A marathon consists of two challenges. One is getting to the finish line, and the other is getting to the start line.
I’m almost at the start line of my ninth race over the classic distance, the Tralee Marathon. Race day is on Sunday morning, the day after tomorrow as I write.
This time last week, though, the Tralee start line threatened to recede into the distance. A heavy cold mutated into a mild chest infection, and I could hardly lift a leg even to shuffle forlornly to the couch to console myself with football on TV, I feared that for Tralee I would literally be a non-runner.
Thankfully I was able to start zapping the chest infection with antibiotics while it was still a mild irritant in my windpipe, before it could plough down into the lungs. I’m also thankful that my doctor is officially Sound On The Running Question. When I told her I needed to get well for a marathon the following weekend, instead of furrowing her brow and sighing in exasperation she asked me what time I was aiming for.
But then, this is the same doctor who patched me up when, two days before the 2013 Dublin Marathon, I rocked up to her clinic with mild gastroenteritis. Forty-eight hours later I ran what is still my marathon personal best time.
After seven days without running, during which I slept like a sleeping machine, this week I had a couple of tentative runs. On Tuesday night I went out for a speculative twenty minutes of light trotting – two ten-minute miles. By merely returning without having coughed up my lungs I considered that run a success.
Then on Thursday night I wrapped those two slow miles around a filling of two miles at race pace. It felt comfortable and I was greatly heartened, if not so greatly lung-ened.
Right now the infection seems to have cleared up. I have a light, dry ‘ahem’ of a cough like that of a groom trying to shut up a bawdy best man’s speech at a wedding reception.
So now I’m getting ready for race day. Tomorrow morning, 24 hours before the start, I’ll go for my traditional captain’s run – a light run of one mile the day before a race to loosen the legs and work up some battle fever. Then I must collect my race number: I’ll be number 60.
After that I’ll just be resting up, plus going over my race strategy. Although my legs are in the shape to go for 3:14 or even 3:09, I’m not so steady on my lungs. So for Tralee the plan is to sit in with the sub-3:30 bus and see how the windbags hold up. The main objective is to finish in a decent time but without my lungs oozing down the front of my shirt, and this may require concepts alien to most of us male runners, such as common sense and parking the ego.
And then on Sunday morning I’ll make my way to the Tralee Marathon finish line – via the start line.