Hello, this is John. This was my blog about the three months leading up to the 2010 NYC marathon. I’ve rearranged all the posts into calendar order and compiled them below, so you don’t have to read it in reverse. The ‘original’ blog follows this one big post. Thanks!

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DOWN TO MARGATE

Sunday, September 5, 2010 in 42k | 3 comments

Margate.

It’s 9am on the Eastern Esplanade. Lavverly sea breeze.  700 people are milling around waiting for the start of the 27th Kent Coastal Marathon and Half-Marathon. The two races start at the same time. Many, perhaps most people wear a running shirt bearing the name of their local club; Deal Tri, Invicta East Kent, or the organisers, the Thanet Roadrunners. Some people have done many marathons and have a special number on their back to say just how many.  There are a sprinkling of London club shirts too; Mornington Chasers, Serpentine. Gradually, these logos and others have become familiar to me on the parks and streets. This year, I have entered a new world.

I have contributed towards the immense running economy. I am wearing black Asics shorts, a black ‘tech’ Karrimor wicking running shirt, maybe slightly too new Saucony shoes, fancy ‘twin skin’ socks, a runners armband containing glucose tablets, ibuprofen, spare safety pins, Vaseline and a twenty pound note, and a number on my chest: 402. Looking at the start sheet pinned to the information tent, the half-marathon numbers start at 400; 1-399 are reserved for the full marathoners. It appears that I was only the third person of the hundreds to sign up when I sent off my form and my fifteen pounds back in April. They probably thought I was just incredibly keen.

It was early April when I got the email from the New York Road Runners, the body organising the yearly ING New York City marathon, saying that I had beaten the four to one odds and been successful in the open ballot for a place on November 7th. All the big city ‘major’ marathons are now heavily oversubscribed for open places, the alternative is going for a ’charity’ place which involves raising at least £1500, and often more, to secure a spot. For overseas runners wanting to head to New York, it is also possible to buy your way in with an ‘international package’ tied in with flights and hotels for truly eye-watering amounts of money. My non-refundable entry fee, swiped from my credit card the moment I was accepted, still came to £170 sterling.

It’s all my cousin Sarah’s fault. She persuaded me to run a 10k race in Finsbury Park in October last year. I don’t run! No, no… I could do that. And I did. I persuaded myself, actually. The next logical step was entering for a distance four times the length four thousand miles away (for me – Sarah lives in Montreal). The plan was for me and Sarah to run it together. That April evening I email her excitedly. She wasn’t successful in the ballot. It’s all gone wrong. An option would be to defer the place a year, but there was no guarantee she would get in next year either. I might get hit by a bus. I have to do it. Do I?

I have a memory of entering for the London marathon about five years ago, although I was not successful in the ballot. I think I got a fleece top as a losers prize. Why did I want to then? I’m not one of those dullards with ‘life lists’. Am I? I have no idea. I think it’s always had an appeal. I remember watching London on TV as a child and being fascinated by the spectacle, the vast masses. I even remember some of the names: Charlie Spedding, Toshiko Seko. I saw all those normal people doing it, and it was obviously possible, and fun. But I don’t really know why I want to, except that I’ve always wanted to. I have found I love running the short distances. I love blasting through a 5k. I love running itself, even though I’m not that great at it, and I have Sarah to thank for that. I love projects, too. I like the organising. I love New York and all my awesome friends there. I think I will be in great shape and finally shift the last few kilos I have been struggling to get rid of for a few years. But I don’t know, really. Maybe I do know. Maybe I’ll find out.

It must be a lot easier to run a marathon these days than it used to be; there is now a vast, almost overwhelming amount of modern information, advice and equipment easily available. I swiftly buy The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer from Amazon and get How To Run A Marathon out of Shoe Lane library (the first of several borrowings). Non-Run, as I christen it, is a book about a US university ‘marathon class’ taught yearly to mostly non-runners. It is very American liberal-artsy, very big on personal stories, self-help talk and inspirational sidebars. I am simultaneously repelled by its slightly sentimental tone and wooed by its promises of ‘follow this, and YOU WILL BE SUCCESSFUL IN YOUR GOAL’. The smaller ‘How to’ book is British, breezy and practical. They don’t really conflict. Both are very useful. With these, and the truly Brobdingnagian amount of advice available on the web, I form a plan.

A marathon is 26 miles and 385 yards, or 42.195 km. Interestingly the official version, set in 1921, is the metric rather than the better known arbitrary imperial distance. Almost nobody could run the whole distance completely untrained without stopping. All endurance running involves training several different systems in your body: cardio-vascular (heart, lungs, ‘puff’) musculoskeletal (to take the pounding) and myriad others (joints, adrenal glands, the way your body handles food, the skin on your feet). You are also training your mind to handle many things, and preparing for a foot race with many many other people. You are testing equipment and fuel.

All first-time marathon running plans are the same in terms of their basic instructions. Over a period of several months before the marathon: run short distances during the week, run a long run at the weekend. Gradually increase the distance, particularly of the long run at the weekend. The long run is the ‘money shot’ of distance running training, it’s the element that cannot be avoided. It can be done slowly. The length is the key. This is good, because I run at the speed of a mildly excited ground sloth.

Some plans work by time, some by distance. Some recommend four or five runs a week, some cheery ones reckon you might be able to get away with three. Some include ‘recovery runs’, some reckon you should do interval training. But the long run is always there, land-mining the calendar. Your last long run should be 20 miles (although Non-Run reckons 18 is OK) and should be done 3 weeks (some say 2) before the marathon. Beginners are not expected, or even advised, to complete a full 26 miles in one go before the big dance. After the 20 miler, you should ‘taper’, running shorter and shorter distances, till the last week before the marathon, when you should rest up, eat pasta, and build your energy for the last final push. I think they climb Everest the same way.

Both books advise to run an organised half-marathon (13 m / 21k ) as part of the training, partly to get some race experience. Stories abound of runners who have spent months training solo for a big city marathon and are completely overwhelmed by the experience and the huge crowds and fail to finish for some reason. I found this one, the Kent Coastal Half-Marathon in the right place on the calendar; being on the Isle Of Thanet, about as far east in England as you can go, it has a big advantage that it starts near and runs through the Victorian village of Broadstairs where I can stay with friends. I arrived by train yesterday afternoon, and have been filled with slight foreboding ever since.

I have spent months building up to this moment: the mapping websites, the supplements, the time spent in the various running shops of EC4, and much more importantly the treadmill, the now familiar extended run home from work, the long route out down the disused railway line to Highgate, the loops of the park, the ice water baths for the feet, the numbers, the sweat, and the pounding. Most of July was spent ‘out’ with tendon damage in my big toe. I cross-trained as recommended, watching the afternoon World Cup matches on one of the spinning bikes at the RCJ gym instead, but it means there isn’t any slack left in the schedule I worked out. I would have liked to have been better prepared for this key intermediate stage.

The new problem is my knees. On the last ‘long run’, ten miles in Clissold Park (which I partially ran with Sarah, over on business) there was a dull, hard-to-specify ache developing in/above my knee joints which increased with distance, I felt this at the end of the previous long run too.  I am nervous as to whether they will hold up or not. I have not really paid attention to diet or fluid replacement, two elements which become key with the increasing distances I am now doing, but it is my knees which are causing me the concern. You can fuck them up, you know. You’ll need them.

I have some company for the half: record label boss Sean Price and his brother Rob, both of whom I’ve known through music for a great deal of time. Both of them have been running for many years, look strong and healthy and nonchalant as we line up for the start. I put on my brave face. I didn’t sleep well. I needed to pee twice in the last half-hour. Psychologically, I am not in any kind of zone.

The Tannoy whines, the gun goes. I see Rob and Sean move ahead of me before we’ve even left the start area. Almost from the off, my knees start aching. Fuck. I sit back and try to move steadily. I stay for a long while with a group that include two morris dancers, their bells echoing off the concrete seawall as we wind our way down through the grassy front of Cliftonville. It’s chatty at the back. I even share a joke or two.

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Two hours, twenty-seven minutes and fifty-four seconds later, according to the official time, Rob and Sean clap me back through the finishing funnel. I grab my medal and goodie bag and guzzle the crappy sports drink. It was nice of them both to wait, given they both finished half-an-hour ahead of me. I am 261st out of exactly 300 half-marathon runners. But hey, I finished, right? That’s a result! It doesn’t feel like it at the time. I feel utterly gone. I wasn’t too bad energy-wise up until the last three miles, then I properly bonked. The last mile was like pulling out a tooth. I hit the ‘wall’. The water stations and glucose tablets were not enough. I need gels and carbs; I knew this already but in my defence it hadn’t been a problem so far. My knees, weirdly, felt better the longer I ran. I was grateful, grateful, grateful to a bottle-blonde runner at my speed who passed me on a desperate walk break in the last mile, a hilly section back up to Cliftonville in Margate. We had been exchanging the ‘lead’ all the way round, and I knew she had a simply gorgeous arse which I just latched my eyes onto and let it tow me bumpily to the finish line.

