No f@£$%^g way am I doing that. Well, guess what, I am. I got the news last Friday that an entry into the 2024 New York Marathon was mine. Thank you to Dan and Sam at Science in Sport. Logically, there is no way I should or can run a marathon, and that’s why it’s such a great challenge.
It was 23 or 24 years ago that an orthopaedic consultant told me that I had a bone bruise in my right knee as a result of my running and that it was time to hang my trainers up. I did do that. I didn’t do a lot of exercise for several years following that before finally getting off my ever-larger backside and buying a bike. The rest, as they say, is history. The farthest I have run is 16 miles in a training run, leading up to the consultation with Mr No Fun of Windsor Royal Hospital.
I will be 67 when the starting gun goes for the marathon. I’m still not Eliud Kipchoge size, at 6′ 5″ and 230 pounds. My knees are worse than when I was not a great runner around the turn of the millennium. I indeed tore a meniscus in my right knee almost three years ago, and the subsequent x-rays told me that I have moderate osteoarthritis in both knees. I make a noise when I get out of a chair. If it’s after exercise, I make an even bigger noise. After brutal bike rides, I have been known to roll out of the chair onto the floor and slowly battle to an upright position. As I said, there is no f@£$%^g way I will run a marathon.
Why can I complete 26.2 miles? Rationally, we know knee osteoarthritis is not a reason to stop running. It was twenty years ago, but a lot of medical research has shown running doesn’t worsen the condition, and indeed, in some scenarios, it can improve knee health. So crappy knees are not a good enough excuse. No sir. I believe that my knees would be worse if I didn’t exercise. I know my chances of living a long, healthy life would shorten, and I know my mental health would suffer. I’ll take some pain for the overall benefit of my health. Pick your poison. Do nothing and be gradually subsumed by age and lifestyle-related conditions. Or stay healthy and deal with a localised issue. I will wear out before I rust out.
Can I Tough It Out?
Mentally, I am better equipped for arduous training and a tough event. In the confusing mid-life sea of my forties, I didn’t feel I was a determined man, certainly not by my current standards. I was on the early slopes of my mental health journey and had not pieced together why I was how I was. I’ve developed a lot of insight since then, and I am most certainly mentally tougher now than at any time in my life. I figured out somewhere on the journey that mental toughness can be developed. My proof point was my cycling accident less than a year ago when I found I had reserves of toughness that surprised me. No f@£$%^g way is a different proposition in my later life.
The task will take discipline. I will prioritise running in my overall training and not get overambitious, building up mileage steadily and, critically, getting enough rest. Losing a couple of pounds will help me. I am also ensuring I work hard on mobility and stretching. Nutrition and supplementation will be important. Like many of us, I am not consistent with the elements mentioned earlier. The key to turning no f@£$%^g way into a successful mission is to be consistent—week in and week out. I can do that.
New York, New York
Why the New York Marathon? I love the city and have lost count of the times I have visited it. I remember an old friend, an OG of ultrarunning, telling me there was no other event like it for atmosphere. He recalls crossing a bridge and becoming aware of an audible buzz in the distance and it becoming louder. By the time he left the bridge for the next city block, he felt it was like being in a packed football stadium. This guy has run Marathon de Sables, amongst other iconic events, and New York stands out in his memories.
November last saw me at the event’s finish line, thanks to Science in Sport, a marathon sponsor. I had been recovering from a serious cycling accident and was already wondering what my 2024 challenge should be. Watching people sprint, walk, wobble, puke, and be carried over the finish fired me up. A blind man crossing the line at 3:06 was an inspiration. Watching a hero of mine, cancer survivor Tommy Rivs, finish in 4:41 made me emotional. This felt like an impossible enough challenge to galvanise me.
Tommy Rivs, Gently Raging
About Tommy. In July 2020, he was admitted to hospital with what was thought to be COVID-19, but it turned out to be a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma. He began chemotherapy and remained in a coma in the intensive care unit for two and a half months. He then went through a bone marrow transplant and spent time in physical rehab, learning how to carry out the simplest of tasks. Seventy-five pounds fell from his already lean frame. But in 2021, he returned to the New York Marathon and finished in 9 hours and 19 minutes, long after the event had closed. Now, Tommy was a world-class athlete before his illness. Nevertheless, I can get around the same course in November 2024 if he can return from that.
Steady is the watchword for me—a steady return to running after a long break. I went out for a few runs of 2.5 to 4 miles in December and January. Immediately, I found my knees to be sore as hell. The reason was I was going too fast. I felt it was really slow, but after conferring with more experienced people, it became clear that slow running is the key at the outset. A maximum and minimum pace in my Garmin watch now keeps me honest. I don’t need to start my marathon training plan until May; therefore, until then, it will be a lot of slow three-mile runs to build a physical base. Weathering my knees and body to get used to the different running mechanics. I joined the Slow AF Running Club to power my No F@£$%^g Way challenge.
Everything I read and hear is that, especially given my age, strength training is a must, preferably twice a week. Now my cup is too full, given my cycling. If I try to run to a programme and strength train twice, then there isn’t much left for rest. And bugger all for cycling. That has led me to make a plan for the full year. I’m zoned in on our Chaingang Cyclists Girona trip in mid-April, but that is the big event of the year for me. (He said, conveniently ignoring a summer jaunt to Paris may be on the cards.) I go to Venice for a month straight after Girona, and there I plan to spend a month stacking the three-mile runs.
On 1 July, my marathon training plan starts. I’m using a structured Hal Higdon programme for marathon novices. It calls for four weekly runs, although I will see how that goes. If in doubt, I will drop one of the short runs. It’s all about the recovery. It’s not a flashy plan; it’s a proven plan. Simple is good.
What’s a new sport without a new kit? Of course, I bought some. Thankfully, this isn’t a case of bespoke cycling frames and ludicrously priced shoes and bib shorts. I kept it to a new pair of ASICS Gel Kayano shoes I bought in New York. The timing of that purchase should tell you my mind has already been made up.
Then, a few people told me to have a gait analysis. Which I did at the excellent Run And Become in London. That saw me walking out with the correct ASICS shoes that support my feet better. It’s worth noting I take a UK size 14, but my feet are very narrow too. I suspect my toes are longer than some people’s feet. The new shoes are comfortable. The more expensive Kayanos now sit on my shoe rack, looking bereft.
I bought a Salomon running vest to try the new gadgets from an entrepreneur I am helping. His Mix Innovations business has some neat and patented hydration delivery devices. I will do a full road test once I break through the three-mile barrier.
No f@£$%^g way am I buying too much kit. I’ve just lied to myself, in writing, in public.
Let me log some training miles, and I will report back. Will my body adapt, or will it say no f@£$%^g way? Let’s find out. All the blogging in the world doesn’t help me now; it’s time to hit the road—a poor man’s David Goggins, raging against the weakness of humans, exorcising it from my body. For you Goggins fans out there, you must catch up with Walker Ward on Instagram, the fat, white Goggins documenting his adventures on the road. “I shat myself in Louisiana” is a classic from him.
I also plan to raise money for a charity close to my heart. But more detail of that will come in future months.
But most of all, the plan is to challenge myself. Do I have the discipline and mental toughness to get through the training? I know my body will protest; most certainly, my knees will trouble me, and my lower back is another weak area. The strategies include the right training volume, sensible strength training, and a real focus on recovery.
And if I can do the training, I will complete the event. I don’t have a target time, as an aside. My goal is to finish, which will be more than good enough. I will walk the course if I have to. There is no f@£$%^g way I will fail to finish. Book that now.