THE HOME STRETCH

9 April 2013

Somehow, after a ridiculous number of days, hours, kilometres, however you want to measure the last few months, we’ve come crashing into April and race day is only three weeks away. Less than, actually. In two and a half weeks I’ll be bundling my extremely sleepy self onto a 7am flight to Queenstown, letting my mother feed me up for two days before I set out for a good half dozen hours of running. And all of a sudden, everything seems awfully close and real.

There’s something to be said about preparing so intensely for an event that it seems like you haven’t bothered to plan for your life continuing beyond it. It’s a good thing in a lot of ways; it’s focusing on a goal, it pushes you to be better. But things do continue beyond race day – apart from the fact there’s a fantastic sounding dinner at the top of the Skyline, there’s a triumphant return to alcohol that my friends are counting down for, there’s the Xterra series taking me through the winter to hopefully train for the Luxmore in December; I have a congratulatory trip to America (never let it be said that I don’t overreward myself). But before any of that, there’s April 27th.

The best thing about three weeks to go is that it’s almost time for the taper. At this time it’s too late to really change anything about my training; I’ve been continuing at my five-runs, seven-hours weekly schedule for just over the last month and it feels fairly natural, though I can’t say that I think a three hour run will ever feel easy for me. The soreness of both my achilles tendons is testament to the amount of hill training I’ve been doing; I’m better going down them than going up but that’s okay, the time made up on one makes up for the other. It’s hard to think that there’s anything I would have done differently.

One thing I love about running, though, is that no matter how your training’s gone, it’s still unpredictable. I’ve had a couple of training runs lately where it not only feels like I’ve never run a step before in my life, it feels like I’ve been replaced by some alien with only an extremely vague idea of how human biomechanics work. I like the uncertainty, that running long is as much psychological as it is physical. And I like that no matter what, “it doesn’t get easier, it only gets faster.” There’s no other sport I can think of that works quite like that.

So the last few weeks are a checklist. Taper down the mileage. Get a few leg massages in – I highly recommend this, having had one in the weekend where the guy doing it complained afterwards about my calves hurting his thumbs (he may be in the wrong profession). Eat right. For the love of whatever, don’t get injured now. Check and double check the required gear – I’ve been running with the full gear allotment in my Camelback for a month now and was incredibly grateful for it on a pouring rain long run on Saturday morning when I had to stop and put the thermals on. And lastly, get incredibly excited. There’s no race like the Routeburn. The last race I ran I didn’t know a single person on the course and had nobody to meet me at the finish line; this time I’ve been assured I’ll know most of the people I’ll see, and the ones I don’t will be friendly regardless. For the first time, I can honestly say the race can’t come fast enough.