planning to go and so I simply sit back and wait for her to come to her senses. We plod around Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common and time passes slowly. There are lots of runners out today, some clearly trying to stick to a new year’s resolution. I see one woman struggling mightily. As I pass I want to say something encouraging, but feel it might sound patronising so I stay quiet and don’t feel all that good about it.

Towards the end of the run my legs feel weighed down and I look at my watch more than I should, willing it to hit the 10. When it does I stop immediately. My Achilles is not causing me pain but I know that if I push into it with my thumb that I will emit a light, unmasculine shriek, so I leave it be. And I can feel my adductor (inner thigh) muscles or tendons are tightening up. I have learned a few important things today: I am not as fit as I thought I was, my adductors need some attention and I have to stop consulting my watch. Also, I should not sit on a fabric-covered seat in a coffee shop immediately after a 10-mile run. When I stand up there is a mighty circular sweat stain.

‘That seat free?’ asks a man hovering nearby. He is wearing salmon-pink chinos.

‘All yours,’ I answer.

Sunday 10th January

Rest. Some wine.

Click here to read Week 2