I initially combined the football and running – still turning out for Homer’s Barmy Army at Bentham on a Monday night; and SFC Tigers (the Gloucester City supporters’ Sunday League team) at the weekend.
Mixing the five-a-side, 11-a-side, and marathon training wasn’t the smartest idea in the world. The risk of getting injured at The Dome (the giant, inflatable tent that housed 4-5 indoor pitches) was high – the Bentham 5-a-side leagues were furiously competitive and not for the faint-hearted.
I’d frequently limp home with a tweaked ankle or bruised knee ligament, knowing I had an ‘easy 12’ (miles) coming up in the next day or so. But I somehow managed to avoid any major injuries, training 4-5 days a week and featuring a long run (I think 15 miles was my longest) on Saturday or Sunday.
Fatigue-wise, though, the latter (long run) would sometimes catch up with me. I’d run in the afternoon, having turned out for SFC Tigers in the morning. And that was usually following a night out painting the town (Gloucester or Cheltenham) a wreckless shade of rouge – plus a pre-game Greasy Spoon Special fry-up (I can’t believe we really used to do that. Period. Let alone 75 minutes before kick-off).
So, by the time I got round to attempting my marathon training run in the PM, my body was arguably not in optimal condition.
One Sunday, things all went a bit pear-shaped when I died on my ass during lap four of a three-mile loop – failing miserably to keep Steve in sight, having played 11-a-side earlier in the day.
Steve, who was like the Duracell Bunny knocking off those loops (despite, I’m sure, having quaffed an ‘easy 6’… pints of Guinness the night before) almost lapped me, I recall. I ended up crawl-walking the fourth loop back to his parents’ place (our starting point/base-camp).
Who knew this would be potentially mirroring the finish of a future marathon or two?
As Steve and I did cheesy shuttle runs back-and-forth within the grounds of Gloucester Cathedral* a couple of weeks before the marathon – part of a photo-shoot for a small piece the Citizen was running to publicize our ‘charity challenge’ – we felt pretty confident.
* The iconic English structure was used as a filming location in some of the early Harry Potter movies; and the Citizen offices were literally a stone’s throw away.
We were both shooting to break four hours in the race, which seemed realistic enough for our first bash at 26.2 miles. The Runner’s World schedule we’d put our faith in had become our training bible – and we’d stuck religiously to it. What happened from here was largely in the lap of the ‘gods’.
Before we knew it, marathon weekend was upon us. Steve’s friends Simon and Sarah were kindly putting us up Friday and Saturday night, so we headed down to London on the National Express and were met by Simon at a tube (London Underground) station in West Ealing.
After dropping our stuff off at their flat, we headed out for dinner and a couple of beers at a local curry house. Arguably not the ideal choice for a pre-race main course the night-before-the-night-before. But, providing we steered clear of a spicy Chicken Vindaloo, we were sure it’d be fine.
Saturday morning we headed into central London for the Expo, where we’d pick up our race numbers, timing chips and all the great guff that’s thrust your way during a marathon expo.
Umpteen booths crying out for your money in exchange for striking merchandise and apparel, which it would be absolutely suicidal to showcase 24 hours later in the race. Of course, many of us freely indulged, oblivious to that ‘minor’ detail – while also devouring many of the free energy bar and gel samples (gotta love those).
Back at Simon & Sarah’s, we went for an easy 20-minute run around 5pm on the Saturday evening, just to stay loose and keep the muscles warm. I don’t do that now, but Steve had read somewhere in the hallowed RW that it was the thing to do for first-time marathoners. That was good enough for me.
We then got our race kit ready, pinning race numbers to vests and spending three hours deciphering how to attach the timing chip to our shoes using the mysterious little plastic zip fastener thingy the marathon organizers had provided.
I had my over-sized Guide Dogs for the Blind vest – I recall they only came in a one-size-blankets-all – but the generous sizing would turn out to be a blessing-in-disguise, as the heavens opened some 18 hours later… bringing the curious (and extremely serious) case of jogger’s nipple (JN) into the equation.
A few years’ before, I’d watched the Portuguese dynamo Antonio Pinto finishing 3rd at London; the right nipple area of his vest soaked in blood. So even the best were caught out on occasion. I also imagined the shrieking howl, ensuing after AP stepped into the hotel shower post-race, would have been heard back in Lisbon.
You had two choices to guard against the dreaded JN back then: Vasoline or plasters (Band Aids in North America). I now religiously wear the latter, but on this occasion – my marathon debut – plumped for the former. A good decision? All will be revealed in due course.
With our kit prepared, we slipped into our sleeping bags just after 9pm, and anxiously pondered what lay ahead.
London Marathon 1998: Your time has come.
Let’s get this show on the road!
TO BE CONTINUED…