I get a lift back to Broadstairs, to ice (for the feet) and cava and hearty congratulations, and eventually a tired train back to London and a beery celebration at the Lexington. The quads, the entire top front of my thighs hurt appallingly, and I have a couple of new additions to the moon base of blisters on the inside of my left foot. The Brooklyn lager helps. I don’t remember getting home.

The next day I feel a hell of a lot better about it. My quads hurt so much I have to walk down staircases backwards for a day, but I play with my medal. There’s a long way to go. There’s a lot of work to do.  But I’m still in it.

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OH YEAH

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Run the fastest 5k I have ever run on the treadmill at the gym. Boom. This is brilliant. This is going to work.

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10 MILE LONG RUN 

Friday, September 10, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Out the door at 10.30am. I have learned from my mistakes and after making a few lists, I have made the following adjustments:

1) I have changed my kit to the ‘A’ (older) pair of Saucony shoes, the Adidas tights, old flappy t-shirt. The shoe change is a bit talismanic; as apart from some yellow trim on the new ones, they are identical (or at least they are supposed to be). The tights are the bigger change, I am hoping the mild compression will solve the knee trauma, plus I feel  – and it’s only a feeling – that I run better in tights. Plaster up the nipples and blisters. I also take a small tin of Vaseline, which comes in handy when I lose a plaster.

2) For the first time on a long run am wearing the Karrimor belt with bottle. This sits round behind your waist like a bum bag. I looked up the correct ratios for the ideal fluid replacement drink on Thee Internet, and to cut a long, boring, and conflicting set of stories short have taken out a bottle containing Tropicana orange juice (for the potassium) mixed with water – according to the amount of sugar in Tropicana it should be around 5/12 OJ to 7/12 water. The idea is that this actually hydrates you better than plain old water. I measure this as ‘a bit less than half’ and add the recommended quarter-teaspoon of salt (to replace lost sodium). I stick this in the fridge overnight and put it in the freezer for an hour in the morning to get as cold as possible. No armband for keys etc needed, which I am glad of, cos the weight of it with keys in has started to piss me off.

3) I spent yesterday upping my carb intake, as advised from the bloody start. Toast and peanut butter for breakfast, baked potato with tuna and coleslaw, couple of sandwiches. Two poached eggs on two toast for breakfast.  This bit is easy.

The ten miles: I run out down Manor Road to the east gate of Clissold Park, and do eight laps, then out to Church Street and Fresh N Wild for a coffee. How do I know this is ten miles? I measured it all out, months ago. 0.75 miles to the gate. A lap of Clissold Park round the woodchip track, past the deer, over the bridge, in front of the cafe, and down the diagonal path by the tennis courts is 1.09 miles, so eight of them is 8.72 miles. The east gate to Fresh N Wild is 0.77 miles, making 10.22 in total. And… it’s a breeze. Knees are fine, sun isn’t too hot, energy flows almost all the way round, the homebrew fluid replacement hits the spot. Couple of tiny walk breaks on the last couple of laps, brief stop to massage the foot.  Goes very quickly. Yes. This is why running is awesome.

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SUNDAY

Sunday, September 12, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Brief run out in Clissold Park with kit as before. Don’t remember the distance. Maybe 6-7k. Keep things moving. The woodchip track is full of hot girls running, too fast to be towed round though. All good. Restuffed the iShuffle with dirty electro and dubstep and Slayer and Andrew WK and fist-pumping nonsense, which helped. Left knee a bit twinge-y. Good stuff.

 

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OW 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Up at 9. Slight knee pain hurt walking down the stairs first thing (booo), but five minutes later they seem to be OK (hooray). Time to get assessed.
I meet Lara, my former bandmate turned personal trainer in Great Portland Street at 11.15am. I am nervous. My brief experiences of personal training have been painful. Lara works out of a gleamingly refitted branch of the LA Fitness chain; this particular central London one, before the lunchtime rush, is filled even more than usual with the kind of hard-bodied, healthular, underemployed staff, all of whom are kind enough not to laugh at me.

After two minutes warmup on the treadmill, we start with dynamic stretching. This is clearly the fashionable LA alternative to what I call stretching (which is sneered down to ‘static stretching’). You use a step and a table and gently bounce your way to warming things up. It works much better, actually. Yeah, static stretching is soooo over. This is good. Then the assessment begins, in the studio. I have to walk up and down like a catwalk model in order to assess my gait. Aaaand turn. First ‘normally’. Then with my hands above my head, then with big strides (which ends up a little bit Ministry Of Silly Walks), then with feet turned in, then balance-here-and-touch-that-wall-with-this-foot, and on and on in endless variations, the results of which Lara notes on a doomy-looking page of her notepad. Everything is repeated in mirror images, there is much talk of balancing and rotation and flexors and extendors and terrifying-sounding muscles that, already, I know are probably going to hurt tomorrow.

Physically I am, of course, wrong. Nothing is quite in line, nothing is perfectly balanced. My feet strike weirdly, my right shoulder droops. Lara misses nothing. It’s harder work than it looks, too. I am already slightly sweaty by the time Lara smiles brightly and says “OK, time for the workout now!”. The wuh?  This is the point of the exercise: ‘functional training’, sport-specific, person-specific exercises that take into account the sort of movement you see in ‘real life’ (whatever that was). Although ‘functional training’, like ‘extraordinary rendition’, is of course an obsfucation for torture. High speed interval runs; terrifying, hamstring-pummeling corrective lunges; rotations with weights, hot medicine ball action, something which seems like a mutated, tortuous version of ballroom dancing where I push that way and she pushes that and I lean that way and scream a bit.

By the end, I am completely soaked. I walk out of the now busy gym, exhausted, and wander down Great Portland Street, limping slightly. I was thinking about running home from work tonight, by the time I get there I am so fragile I am wondering if I am ever going to run again. I already feel better though, somehow.

That evening I email Lara and set up another appointment for next week.

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OFF

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Rest day. Large parts of my body aching from yesterday’s functional training, especially hamstrings, and other odd places like my upper back. Knees seem similar; slight pain walking down stairs first thing, easier the second time around. Don’t panic…. don’t panic.

Buy bright red Nike running top from Sports Direct on way into work. Am bored with the all-black look. Will wash it before the big outing on Saturday.

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OW (SLIGHT RETURN)

Friday, September 17, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

The Beleaguered Knees, which have now fully taken over from the now relatively solid Beleaguered Right Foot have become a bit of an obsession. After five days of intermittent niggling I now both look forward to and dread the first walk down the stairs in the morning, trying to analyse the ache, mark it, add it to the chart in my brain. Seems a little better, but it really hurt last night when I walked down the stairs at the Union Chapel after a charity Indian blowout. Tiredness? Booze? Stress?

According to the schedule I should have already run 16-18k this week, have only done about 4 at the session with Lara on Tuesday. Nagging nerves are putting me off. In the end I go to the gym and vent my knee frustrations onto Claire, the manager. She calmly informs me, with the easy manner of someone who knows, that it’s probably the tendon and the cause is tight quadriceps, and recommends a quad stretch involving lying on my front and thrusting my hips into the mat whilst pulling on my right foot.  Is really that simple? I get changed and try it instantly; it’s like a much tougher, deeper version of a standing quad stretch (which I now realise I’ve never been convinced by the value of, anyway). I think about a run but in the end hill-climb on one of the spinning bikes for half an hour. Legs already feel better. After showering I ice down my knee. Already, the slight twinges seem more distant. Getting there. Hey, maybe I’m not going to be permanently disabled if I run this marathon! A little paranoia is good for you, but I relate to paranoia a bit like I relate to booze; once I’ve started, I forget when to stop.

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OH GREAT

Saturday, September 18, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Oh, well, that’s just fucking great.  Seem to have picked up some sort of flu-like bug which was coming on as I went home last night after band rehearsal. The sore throat goes away with a salt gargle, and I crush some raw cloves of garlic and swallow them whole with Tropicana and double the recommended dose of liquid echinacea. Due to this, knee worries, and low energy generally I decide not to go on a long run today (I also have to DJ this evening). First ‘big’ cancellation on the schedule since the toe injury in July healed. Fucknuts.

