It was Mr Micawber in David Copperfield who famously said
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
Why am I giving you economic advice on a blog which is mainly about running? Am I going to berate my readers for their expenditure on Lycra and curious running devices that sit in the bottom of wardrobes around the country? Or will I draw some amazingly astute and relatable parallel between Mr Micawber’s observation and my own experience of running. In the words of the narrator of the opening sequence of Hong Kong Phoey……. Could be!
What the character from Dickens says about the narrow financial margins between happiness and misery can be applied to race times. The gap between what makes a good race and a bad one can be excruciatingly small. One could say, in terms of my upcoming marathon, “
3:59:59 result joy and elation, 4:00:01 result misery and despair.”
It must be hard for people looking in on this from the outside to understand just how much impact those 2 seconds can have. In some ways missing a goal by 2 seconds is worse than oh I don’t know 28 minutes, which by some contrived coincidence is the time over 4 hours I was the last time I tried for a sub 4. At least then I could reassure myself that there was no realistic way I could have achieved the goal. More than a minute a mile off my pace over the course of a marathon would be a tall order in anyone’s books. I still feel bitter and upset about it as I was stopped by cramp. If my body had managed to keep going all would have been well.
The memory of that disappointment and the desire to reach the magic sub 4 was what made me cut down on my distance racing this year and actually concentrate on training.
Last weekend I ran the last of my long runs according to my plan. The first 10 miles I spent yelling at training buddies to slow down, after which I left them and scooted off at what was supposed to be my marathon pace. My last mile was run at 8:23 something I am quite pleased with. This is of course quicker than I need to run, in fact all my training has been consistently about 30 seconds quicker than my target paces. There is method to this madness though, and it relates to the 2 second margin between success and failure (or at least waiting another 7 months for my next booked marathon). If I know that I can be running an 8:23 after 20 miles, even if the first 10 averaged 9:45ish then I should be able to do 26 at 9ish. At least that is the theory, and 2 seconds should not even enter into it.
What I think makes it so hard for others to understand about these kind of narrow margins is the responsibility that we as runners have to take in such circumstances. If you are injured, or ill, recovering from surgery, or damaged in some other way then there is some small excuse for failing. OK if your pacing is out and you set off way to fast then that is also something you have nobody else to blame for, but on the whole the larger the margin the more likely there is to be an underlying reason. Miss it by 2 seconds and that is just 2 miles where you ran 1 second too slowly. Where you slowed down just a bit too much through the drinks station, or just didn’t quite summon up the Oomph to stretch out tired legs that little bit further. If you had only put a bit of a faster sprint finish across the line you would have made it. Hard on ourselves I know, but it is only by being that hard we get to achieve something that not many people can do. Even amongst marathon runners apparently only about 25% actually run a sub 4.
There we have it, by writing this blog I have set myself up for that challenge, come the 17th of April when the post Manchester marathon blog goes up I will have to tell all my readers my time. I will have one of 3 reactions to my own performance. It may have been a disaster not of my own making. My leg dropped off, a rogue pack of killer bees invaded the course, a computer somewhere deep in a bunker decided to play thermonuclear war. I may have to own up to my own abject failure and spiral down into a deep funk, only solved by more, harder, faster and further training. Hopefully though it will be a tale of joy and wonder at me finally putting this ambition to bed and starting out on a whole new target. Wait, there maybe a fourth scenario, what if I come in at 4:00:00? Well then, let me get in quick and explain….. the course came up long, the chip time was faulty by a second erm erm.… I better just work hard to get that 3:59:59!