Best Laid Plans


If you were to examine the final weeks of an average marathon training plan, it’s highly doubtful that it would read as so: 

Monday-Sunday - 1 x short run, 7 x nights out with friends, 7 x nights of beer, gin and tonics, greasy food, 1 x injured heel and 1 x chesty cough. But, alas, that’s the situation that I have found myself in. 

I always knew this time would come though. I’d booked flights back to the UK to catch up with friends and family. Having not seen some for a year, I was expecting to take my foot off the gas a little with regards to my marathon training. But in reality, I ended up taking my foot off the pedal completely.

It’s now 8 days until the Tallinn City Marathon. And sitting at Gatwick waiting for a flight back to Tallinn, I’m feeling nervous. I’m happy with how training had gone up until a couple of weeks ago. But now, sat alone, after days of friends, parties and socialising, the realisation of the marathon has hit me. 

Apart from a slight twinge in my knee, I’d like to think that my body has held up pretty well over the last 3 months of training. I’ve been lucky enough to run as often as I’d like. Plus, summer has provided the ideal conditions for getting the miles in. It was all going perfectly. A little too perfectly, perhaps…

A few days ago I woke up with that all too familiar tickling feeling in my throat. You feel it and you know exactly what it is. A cold. A cold one week before the bloody marathon! I haven’t had a cold all year. So naturally, sod’s law reared its head at the worst time possible. Yes, it could be worse—I could have woken up the morning of the marathon with a sore throat. But in terms of running this week, it’s going to have an impact as my body fights off the virus. 

On feeling the symptoms that morning, I took a walk to find the nearest pharmacy. I wanted to stop this cold in its tracks before it got much worse. So in I go, medicine bought, feeling positive that I can shift the cold. And then I step out of the shop. Except, I don’t step. I stumble. There’s a short ledge I’ve misjudged and my foot has turned over slightly. I think nothing of it as I make the walk back over Waterloo Bridge. But then the pain starts. Not in my ankle (which I assume would be affected) but the side of my heel. One little peculiar spot that has never troubled me before. It’s 10 days until the Tallinn Marathon and there I am; limping, sneezing and definitely not running. 

A few days on, the heel is a little better. I’m not sure what I’ve done but now and again, I feel a slight twinge. Which is fine. But it’s that heel that will pound 26.2 miles of Tallinn’s cobbles in just 8 days time...

I must admit, I’m panicking. 

Even if everything had gone precisely to plan, I would have still been nervous, what with this being my first marathon and all. Add on the heel, the cold and the poor diet over the last 2 weeks and I’m an anxious wreck. 

But the fact of the matter is, come next Sunday morning, I’ll be on that start line when the gun goes off. So this is where the mental side of running/sports psychology/whatever you’d like to call it, will really come into play. I cannot let those negative thoughts about not finishing creep in. I have to believe. I have to turn off the internal chatter and tell myself that despite these slight forks in the road, I can do it. 

I have to conquer my mind and the body will follow. Or at least I hope so.  

When Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” some 300 years ago, he couldn’t have predicted that this phrase would so suitably match the predicament facing a marathoner in 2018. 

But he did.

I was right on track until I boarded that plane to the UK, disrupting my running routine in the process. As in so many other areas of life, though, things rarely go exactly as we would hope. But one thing I do know now is that—if I do cross that finish line—I’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment knowing that I’ve overcome and endured these obstacles along the way.

I just have to hope that my months of training have paid off. 

There’s no turning back now.

Bring it on, Tallinn. 

Piers McEwanComment