 

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6 MILE ‘LONG’ RUN 

Sunday, September 19, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Feel slightly brighter, bug seems to have subsided a little and settled into mild head fuzziness / slight snot. Knees seem OK-ish. I cannot wait, I have to go out and run, and see if the legs hold up. I decide not to set a target (even though I know this isn’t the greatest plan psychologically). Head out to Clissold Park in the tights, but without the knee supports or any ibuprofen in my system – I want to know how the knees are feeling, unmasked. I take a bottle of the homemade fluid replacement; this can be handily dumped in a bush on the ‘cross-country’ section at the north end of the park. On the run out towards the east gate the kneecaps are a little painful. This has happened in the first mile several times before, so I don’t worry too much. Who am I kidding? I hate this churning, paranoid shit. Then the pain in the left one fades, and then the right dulls. Whoo! After two circuits (5k), the pain comes back in the tip of my kneecaps, alternating, teasing, daring me to push it, and after four circuits I start getting a strain in my lower calf on my right leg. Fucking rat’s cocks. Never felt this before, suspect it may be overcompensation for something. For the first time in the park I run clockwise as well as anti-clockwise just in case I am favouring one leg or the other. Parts of the run feel pretty good, CV system seems to be holding up. The park is lovely and busy in the late-afternoon. Tail end of the summer. Soon winter will be in and it’ll be left to the runners and the tai-chi wotsits. I listen to all of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ (too slow, too melancholic) and the new Eux Autres album (better).

Eventually the calf strain starts nagging louder and I limp home having done around 9.5k (6 miles) with several stops to stretch and massage kneecaps. According to the schedule, I should have done a 14 miler (at least) this weekend. Bath. Wine. Film. Bed. Twitchy, distracted, snotty sleep. Remember that’s it’s not good to run when tired or sick, too late, too late.

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OK 

Monday, September 20, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Knees don’t seem to have suffered from yesterday scrap around the woodchip. They’re no worse, anyway. Still the odd twinge when going downstairs. Calf ding is still there though, as is the snot.

I book an appointment with the osteopath at the RCJ gym for tomorrow, am thinking about booking in with one of the many sports medicine people round Fleet St based on what he says. After a week of dicking about with internet self-diagnosis, I need to see what some professionals say about the knees.

Basically, unless I can stay healthy and start upping the mileage soon, this marathon attempt might be over. I cannot run the full distance without putting in the weekend long runs, and I cannot put them in if I’m not at least 90% fit. This weekend is crucial. Is it? It’s heading that way. It’s shades and degrees. It’s not impossible at any stage, but it always looking worse.

It’s crossed my mind what would happen if I pulled out. All the money spent, apart from the tax on the air ticket if I decided not to just go to New York for the weekend, is unrecoverable. It’s spent. Everything else is owed to myself, and I don’ t really want to dive into myself and work out exactly how I feel about it yet. My dream. There is the matter of the charities, which would be a wrench. This sort of thing is why I decided to leave the money-raising element until the very last month.

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OWWWW

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

2pm at the RCJ gym, to meet Howard, the osteopath. He’s here every Tuesday, apparently, although I’ve never seen him before. Was recommended to me by the manager. “Hello, you’re John.” “Hello, you must be Howard.” “Yes.”

“Do you recognise me?”

The man in front of me is Howard G—- . I was at school with him. He is very different from how I remember him: balder, heavier, posher, and browner. So I start my appointment exchanging potted histories and pleasantries with a guy I haven’t seen in sixteen years. He was a broker who became an osteopath. I am a musician in the process of becoming a lawyer. Who fucking knew. Weird shit, anyway. This is part of what the Americans call the marathon ‘journey’, I suppose.

I lay out the problems with the knees as I lie on the table in a weird little windowless Gothic-arched room in the basement of the RCJ. Probably where they used to store the black caps, or something. I explain the problems: pain on the tip of the kneecap when running, discomfort walking down stairs normally. He gets to osteopathic examination, manipulating my legs with me face up and down, hearing the weird ‘click’ of my right knee. The click is a ligament moving. I always wondered. As with Lara’s torture session, I feel just wrong. I know I don’t have the build of a distance runner, but I never realised I might not have the other bits too. My patella is ‘mobile’. Great. He explains the structure of the knee with the help of a handy anatomy chart on the wall. The quadriceps are connected to the what? are connected to the patella are something something, now hear de word of de Lord. He is cheerily reassuring about my marathon prospects, though. Nothing really hurts much until he starts massaging the rectus femoris, which is the bit of your thigh immediately above your knee, one of the four quadriceps, that connects to the tendon going behind the kneecap. It feels like ‘bubble wrap’ according to Howard, and it screams when deep massaged. It’s not where the pain lies when running, but given how clearly everything is all connected down there, it may be the source of the problem. We chat a lot and he shows me yet more stretches, including one which works on the annoying bloody lower calf. Twenty-five quid well spent, I book in for next Tuesday. Knees feel pretty good already. My rectus femidom is tingling all day and evening. I hope this is a good sign. Feel slightly more positive. The boat is still listing, but she ain’t sunk.

I decide I need to read the psychological chapters of Non-Run again, and I stick it in the bag for tomorrow. Maybe it’s all in the mind.

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AGAIN

Friday, September 24, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

I get an email from Lynn, the head of fundraising at Autistica. It has been confirmed that I have a late place for the Royal Parks Half-Marathon next month on the 10th October. A 13-miler is actually a little bit short for the schedule (should be putting in about 16-17) but I know it will be good psychologically to attack the distance again, and I’m wondering how I’m going to able to keep up the heavy mileage next month anyway. Whoo. I’m gonna tear that thirteen miles a new one.

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‘LONG’ RUN 

Sunday, September 26, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

Too tired, probably. Too much beer and cider last night, probably.

I had planned out a 14mile route starting in Hyde Park, crossing the river, and then home across Blackfriars bridge. Decide to put this on hold and head out for the park again. 14 miles would be 12 laps-ish, plus getting there and back. I sometimes wonder if I miscount laps, so after some hunting around, I stick 12 little round stickers from some old wallchart to my bottle-belt buckle with the intention of peeling one off per lap. Prep, stretch, psyche up. Open the door, and it’s only bastard raining. Gloomy and miserable. I close the door and um and aah about doing it tomorrow morning. Weigh it up, and decide to go for it anyway, miserable conditions or not. Good idea? We’ll see. I’m not 100% sure I can make the distance, which probably helps ensure that I don’t.

The knees. The fucking knees. Start hurting after only three laps or so of the near-empty park. Damp and cold. Get stung by nettles where I’ve dumped my bottles. Sluggish. Flat. Grey. Five laps in, I push the knee supports down round my ankles; weirdly enough, my knees feel better. Are they doing anything? Helping? Not helping? I haven’t got a fucking clue anymore.

I limp home with six stickers left. 13k. 8 miles. Not enough. Not even close to enough. Ice my knees. Feel shitty and dejected. Drown sorrows, and seriously wonder whether I will be able to run this marathon or not.

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YAY 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 in 42k | 2 comments

9k home from work, after second osteopathic session from Howard in the afternoon – half an hour of face down agony. Knees alright. Speed on. Relax, relax. No music. Focus. Fastest I’ve ever run it by some distance, perhaps a 54 min 10k, which would knock 15 min off the time I set last October. Focus. Relax. Seems to be the key to avoid the tightness, the tendons shortening. Felt incredible afterwards. Realising that the up and down is in the mind as much as the body.

Open last beer in the fridge. Next one is going to be Sunday afternoon in New York City. Changes to be made, but tramps like us…

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11K 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

Testing, testing. Banana. Coffee. I go and get the rolling pin from the kitchen, and set about my quads, trying to get them moving, get the blood in. Ow. Then I go at them with my thumbs and fingers. The lower bit is still tingling a bit from yesterday. Up against the wall straight leg calf stretch, each side. Similar bent leg close in stretch to get the very lower calf. Touch toes for ten seconds, three times – took a couple of goes to get down there. Bent over ‘bounced’ hamstring stretches, feet in three different positions. Face down on my bed lying quad stretch. Urgh. Some weird knee thrusting embarrassment-to-ballet thing Lara showed me. Sit on my swivel chair waving my legs up and down at the knee for a few minutes – according to Howard, this encourages the creation of synovial fluid, the protective yolk in the knee joint. Swallow the usual: two ibuprofen, glucosamine, cod liver oil and a multivitamin, washed down with a mix of Tropicana and water. Pull on my kit. For the first time, I wear the knee supports I bought last week; bright blue neoprene sleeves with a hole for the kneecap.

Literally the first step I take off the ground in Listria Park the lower right calf makes its presence felt. Motherfucker. But it doesn’t last long. And I can run, clunkily at first with the supports, but gradually opening out. It’s a glorious day in Clissold Park, actually a tiny bit too hot for running. I’m soaked. But the knees are ok. There’s a touch of sting on the kneec… sorry, the patellas, but it comes and goes as before. The supports are good. They are basically doing what well-trained, well-conditioned muscles should be doing. Maybe giving you another 15% or something, but that’s all I need. After this marathon is done I have decided I am going to condition the best knees in the world. Like the Terminator. They are never going to worry me again.

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INTO THE UNKNOWN 

Sunday, October 3, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

I missed the end of a stag do last night for this.  A good stag do.

