Training. The start is always the toughest. You have to drag yourself, and the extra pounds you've acquired over the course of a sedentary month, back out pounding the pavement and into the gym. It's more a mental than physical test - it's a lot easier to sit on a comfy sofa and watch the Euros, or the golf, the tennis, or even the news, than get out in the rain and run. The only thing that gets me out is the knowledge that, if you don't get some long miles laid down on the road, the bike or in the pool, then I will fail to justice to the things I have planned, and to the people who are willing me on.
There are always false starts - you can't just switch from nothing to full training, however much you'd like to. There are creaks and niggles - I have a bad back, and it's been giving me trouble, in fact at this point it hurts all the time.
But I've done this a few times now, and there is something other than the fear of failure that keeps my trainers laced up and goggles at the ready: the knowledge that at some point during the training cycle - could be a few days or a few weeks after you started - a moment will come when you no longer have to think too hard about putting one foot in front of the other. It's not like a switch is flicked and it all happens at once - you're just running along, and you realise you aren't thinking about running anymore. Then you realise that you're going faster than you were a few minutes ago, to the beat of the song you're listening to. Then you find yourself smiling. It's a two-speed smile - half for the immediate moment, half because you know you've cracked it and your constant battle with yourself to get out and train has finally become a routine.
The smile arrived last Friday night. I was heading back home on the train to Manchester, due to arrive at 11 in the evening. A Friday night train journey is always beer, book and peanut territory, but I had my trainers with me so I decided to run back to my parents’ house on the other side of Salford.
Obviously it was absolutely pouring down when I got to Manchester, and the rain got harder. I hated it at the start. My bag was heavy, I was hunched and struggling for breath. Then I got to Salford and started to run into the lippy kids lining street corners that are a permanent fixture in the city. I’m utterly ashamed to say I expected trouble or abuse, and gave myself a serious telling off as I realised that all the fist pumping and commotion wasn’t violence or anger, but big group of them turning to cheer me on. I was wearing my marathon shirt that still had my name written on, and they were all shouting “GO ON DOM, GO ON LAD!!” By the time I’d passed the final group I was laughing as hard as I was able to while still running, and all of a sudden realised I was almost home.
That was it – the breakthrough. The moment I stopped having to focus on the fact I was running, and take in a few of the things around me. It’s a lesson every time – if training seems too hard, or you don’t feel like you can do it, all you need to do is remember why you’re doing it and drag yourself out. The variety of people and spirit you encounter through training for this charity is a constant delight.
I arrived home just after midnight. Drenched, knackered, hurting, with a smile you couldn’t wipe off my face.