11 MARCH 2013

If there’s one thing the last couple of weeks have made clear, it’s that there’s nothing like Bear Grylls jumping around the Routeburn to make you realise a couple of things: without a doubt, we’re running the most spectacular part of the country in seven weeks, and it’s going to be tough.

With seven weeks – forty-eight ridiculously short days as I type this – to go, reality is starting to set in. At most, I’ve got five long runs left, assuming a taper in the last two weeks before the race. I’ve got a half marathon in two weeks. And somewhere along the line, it’s started to get tough. It’s not a bad thing – if this was easy, everybody would be doing it. The thing is, it’s easy to lose sight of how much progress you’ve made when you’re caught up in it. I ran my first three-hour trail this weekend, and thanks to some ill-planning that sounded great in the comfort of my house, I’d managed to put the large hill right at about the two-and-a-half hour mark. Struggling up that you start to question what you’re doing, why you got out of bed in the first place, whether this might actually be the death of you. But a couple of hours later, safely (albeit with slightly numb calves) in the comfort of a cafe, I told my friend about how tough it was and she simply said she couldn’t conceive of running that sort of distance.

Make no mistake – I’m not an experienced runner. My odds of winning the Routeburn are very similar to the odds of me having to fly the plane down there – an absolute certainty if something happens to wipe everyone else out. But one thing that I love about running is that no matter how hard it is, and no matter how long you’ve been doing it or how fast you are, you’re only ever really in a race against yourself. And when it starts to get tough, the only thing you really have to do is keep going.

Though to anyone with more experience, my current mileage – sitting between six and seven hours a week across five runs – may not sound particularly tough, it’s more than I’ve ever done before. Even training for the half-marathon I did last year I never went past three runs a week. And it definitely starts to take a toll on your body. My dad, in the usual ritual we have of him dispensing wisdom and me choosing to ignore it until it becomes patently obvious that he’s right, told me last week to cut back the first four runs in the week if I’m stepping the fifth up significantly (say, by half an hour) or I’d pay the price by being exhausted the day after. I, of course, decided that that was more of a “vague suggestion” than actual advice, left the other four as they were, and promptly paid the price with a sleepless Saturday night as I lay awake and contemplated how much pain you could actually feel from your muscles before you had to do something about it.

One of the advantages – other than a lot of unfortunately-easily-ignored-advice – of not being the only, or even best, runner in your family is that there’s not far to go to find out if what you’re feeling is unusual or alarming. I went through a period a couple of weeks ago where my knees would absolutely kill me on downhill sections, and my father swiftly introduced me to joint antiflamme – a week of applying that each night and there was no longer anything wrong with my knees. And while I’m sure he gets tired of my incessant quizzing about the Routeburn – suspiciously, he suggested that we run opposite directions during our two-lap Sam Summers Hut track training run last week to possibly get away from me – there’s no doubt that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to managing worries. (That being said, in a display of parenting anyone could be proud of, he did say he was glad I ran through a fairly bad injury on last year’s half-marathon to “find out what it’s like to be in agony.”)

So seven weeks out isn’t the easiest part of your training. I’ve reached what will be the plateau of my personal weekly mileage and now it’s just maintaining that until race day, while working on my hill skills and trying to take care of my body. I’m lucky in that I have a nutrition plan from Trailblazer, which more than anything else is helping with my actual long-run nutrition (I was more the “drink some water along the way and eat when you get back” type of unhealthy runners before this) and I’m hanging out for my fortnightly visits with City Chiropractic. (Auckland runners, I can’t recommend Dr Nick Laurie highly enough; I’ve been seeing him for three years. He’s a runner, he gets it, and he puts up with my refusal to take any advice on my general health and wellbeing so well you’d think it was to drum up business for himself. Oh, wait…)

Forty-eight days to go. One more viewing of that Air New Zealand safety video, on my way down to Queenstown for the race itself. It’s starting to sound like it’s just around the corner, and my “what have I got myself into?” inner voice is starting to get a challenge from a part of me that’s completely and absolutely psyched for the end of April. It may not be easy right now, and it’s sure as hell not going to be easy on the day. But if it was, what would be the point?