It’s 1.30 in the afternoon, and I am in the southwest corner of Hyde Park in the drizzle. As I get out of the tube, the gate line guard says: “Hell of a day for a run, mate.” The rain means it’s pleasantly quiet though, and has that lovely green damp smell. I am stretching, stretching, stretching against a tree in preparation for what will hopefully be the longest run I have ever done.

Off. Without any music, trying to consciously relax my upper legs. Upright but relaxed. Strong and easy. I repeat these slightly clunky mantras to myself. Up through the eastern boundary, bending round past Speaker’s Corner, along the northern edge, ducking down again, always trying to find the flattest part of the asphalt or track to keep my feet from pronating, to keep one leg from dominating. Falling with style. Relax, relax. Down West Carriage Drive, back up by the Serpentine. Forgot how pretty Hyde Park is, actually. iShuffle on. Have changed my mind about Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Hug the boundary until the Round Pond, then head back east across the bridge and down and out to Hyde Park Corner again. That’s about five miles already, and the fucking rain has finally stopped. Still fairly strong as I get out onto the street; through Belgrave Square and the embassies, down through Pimlico, all the way to Vauxhall Bridge by the MI6 building, where I take a quick break and walk across slugging fluid replacement.

By the time I get to the London Eye on the South Bank, that’s eight miles under the feet. Under Waterloo Bridge, take the little jag round Tate Modern, and walk back over a jammed-to-the-rafters Millenium Bridge, couldn’t have run it if I tried. Turistas. The knees are holding up. The engine seems absolutely fine, but the legs are tiring. Turn left at St. Pauls and right at Ludgate Circus towards home. Starting to look forward to the little stops at traffic lights, but other signs are good. I steam up Roseberry Avenue unaware that it’s a hill, no trouble. Down Angel and the Essex Road, careful on the stretch of Islington Green where I took a tumble a few months ago. Out of fluid and energy, I dive into a newsagent for a Diet Coke and use it to glug down the syrupy, gunky orange Lucozade gel I have been carrying all this way, which does the job. The legs are really starting to suffer; hip flexors, quads, feet, everything. It’s getting more and more difficult to tell the muscles to relax as they protest. Now I don’t want to stop anywhere, because it’s getting harder to start again. Thump through Newington Green and home. I’ve done it. I’ve fucking done it. Get in a bath of six inches of cold water for my legs for as long as I can stand it.  The blister moonbase on my left foot is torn to shreds. I am cooked. Fifteen miles.

What a great day.

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MMMM

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

Get my number through for the half-marathon this Sunday, along with a rather nice orange technical running shirt. If all or most of the 11,000+ people run wearing it as suggested, it’s going to look like a Dutch voetbal invasion. Looking forward to the goodie bag at the end if they are giving out freebies like this. Hog roast, apparently. Mmmm… pork.

Seem to have recovered pretty well from the 15 miler, which is encouraging as I am going to have to reduce the taper from the advised three to two weeks before the big day to get two last long runs in. I want to do 17 and 19 miles on consecutive Sundays. The first has to be in Maidenhead, where to go for the other?

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ROUTE

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnxknAnBVk0

Good to watch it with this open as well:

http://www.nycmarathon.org/documents/coursemap.pdf

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UM 

Thursday, October 7, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Visit new osteopath, Paul M—, up in the heart of legal Lahndan. My ‘usual’ one (I am a veteran of all of two sessions) is off on honeymoon. Paul is more expensive, much older, and treats my mother. Unfortunately, he reminds me enormously of David Cann as the doctor in the TV version of Blue Jam; he has a slightly spacey, Ford Prefect-y comic manner. He clearly knows exactly what he is doing, and gives me tips on all sorts of auld problems in addition to the knees and cricked neck, but both him and his peculiar ‘holistic’ surgery belong in a sketch show.  Rebooked with him slightly wearily, don’t really want yet another osteopathic opinion, and everything he said made a lot of sense. Weird though, and very expensive. I added up what I had spent directly on this marathon so far this year and wasn’t surprised to see that it was well into four figures. Until this year, I thought running was supposed to be a cheap (née free) hobby. I’m like the athletic equivalent of a classic car that costs a fortune to keep on the road.

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OK 

Friday, October 8, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Third session with Lara at LA Fitness. Stretches, rowing sprints, running sprints, lunges, functional training, and just for a novelty, push-ups. I actually never knew it was possible to sweat that much in an hour – I keep dripping all the way back to work, despite a cold shower.

Carry on mailing out emails to people for sponsorship; today I did E, F, G, H, and I in my address book. If that’s you, you know what to do, loves. Check kit for Sunday. Eat a shedload of carbs. Sober bedtime. Realise that endurance running has basically taken over my life – pretty much everything I have done today has been directly related to it.

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THIRTEEN 

Sunday, October 10, 2010 in 42k | 2 comments

Ten ten ten, and I’m up and heading for the Royal Parks Half. It is sponsored by the massive food service company Brakes. This race has only been going for a couple of years, but is already a popular sellout. 11,000 runners are starting today; I get on the tube to Knightsbridge with more timing chip-encrusted trainers filling the carriage at every stop. Am feeling pretty good. I spent yesterday doing little but watching telly and carbo-loading; wholewheat pasta and toast, bananas, seafood risotto. Couldn’t resist a small glass of wine, but leave the rest of the bottle in the fridge. The focus is improving.

This is the first occasion that I have a time target. Non-Run suggests that you don’t set a target time for your first marathon – the aim should solely be to complete it by any means necessary. The first reason for this is so that you do not risk even a scintilla of disappointment should you not achieve your time; nothing should cloud the real achievement, which is completing your first marathon. The second is so you do not push too hard too fast into the unknown (as you will have not have run 26 miles before) and risk blowing up completely. This makes sense to me, although it doesn’t stop everyone asking “what time are you going for?” at any opportunity.

In theory, this is only a training run for the big dance, and my time shouldn’t matter. But this is my second half-marathon, and I wasn’t happy with the way I ran the first one, and the self-competitive bug is biting. After a bit of thought and calculation this week, I have decided I want to complete it in 2 hours 15 minutes. This would be a tidy twelve minute improvement on the first half I ran back in September, and a big psychological boost. I work out I will have to run around 10% faster than in Kent to do this, which seems doable given the experience in my legs now.

The race starts from West Carriage Drive, the road that runs along the bottom of  Hyde Park, heading towards Hyde Park Corner. There is a big stage and a bunch of charity marquees in the ‘festival area’; I find the Autistica one and dump my bag, finally meeting the cheerily busy head of events Lynn who I have been corresponding with via email for a few months. Autistica have a few dozen runners in this race, and I have donned one of their yellow wifebeaters over the usual black kit. I have a wee, down a final banana with some water, find a fence block to stretch on and hurry over to the start – although my number is blue which means I should start further down the road, I manage to sneak in with the green starters a hundred or so metres ahead. I am barely in the pack when the gun goes off.

This doesn’t concern anyone back where I’m now standing. One of the problems of starting a race with a large field is the sheer time it takes to get everybody across the start line. In huge marathons like New York, the participants are started in several waves half-an-hour apart. Here, bibs are colour-coded in order of projected finish time and the 11,000 runners are spread out over half a mile down the road.  The sun is out but it’s not too hot, good weather for it. More people than not have charity shirts on. We stand around for a minute or two then gradually shuffle forward slowly to the start line, where the RFID timing chip we have each attached to our shoes will interact with the sensor in the mats and start recording our actual time. The big digital clock over the start tells me that this gulf between the ‘gun time’ and the ‘chip time’ is over 5 minutes by the time I blip over the mats and start actually running. It feels good. The crowds lining the route are revving everyone up, bashing noisemakers, screaming names. We are quickly out of the park and under the Wellington Arch, there is a cheerful, partyish atmosphere in the air. The tension of preparation finally released; we are like the bubbles in a bottle of freshly opened fizzy water, finally allowed to move. Round the fountain past the dour, hideous grey of Buckingham Palace. Even the Queen doesn’t like it much, apparently. Fuck me, they’ve even closed off Parliament Square for this. Crazy steaks. We turn on Westminster Bridge and head down the Embankment all the way to Blackfriars, then turn and head back again; this must be around the three mile point. Relax, relax. Steady, strong, yeah yeah. There’s a couple of guys carrying a huge fibreglass fish, and I run with the Pink Panther for a while. Luckily, the toilets by the Embankment are open, and I nip in along with many others. I haven’t quite worked out the finer points of hydration yet; it’s looking like you have to start really early. Too early. Lucozade sport station, doesn’t taste of much. Up through Admiralty Arch and onto the Mall, and I’m feeling pretty damn good. Knees… what knees? Everything is working.

