There was a time when I used to be obsessed with training schedules and would feel low if I missed a session especially a long run. Age and lots and lots of miles under my feet have transmuted that obsession into something akin to an eagerness to experience running for running's sake. Every run, be it one where my breathing is labored (allergies/exercise induced asthma?) or a muscle or tendon is tight or one where I am floating with every sinew and joint in perfect harmony, is priceless.
This Spartathlon training is, I am slowly finding out, a double-edged sword. Some of that old obsession is creeping back in albeit slowly and I am fighting as hard as I can to send it back into the dungeons of my mind whence it escaped. The joy of being able to tread the same path trod on by Yiannis Kouros, Scott Jurek, John Foden and, probably, Phidippides is being counterbalanced by the fear of "failure".
The Spartathlon is a tough, tough race. It will take all I have, and a lot more besides, to get to 100 miles in under 23 hours leave alone finishing all 153 miles in 36 hours.
My training and my determination will not let me down. Of this I am very sure. Will my training and determination carry me to the Finish line in time? Of this I am not very sure.
The Ego, though, is insidious and rears its head to step into the fray. It is the Ego that fears "failure" and it is the Ego that forces me to get obsessive about the training.
I read something very nice on Catra Corbett's Facebook page:
Believing in yourself is an endless destination.
Believing you have failed is the end of your journey.
I have always believed in myself completely. That changed a bit after (a) my aborted Tahoe Rim Trail 100M effort in 2008 and (b) my inability to complete the 250-mile Thames Ring race (I stopped at 183 miles) in 2009. I was only able to put those "failures" in perspective with the help of friends and, eventually, my belief in myself and the faith that I had made the correct decision in that moment.
I wonder what Phidippides must have felt when he took the first steps on his journey to Sparta on that fateful morning in August or September, 490 B.C.? He probably had family in Athens, maybe a wife, children, parents, sisters, brothers or friends who might end up either dead or in slavery should the Persians vanquish the Athenian hoplites. What stress to run 250km under!
He ran to Sparta where the Spartans, in the middle of a religious festival called the Carneia, informed him that they would start out for Athens 4 days hence. Phidippides ran all the way back to Athens to inform the Senate that Spartan help was not coming immediately. The run to Sparta in 36 odd hours. The run back in 40 hours? 300+ miles in just over 3 days. What an uber-athlete he must have been!!
Back to my training. Last week I missed my Wednesday track session. Thursday was a beautiful day and I decided to do an impromptu track session on a levee near the office. I ran to the levee, a mile from the office, and paced out a half mile section on it. My first 800m was in an uncomfortable 3:17 (6:38 per mile pace, 22 seconds faster than desired).
The times for the 7x800m were 3:17, 3:20, 3:23, 3:26, 3:27, 3:31 & 3:19. On the track I get pace feedback every 200m and am able to make micro-adjustments to finish up between 3:27 - 3:30. The levee had no such markers even though I was wearing a Garmin. Garmin's paces lag by as much as 45 seconds at times and so I do not rely on Garmin's pace numbers. The next time I do a similar workout on that levee I intend to put markers every 200m to simulate the track.
Let me end with a poem I wrote last year during my Spartathlon crewing stint for Nattu Natraj.
The soft murmur of a caressing breeze:
Fleeting Time stands still. There is just music.
Of Life this is what the Soul wants and sees;
No moments gone. None to come. Just this tick.
Oh what a gift you have bestowed on me
Ancient Athens and your proud Parthenon.
Your people, your hills and your warm, blue sea.
Waiting for your embrace half a life gone.
As though in a dream barely remembered,
Whose faint images one so aches to hold,
You blend in with your tales I've told and heard.
You are sweet, alluring, proud, young yet old.
To the Soul the images have now gone
Of a blue sky and the proud Parthenon.