We are six miles in before hitting Hyde Park again, and I catch site of the clock at the halfway point by the Serpentine. 1.12.xx… minus five minutes… I’m on target, but only just. I need to run the second half of the race at least as fast, and this is kind of where the real work begins. The small Autistica team cheer me from the roadside, just one of hundreds of noisy charities. Lovely day. While the runners have stretched out, the paths narrow to the little driveways that crisscross the park, and the traffic never really lets up. The crowds are back.  But I am starting to do something extremely unfamiliar… overtake people. I put the iShuffle on – I have run the first half without music and am feeling the need for distraction. BROOOOOOCEEEE! Walk just a little as I rip the head off a gel around eight miles; gooey orange and caramel washed down with the last of my homemade stuff. You can feel it hitting your muscles. Batman overtakes me, followed by a caterpillar, although I’ve left the Pink Panther in the dust. Grab every water and Lucozade I can get from the side of the road. The mile markers are starting to come slower now. We’re only at ten? Fuck. Up by the round pond, I stop to walk a little, getting a burst of speed for my non-efforts when I restart. No idea how I’m doing timewise, but I’m still overtaking people. Push push. The route heads south; I can see the Albert Memorial in front of me, and realise we must be close. The only difficult part of the race, funnily enough, is the last half-mile down West Carriage Drive. Really tough for some reason; running out of steam. Need to look at why. I can see the finish line, and the stage, and the PA booms… They are interviewing the Cheeky Girls. The Cheeky Girls. “How do you feel about your time, girls?” Last few steps, urgh. “Oh, ve ver so happy!” I’ve been beaten by the fucking Cheeky Girls. Blip blip goes the mat, and it’s done.

Like the last time, there’s not much exhilaration at the finish. You are so spent you can’t even think straight for a few minutes, until you get your medal, and a banana, and they cut the chip off your shoes, and you wander blinking back to the busy milling finish area, and streeeetch. It’s better after that, when your emotions return, and you realise you got it right. Autistica are proud of me. I grab the mediocre freebies – a Mars bar, a Capri-Sun. There is free food, but I don’t want to queue. Head home. Job done.

UPDATE: Official chip time was 2′ 14″ 35, beating my previous mark by thirteen minutes and nineteen seconds. Nice even two halves. Get in.

UPDATE: The Cheeky Girls may have beaten me on gun time, but the chips don’t lie: turns out I clipped them both by two minutes. Touch MY bum, kids.

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8K 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

AM – back in the park. I wear my smart bamboo-and-polyester Royal Parks running shirt, but it turns out to have a design flaw; the large screenprint on the back doesn’t wick away sweat, so the small of your back gets damp. Eedjits. Given how much I sweat, this is a problem. Maybe I’ll cut some holes in it. A guy in a ZZ Top T-shirt is running the other way just as Tres Hombres comes on the iShuffle. Feel like telling him this coincidence. Legs are still feeling sluggish after the half on Sunday. Leaden. No lift. Have a couple of little breaks. Three laps and the in and out means around 8k (5 miles), same as running home from work. Weather is getting chillier. Should’ve worn the tights, but they’re in the wash. Am glad of a huge Fresh N’ Wild coffee at the end.

According to all training schedules, I should be putting in at least 13 – 15 miles during the week before the long run; there is no chance of that happening, basically. The ‘long run’ is now so exhausting that it knocks me out for the first half of the week. I actually felt fine on Sunday after the race, but this Monday and Tuesday have been dense and sluggish; sleepy. At this late hour (three and a half weeks to go) I’m just going to stay as fit as I can and do shortish work like this as best I can during the week. The long run is hammering my body’s systems. My quads were getting sore on Monday, they were worst on Monday evening, and still twinge on walking downstairs or stepping off a train. The soreness means they are growing, of course. I haven’t actually lost any total weight for six weeks or so; although I am definitely losing fat from round my waist, my leg muscles have been exploding recently, new bits seem to bulge from them every week.

I work out the route for the next long run this Saturday. I am going to a wedding in Maidenhead on Saturday afternoon. I could do the long run on a Sunday, but that would mean staying stone cold sober at the wedding. All weddings are boring sober, even those of good friends.  So I have cunningly combined the two; am going to go to Maidenhead early on Saturday, drop my gladrags at my friend Ed’s house, and run the river.

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right here is where you start paying 

Thursday, October 14, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Fourth ‘Body by Lara’ session at LA Fitness up west. The usual sweaty shizzle, plus deadlifts, pushups. I’ve almost got the hang of dynamic stretching. This week’s running training is to increase aerobic capacity and involves 20 seconds sprinting, 10 seconds recovery, repeated over and over. Sounds easy, yeah. After thirty repeats, it starts taking on a Metropolis clock scene /water torture feel. Feel great afterwards, though. I also buy some supplements as recommended by the osteopath; ginseng and liquorice, both adaptogens, to go with the usual multivit / glucosamine / fish oil. Gawd knows. We’ll see. Am generally ambivalent about supplements; but as I know my diet isn’t as perfect as it could be (although it’s improved dramatically in recent months) it’s like a expensive insurance policy. If these two stop me feeling quite so destroyed, even slightly, that’ll be a win. Finish sending out electronic invitations to sponsor me for charidee. Am amazed by some people’s generosity, really. It’s… beautiful.

Have been thinking these last few days about the egalitarianism of distance running. There is a strange dynamic between the collective spirit and tunnel-vision individualism in a road race; the helpful words from a random stranger followed immediately by getting elbowed out of the way by someone, as happened in the Royal Parks half. New York is supposed to have this spirit in abundance, as detailed in A Race Like No Other, a present from my cousin at the beginning of the year which I have been nervously dipping back into. I haven’t really prepared for the sheer size and drama of New York – and can’t really. I just have to prepare the body and mind as best as I can and try and keep my head screwed on on race day.

It’s a true truism that everyone is equal out on the road; your background and your wealth and your status and even your genetic lottery draw don’t mean much – everyone has to draw water from their own wells, and all look ragged and terrible at the end. People wanting to take up running seem to often worry what they’ll look like to other runners; the fantastic answer is ‘nobody gives a toss’. Everyone suffers just the same, and feels the same elation, and the (often unspoken) camaraderie is enjoyable. I’ve tried to read Murakami’s book (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) which is supposed to detail all this stuff, but I found it a bit glib and irritating – like his novels. It’s hard to say what I enjoy about running, but… I relish the opportunities now, even when they are hard.  I have been having odd little flashes of inspiration out on the runs too. Maybe the solving of the problems and the discipline of the mind required is more of a reward than it seems. I feel calmer, despite the fatigue. Things which previously filled me with foreboding seem less of a problem. Although this has to be balanced with a general lack of creative energy; I haven’t made any music on a consistent basis for months.

I’ve always thought the marathon was something I wanted to complete, to tick off. Now I’m not so sure where it’s leading me.

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SEVENTEEN 

Saturday, October 16, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

http://www.mapmyrun.com/route/ae/maidenhead/469128638940671970

“Or is it something worse / that sends me down to the river…” The leafy shires. Range Rovers and Toyotas, the odd horse box, but not many pavements. Hillier than I thought, should’ve checked the elevation (turns out to be 270 feet extra up and down). You don’t really want hills on training runs – unless you are specifically training for something very hilly – because the downs knacker your joints and the ups just knacker you out. Cross the water to the twee village of Marlow and onto the Thames Path, north bank. Rowing clubs. Best kept hedges. Twitching curtains on two-million-pound houses. The surface keeps changing in the drizzle; mud, dust, asphalt, concrete, gravel, flagstones, you name it.

Cross at Bourne End, hammer down the Cookham road, cross back again at the pretty bridge that takes the A4 to Maidenhead. The urge to abandon it right there at thirteen miles is almost overwhelming; I stop and toy with the idea for half a minute, but pull myself together. My legs are burning and protesting as I set off back downriver towards Bray lock and back for another four miles. I start jabbering to myself and yelping occasionally. Come on, dammit. Psychological as much as physical. Need to learn how to get over this. Went past Rolf Harris’ house, apparently…

Incredibly slow and riddled with walk breaks, but seventeen miles. Last big assault next week is also down the Thames. Go to Dom & Jen’s delightful, hearty, boozy wedding with spirits up and body aching.

Special thanks to Ed and Sarah for their wonderful hospitality.

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5k 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

…on the treadmill at the RCJ. Should have been 10. 12, probably. Focus wandered, knackered from the morning, arrived late, changed the plan, forgot to stretch. Got off and dripped for a bit. Durrr. Why am I still making these silly mistakes? It’s purely psychological now, not physical. The takeover of my life by distance running. It now demands full attention at all times. You can’t skip anything. Your attention wanders and you blow a training session. In the absence of paying someone to shout at me, I have to shout at myself, which depresses me. Resolve to watch negative self-talk closely for these last 17 days. I’ve done or will do all I can for the body; wish I could have done a bit more, but there we are. Now it’s down to the mind. Just when I could really do with a short break from the whole bloody thing.

Went for second visit to the second, slightly strange osteopath man yesterday. It’s amazing what he can fix; that weird tight, achy muscle next to your shin, knots of tension everywhere. He knows about cortisol levels and blister strategies. Since the Saturday runout I have been suffering from a cricked neck and aching upper back. He solves this by something involving grabbing my head in his heavy arms with a pillow on my chest, cradling, finding, and then a sudden, brief, violent jerk upwards. Urgaha! Then he does it again. You can feel something move at the base of your neck, along with a sound like ripping heavy cotton. Christ, that was no fun at all. Did the job though. I’m feeling all too human again.

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BOOM 

Thursday, October 21, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Back in the gym. Determined face after my capitulation to the forces of indolence yesterday. 400 metre sprints at 14km/h (8.6mph) with a minute’s rest, four repeats. I add a couple of percent elevation to the treadmill too. Your heart and lungs are dying. A minute forty two for the 400m? Feel like Michael Johnson afterwards anyway.

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“RUNNER”. 

Friday, October 22, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

I’m a runner. That’s what you’re supposed to say to yourself every morning, according to the book. I’ve given it a try, but like most off-the-peg incantations, it doesn’t really resonate. Of course, the literal truth is that I am a runner in the sense that I go out and run. But I rarely feel like one, except on those few glorious occasions when I just… flow. The dictionary definition is at odds with the reality of someone at my age creaking up the distance to just complete the 26 miles in a mentioned-in-dispatches time. Maybe this is why I’m attracted to the thing. I like walking lines; being half in and half out of things; going round the edges. It’s been the blessing and the curse of my life.

The New York City marathon is immensely popular, and many thousands of people were disappointed that they didn’t get a place. Good runners. Able, keen runners who’ve been doing it all their lives. The main marathon Facebook thread has been filled for months with people bitterly upset that they didn’t get a place, and similarly people excited beyond their dreams that they have one. People ‘do’ New York as the highlight of their running lives. Last night someone expressed incredulity that I was doing this, and not for the first time, I was asked “why?”. “Well, because I find doing things like this interesting.” “Yeah but why go all the way to New York to do it?”. “Ummm, it was kind of an accident.” I feel I have a place that someone could use better. I know someone might get more joy out of doing it than me. But… it’s a lottery. Literally! That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’ve pushed all the money into the middle now.

I have been musing on what the achievement is going to be like. Fuck ticking the ‘life’ checklist. Anyone can tick boxes. You can, if you like, just walk the whole course, and some people do – it would take you 9 or so hours (although they start reopening the roads after about 6). It still ‘counts’, and you still get a medal from the New York Road Runners, and your name in the New York Times the next day. But it would not be much an achievement if you were physically capable of running at least most of the way. If you were 100 years old, it might be. Some people miss their target time by a minute or two and get upset at a wasted opportunity. Tears of rage and frustration, while a hour later a person crosses the finishing line behind then in tears of ecstatic joy that they just made it round. The marathon is clearly anything that you want it to be.

I’ve worked it out. I’ve put as much into this as I reasonably can. The only way I can fail is if I fail to give it everything that I can give it. Like Sky Masterton in Guys & Dolls, I have to be the man who “will bet all he has, because nobody can bet more than this.” That will be enough.

Time to prep for tomorrow. Am going out into the unknown again (well, Richmond). Stick Neu! 2 and Neu 75 on the iShuffle in preparation. Mind like river. Mind like water. Soothing Krautrock flows. Alpha waves. Something like that anyway.

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TWENTY 

Saturday, October 23, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way. The last big one. I get the overground train all the way west, slinking through fashionable and unfashionable suburbs, to Richmond. I meet Pete W outside Quinlan Terry’s peculiar assault on modernism, in the shadow of Richmond Bridge. Pete is an old friend, colleague and relative local; he often runs this stretch of the Thames. It’s grey, and getting brisker. I am loaded with two bottles of fluid replacement, three gels, and a reasonably steely determination to see the last one through. 

Off we trot, able to chat at a steady pace along the muddy Thames path. Pete provides a brilliant running (ho ho) commentary on every oddity that this end of the river throws up; the Harrods Furniture Depository, ha-ha’s, the location of the first FA Cup match, and a dozen other oddities. It’s muddy and damp, closer to a cross-country run than a city. Pete peels off at Putney bridge after a piece-of-piss eight miles, and I’m on my own with Neu! ’75 .Why haven’t I done more running with other people? Way more fun. Along the North bank. Thump, thump. Starting to ache a little. Through the heart-stoppingly hideous Chelsea Harbour development; yacht-club glamour but gleamingly empty of people, like a J.G. Ballard fantasy. On. Past Battersea Power Station on the other bank, the post-industrial devastation stretching half a mile. Westminster 3 miles. Really? Hack to Vauxhall Bridge and cross back to the South Bank. Run without stopping to the London Eye, where I couldn’t run if I tried, it’s so thick with tourists. Stop briefly for a Coke and more water, for which I am charged £2.70. Welcome to London! Start up again. Ow up the steps and turn north at  Blackfriars Bridge.

With five miles to go the hurting really starts. The last three miles past the Angel is something like walk one min, run five min, walk one min etc. Everything below the waist hurts. Here is where I really could do with more long run training. I know the real thing is going to be tough – there is a saying that “the last six miles is the last half of the race”. But the main training is done, and there are no more heavy days like this. Twenty miles. I now have two weeks until the big dance to recover. I think I might need them.

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FUN 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Run home from work – 7.7k, just under 5 miles. Easy or what? Don’t even feel like I’m running for most of it, easily loping along. Runner. Only in the last little stretch do I start feeling my legs slightly, they haven’t quite got over the 20 miles down the river three days ago. Once upon a time, this sort of run was into the unknown. Now it feels like I could have probably done it ten minutes faster. Am looking forward to trying a 10k sometime after the marathon attempt, I suspect I could destroy my previous record of 68 minutes now. Am going to do a 5k this Saturday, definitely.

In the last month or so, an amazing five people in my open-plan office have decided to sign up for the Paris Marathon in April. I can’t credit my run attempt as the sole inspiration, but I may have helped things along a little. Pretty much every ‘watercooler’ moment turns into a running discussion. It’s weird being relied upon as a senior source for advice.

The awesomeness of my friends never ceases. We have now raised over £1000 for Autistica (plus a couple of hundred quid in GiftAid), with the US charity nudging $600. Hopefully I can get that up to a grand too before I go. A final fundraising push in the last week should do it. The charity thing was a bonus to start with, it’s become a source of pride and inspiration. I’ve really enjoyed writing the blog too, I was slightly amazed to find that this post makes 11,000 words. Am not planning to stop running or stop writing. We’ll see where each of them leads. A few people have been saying “are you going to do another one?”; which is a question I am not going to (can’t?) answer yet.

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5k 

Saturday, October 30, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Out for the Finsbury Park ‘parkrun‘ 5k with Messrs Pitt and Clay. Why do they insist on starting it at 9am? I reckon they’d have twice the normal sixty or so runners if they started it at 10.30am. Didn’t wake up until 8, and (stupid stupid stupid) ate most of a bowl of chili con carne with pasta that was left over from last night. Brain fuzz. Trying to digest that and then running 45 minutes later… come on, durr. So I run round and everything works properly, but the tank is empty. You try and put your foot on the pedal and there’s nothing there. Finish in a sluggish 28.45, which is 45 seconds faster than the last one I did, but way below what I know I can do (26min 5k on the treadmill on a good day). Planning. Gotta.

Doing a short run like this is what is known as tapering, trying to keep myself fit but save energy before the big enchilada. Am planning a last outdoor run on Monday night, then indoor sprints on Wednesday, then rest completely for the three days prior.

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LAST 

Sunday, October 31, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Last drink before Sunday at Lloyd’s birthday and the Hangover Lounge. It’s been a little while since I managed an entire week completely off the sauce. We’ll see. Will have to keep the image of a cold pint of Brooklyn Lager at the end of the race as the carrot dangling in front of the donkey.

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7.7k 

Monday, November 1, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Ran home from work. Uneventful. Mostly so easy it didn’t even feel like running. A little bit stiffer than I was hoping in places – hoping the osteopath can sort them out tomorrow. Booked a session hoping it would be a bit like taking the racecar into the garage for the final tune-up.

The blogs and the forums and the Facebook NYC marathon threads are alive. The hum of excitement is building. People are flying in from all over the world.

I fly on Friday morning.

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NICK HORNBY 

Monday, November 1, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

paper handbook
passport
phone
pasta
essential numbers etc.

toothbrush (to junk)
book (to junk)
warm clothing (to junk on start line)

pills

plasters (US = bandaids)

pen

passport
credit card I used to book the hotel with

belt
gels
vaseline
cash
race number

(my my) metrocard
safety pins

to go in baggage bag on the truck to the finish:

phone
jeans

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OW 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Final session in the torture chamber in the dungeons of the RCJ; a.k.a. the osteopathic treatment room. Howard attacks my tight IT band with his thumbs, and goes in deep to try and separate the two ‘heads’ of the calf muscle, working up to doing something similar with my hamstrings. It’s like half an hour of jovial agony. Howard jokes around and gives little laughs as I just scream into the pillow. What joy. I don’t really mind; everything feels better afterwards; tuned up, (almost) ready. I wish I could bring him to the Staten Island start line on Sunday – which according to the weather looks like it’s going to be bastard freezing cold. Estimates are currently varying between -1 and 6 degrees Celsius. I pack an old woolly hat in the case along with the other ‘junker’ clothing – old/second hand stuff that is worn to keep warm when waiting around for the start and discarded immediately before the race (it gets collected and turned over to charity). Final little bits of organising to do. There’s a million little things. Am looking forward to getting my life back…

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THE BASICS 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

The ING New York City Marathon is a major annual marathon whose course runs through all five boroughs of New York City. It is one of the largest marathons in the world, with 43,659 finishers in 2009. Along with the Boston Marathon and Chicago Marathon, it is among the pre-eminent long-distance annual running events in the United States and is one of the World Marathon Majors.

The race is organized by New York Road Runners (NYRR) and has been run every year since 1970. The next marathon will be run on November 7, 2010. In recent years, it has been sponsored by the financial group ING. It is held on the first Sunday of November and attracts professional competitors and amateurs from all over the world.

The initial course of 1970 consisted in repeated racing around Central Park. Nowadays the course covers all five boroughs of New York City. It begins on Staten Island near the approach to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The bridge, which normally carries only vehicular traffic, is closed for the event. Runners use both sides of the upper level of the bridge and the westbound side of the lower level. In the opening minutes of the race, the bridge is filled with runners, creating a dramatic spectacle that is closely associated with the event.

After descending the bridge, the course winds through Brooklyn for approximately the next eleven miles. Runners pass through a variety of neighborhoods, including: Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. At 13.1 miles, runners cross the Pulaski Bridge, marking the halfway point of the race and the entrance into Long Island City, Queens. After about two and a half miles in Queens, runners cross the East River on the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. It is at this point in the race when many runners begin to tire, as the climb up the bridge is considered one of the most difficult points in the marathon.

Reaching Manhattan after about 16 miles, the race proceeds north on First Avenue, then crosses briefly into The Bronx via the Willis Avenue Bridge for a mile before returning to Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge. It then proceeds south through Harlem down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park. At the southern end of the park, the race proceeds across Central Park South, where thousands of spectators cheer runners on during the last mile. At Columbus Circle, the race re-enters the park and finishes outside Tavern on the Green.

In 2008, the race initiated a corral system. Women were given a head start and the balance of the runners began in three staggered starts. The official times are those recorded by a computer chip worn on the shoe, which calculates when a runner crosses the start and when she crosses the finish, known as “net,” as opposed to “gun,” time. Runners also pass timing mats along the course and email notifications can be received by people following runners during the race to see how the runners are doing. In addition, while the distance is the same, there are different courses taken through Bay Ridge and up Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn until the course reaches Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn at Mile 8.”

Map here.

So asking ‘when does it start’? isn’t a straightforward question to answer. The wheelchair race starts at 8.30am, the elite women go off at 9.10am, the elite men start at the front of the first ‘blue’ wave at 9.40. I have drawn the second wave, which I think means that I am unfortunately on the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows and won’t appear in the ‘classic’ NYC marathon photo of the mass start:

Officially I start at 10.10am EST (3.10pm GMT) , although I am going to add a couple of minutes for human traffic and getting out of my corral. However I have to get to the starting area in Staten Island much earlier than that; there is also a lottery for public transport. I have drawn the 7am Staten Island ferry, which means I have to be at the very southern tip of Manhattan for ten to seven on Sunday morning. I am going to have to practice calming the nerves for a couple of hours.

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NRVS 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

Earlier in the week, Liam (who runs marathons in 2′ 50″ and halves in 1’20″) said to me “By the way, this week is ‘paranoid week’, when every little twinge means ‘OMG the marathon is over’.” He’s not wrong. What is that… why are you aching?… you’ve never done that before…  Was going to do sprints on the treadmill but the few lively bits on my calves are still… there. Stop it, dammit! Do you know how much this has cost me? Will try again tomorrow. Go to the gym anyway and stretch everything. My stretching routine now takes ten minutes, after I’ve done every single one I’ve been recommended so far. It’s a mini workout in itself.

Yes, I am getting a little nervous.

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UH 

Thursday, November 4, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

Short session of 4x400m flat-out sprints at the gym, just to keep everything moving. Thankfully, every last little ding and crinkle and twinge and ache in my legs seems to have finally been ironed out. Am feeling slightly queasy though as I finish the last bits of organising and change up money into dollars. Just nerves. It would be a fecking bitch to catch a bug right now; to this end I have been gobbling Immunace and fresh orange juice like supplies are running short. This is going to go right. Have been trying to relax by gently finishing off all loose ends and tidying everything up; wish the whirling brain had an off switch though.

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HERE 

Saturday, November 6, 2010 in 42k | Leave a comment

It’s 11pm on Friday night, and I am at my friend Audrey’s place on 57th Street in Manhattan, about eight blocks from the marathon finish. Things are pretty good. Nice easy flight, quiet. Full of marathoners. Am actually slightly tired of listening to the gabble.  It’s all up to me now. Executing. Pasta, pasta, pasta. Buying food. Marathon news on TV; the Chilean miner, the weather, the preambles. It’s gonna be a big day.

Time for bed.

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calm 

Saturday, November 6, 2010 in 42k | 1 comment

Woke up with the body clock alarm at 6am, managed to get a couple of extra hours sleep. They say that it’s hard to sleep the night before; we’ll find out. After a lot of careful consideration a while back, I decided a long time ago to stay in a hotel near the Staten Island ferry I have to catch at 7am. I check and recheck the bag I am to be taking down to the southern tip of Manhattan. It has to have everything I need, and nothing I do not.

This morning I went to the immense Jacob Javits convention centre on 11th Ave, something like the Manhattan equivalent of Olympia. The marathon expo has two functions; to enable runners to pick up their race number, timing chip and a large sack of freebies; and secondly to push them through a vast temporary mall of running manufacturers stalls. I toy with the idea of a $75 commemorative shirt. Maybe afterwards. I then pin my number on and head to Columbus Circle, where my friend Jodi is waiting to take pictures of me for the UK charity. We even manage to get a yellow cab in the background. Wander up to the finish line at the bottom of Central Park, buzzing with runners, family, techs setting up the infrastructure. Excitement in the air. I jog back as recommended; a short run just to loosen up. Can’t do much else today, have to save energy. Am just going to go to a movie, eat, and then head for a very early night indeed. Tension has kind of gone though. Feeling good.

Thanks for reading. Hope the next post will be long and filled with awesome and exciting news.

 

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RACE 

Sunday, November 7, 2010 in 42k | 4 comments

It’s time.

I check out of the very pleasant and efficient Wall Street Hampton Inn at 6.30am, as dawn is breaking over the Financial District. I woke up at 4, and couldn’t quite get back down. In a few minutes I am at the Staten Island ferry terminal, heaving with people; sleepy and excited. I am lucky enough to not be able to exactly count the number of times I have been to New York, but for some reason I have never taken care to see perhaps its most iconic sight; as the runner-packed ferry (one of a dozen) pulls out into the Lower Bay, the windows are suddenly crowded with cameras as the Statue Of Liberty rises in the east. I didn’t realise quite how many overseas people there were; at least as many as Americans. Everyone is suddenly surrounded by new friends. The collective miles, hours, sweat. We’ve all had to do it. Fifth marathon. First. Thirty-third, according to one old guy’s shirt. Husbands and wives. Charity teams. All together.

We land on Staten Island, New York’s southernmost and least visited borough, and a vast fleet of buses ferries us a few miles to Fort Wadsworth, the start ‘village’. More like a temporary town for 47,000. Over all looms the immense modernist prow of the Verrazano Narrows suspension bridge. It gleams proudly in the morning sun. I drop a numbered clear plastic sack with my clothes and sundries into a UPS truck which will drive it to the finish.

This is the day I have been planning for the last six months.  Everything seems OK. I have tried to be as organised as the immense operation around me of corralling three separate waves of runners into three different lanes leading onto the approach ramps of the bridge. The atmosphere is like a nervous rock festival; nylon and rubbish everywhere, there is even a horrible blues act on a stage ‘entertaining’ the runners. It’s cold. Sips of tea, half a banana. Vaseline my bits. Recheck the safety pins, spares in the belt, gels, the D-tag chip attached to my left shoe that will relay my position to the world. Now give me my robes and put on my crown. I have immortal longings in me. As we head to the corrals I hang on to a chainlink fence and run through my sheet of stretches as a vast boom sounds above me; the gun for the first wave of runners. Everyone with me in the second and third wave cheers them on. Shuffle forward. Dump my old hoodie top onto a pile of thousands of others, it will be turned over to charity. Jesus, that’s cold. The efficiency has distracted me well. No fear. Good lucks all round. In five languages.

As the second gun goes off at 10.10, the three corrals take their first separate steps uphill until 12,000 runners are surging over the Narrows. It’s glorious, and would be joyous if the crosswinds weren’t freezing. My hands are numb. I dump my hat after a mile as I warm up. There are clothes strewn across the bridge; hats, tops, bottles, gels, scarves, everything. On the concrete off-ramp descent toward Brooklyn there are hundreds of pairs of gloves; people have done this before.

It’s happening. People are slowly creeping past me. I had to put a predicted finish time on the application, and I plucked 4 hours 11 minutes out of the air. Ha ha ha ha. Onto 4th Ave, running through Brooklyn’s southern suburbs, and the crowds appear. Whoop, whoop. Cowbells seems to be popular this year. I chat to various British runners (there are literally thousands). In these early miles, everyone is in a good mood. I see my first band; the marathon organisers proudly tout that the route is lined with over 50 bands to entertain the runners and spectators. What they don’t mention is that every single one of them sucks, and hard. Horrible local bar bands, hairy old blues hippies, shitty rock, hipster rubbish, singer-lamewriters, wack rappers. A vortex of bad. The knees are twinging. The crowd is singing. I spit and miss and a huge gobbet goes down my tights. Balls. 65th street all the way down to 1st street and beyond, and we can see the beautiful, brutal Brooklyn Academy of Music rising at the end of the road. Park Slope. I love Park Slope. Flowing OK. We curve round at the bottom of Flatbush Ave, and the crowd is three deep. High-fiving, cheering, screaming. Giving it everything. It’s awesome.

North. North. Through the lovely brownstones of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Hipsters and orthodox Jews – just like home. I glance for the first time at the clock, offset by half an hour,  as we head toward the halfway point on Pulaski Bridge. I am slightly surprised to find I have run the first half in 2 hours 23, only eight minutes slower than my half-marathon in London a month ago. Whoah. I didn’t even think I was moving that fast. In the parlance, I am running ‘blind’; without a watch clocking the miles. This was deliberate, part of how I wanted to experience the whole thing. Feeling my way through. It’s worked so far. I feel great, with a slight worry in the back of my mind. A mind niggle to go with the achy knees. Have I gone out too fast? I thought I went out like a snail.

Into Queens, the third of the five boroughs. Welcome to Queens! We make more noise than those Brooklyn assholes. WHOOOOOO! I meet Jodi with a sweaty hug just past the 47th Ave water station, and she hands over a couple of gooey gels I gave her yesterday. I didn’t want to carry five. She takes an over-posed photograph. Past halfway, and the noise of the crowds dims as we turn west and head across the lower level of the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. The sound of thudding footsteps and breathing. No one speaks or whoops now. Hundreds and thousands of silent runners. We are past fifteen miles, and the bridge is a long, long hill, and it’s starting to bite. I take a quick walk break and gobble a gel. Round the corner and the noise builds again to perhaps the nicest part of the route, up 1st, one of the glorious, wide Manhattan avenues, stretching to the horizon. The crowd noise echoes off the building. The roar. We spread out across six lanes. The sun is behind me as I run with my shadow. The twinges have gone, and I am moving. 17 miles. They are falling fast. More Gatorade. More water.

But now it’s starting to toughen. My legs are protesting, and getting louder and more strident. By the time we grind it out to 19 miles and cross the Willis Avenue bridge into the rundown southern reaches of the Bronx, I have to walk up the ramp. My right leg is starting to seize. Walk a little, run a little. Sound systems blast reggae and soca across the dirty concrete. 20 miles. I was wondering, with a surge of optimism, if I could run this in under five hours, but this is fading as the pain is worsening. I’m gonna fucking crawl to the finish if I have to. I shuffle southwards, and have to stop and stretch on a hydrant shortly before the final push over the Hudson back into Manhattan. Aaaaaaagggghhhhh. Jesus, that fucking hurts. My right leg is worse, but everything is protesting: quads, feet, knees, flexors. Everything. I’ve never demanded as much from my legs. Good little legs. Carry me home. There is a marathon aphorism that ‘the last six miles are the last half of the race’. I’d kind of heard and dismissed it as just one of many, glib and factually inaccurate (see also “How do you run a marathon? Step 1: start running. There is no step 2″). Of course it’s true, like most truisms. Yes.

“So I / Drew what I had from the central trust.” The last five. Walk, run. Walk, run. The pain is now continuous, despite a on-course dose of ibuprofen. By Marcus Garvey Park a longer stretch of running leads me to let out a scream as I start to stumble a little, salt-streaked and grimacing. A volunteer lady of a certain age walks over to me. Are you OK, honey? How are you feeling? Can I see your eyes? There is a medical station just there if you need it. Doing her job. I’ll be OK. I’m not 100% sure, but I’m close. Closer. The crowds are still there. Pushing us on. They are doing a different job now, at this stage, when people are tiring. You can do it! Almost there! Kicking ass! Gimme five! You’re looking great! Beautiful. Just beautiful. But it hurts. I’m running out of everything.

I haven’t “hit the wall”, which is when the body runs out of glycogen. Fewer people do these days since the advent of gels, plus the few sips of Gatorade fluid replacement I have taken almost every mile. There is no problem here fuelling yourself enough that you don’t run out of energy. But I am running out of will. The only way you can fail this is if you don’t give it everything you can. I chat to a girl next to me and we compare pain notes. A good distraction. Runners from everywhere, all countries, all shapes and sizes and ages. All standards. A guy has a T-shirt which details the dozens of marathons he has run on the back, he is struggling more than me. Perhaps it’s time you gave it up, chum. As we head down through Harlem and the tree-lined park roads, a strange chill comes over me. I now know I am going to finish. But I shiver slightly, and think of people at home following me on the internet tracker, and all the people who have donated to the charities and all the work and all the pain, and I am almost overcome by a wave of emotion mixed with nausea. Dizzy. I stop and hold my head for a couple of seconds. Dry heave. A few tears. Come on now. Hold it together. Not quite. Almost.

The last three, as we curve into Central Park, are almost the best, despite the stumbling and the grimacing and the pain. The crowd are incredible. It really is like all your friends came to cheer you on. The legendary ‘spirit of the race’ I’ve read about is right here, on the last little stretch that seems like it will never end. Never. Come on. Please. That must be it. Come on, you can! Nearly there! Round the bottom border of Central Park, toward the gleaming Time-Warner building at Columbus Circle. 800 yards to go. Turn. The flags are up. The noise booms. I am welling up, and in the final, agonising stretch to the line I lose it completely. I am bawling my eyes out as I cross the final mat into the finish funnel. A year that has changed my life, a marshalling of so much, all for this single moment. I cross it with an older runner, a lady in a yellow shirt, and we hug. She is crying even harder than me.

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As I shuffle southwards through Manhattan in my space blanket, clutching my belongings to more high-fives and how-did-you-dos from complete strangers in the gathering gloom, I look at the finishers medal. Not as pretty as I’d hoped. The medal is really inside you. I know that sounds drippy and self-helpy. But you could cheat and get a finishers medal. You know when you’ve done it. Five hours, nineteen minutes and twenty seven seconds… yeah, and the rest. I did want to go faster. I didn’t have the legs. I asked for a lot, and the bank was empty. Most everything else was fine, from the cardio-vascular system to the planning to the equipment. The first half was strong, but I didn’t have enough experience on the long field. The split says it all: 2’23″ for the first half, nearly 3 hours for the second. I didn’t have the legs. I can look at why. Addictive? Soaking the pain away in Audrey’s bath, I start musing. Well, if I’d just trained an extra month, and put more distance work in, and I was five kilos lighter, and I worked on the form, and I strengthened my legs a little… we’ll see. Coulda woulda shoulda. I did what I could in the time I had. Where to go, and what to do now? I need to think. But… I did it. It’s done.

I owe a debt of thanks to so many people. Firstly all the dozens of people who were kind enough to donate to the two autism charities. We raised over 1200 pounds for Autistica and 900 dollars for the Autism Society Of America – and I still have to pay in some cash donations. Thank you all so very much indeed.

Particular thanks also go to the people who have put me up or contributed so much useful advice or training, including (but not limited to): Liam P, Audrey M, Jodi S, Alison W, Ian D, Ed A, Sarah E, and Lara B M.

And most of all, to Sarah S. It’s all you. Oh yes.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog. Now I will head outside with my weary, creaking legs and eat my way round this lovely city.

John S. New York City. 8th November 2010.

 

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