Pearce Half’ PB’s in Lugano

“Your body’s ruined, Pearce. You’ll never walk again if you carry on at this rate,” exclaims Dr. Kästner.

“But Doctor,” I reply, “I have a marathon to run in just a matter of weeks. THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING TO ME!”

“There’s nothing we can do for you, Mr. Pearce,” interjects the nurse, leaping to her feet from behind her desk, where she was completing some fairly unimportant paperwork. “We’ve exhausted literally every method of physiotherapy known to (wo)man, and you’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 85 if you continue to flog your fine, muscular body like this.”

“BULLCRAP,” I yell at about 75% of the maximum volume I think I could theoretically muster. “You quacks don’t know nothing – I’ll show you, on this sunny morning in mid-March 2018. Watch this MF-ing space!”[1]

Fast forward two-and-a-bit months (from mid-March, as mentioned above) and Pearce – who had previously been written off by Swiss medical professionals as “physically unable to perform even the most pathetic of tasks”[2] – is crossing the finishing line, with his arms not quite aloft but certainly with some form of celebration in mind, in the Swiss Half-Marathon Championships in a not-too-shabby 1 hour 11 minutes and just 20 seconds. And this on a day when the temperature in the shade was probably hotter than the sun itself[3].

But how did this comeback, which many students of the sport are describing as greater than that of Lazarus of Bethany in the 1st century[4], come about? As was the case with Laz, was a miracle of Jesus to blame, as recounted in the Gospel of John[5]? Read on dear reader and all will be revealed…

Rewind again two-and-a-bit months[6], and Pearce sits dejected outside the Zurich Sportklinik, the rain pouring down at such velocity you’d think this bit was also fairly unrepresentative of what actually happened that day. Much like the meltdown he experienced almost a year ago to that day, he jumped on the train home and had two smoked salmon baguettes, each accompanied by a beer[7]. Realizing he still had 5 hours’ work to do when he got home, and that his wife was annoyingly working from home so would smell beer on his breath before lunchtime, he cancelled out the alcohol by cleverly consuming three double espressos and chewing some fragrant gum. Taking a seat at his desk, he needed inspiration – at that point a massive shaft[8] of sunlight poked through the window. Had Pearce been a Japanese martial artist, the next voice he heard would probably have been that of his recently deceased Sensei – as it was, it was his still living wife’s voice he heard say “it’s only running, just take a few weeks completely off and, from what the doctor said, you’ll be fully recovered.” While Pearce’s wife definitely wasn’t[9] Japanese, her words were as wise as if she had indeed been the ghost of a small Japanese old man. Pearce decided to heed those wise words. He also decided to stop referring to himself in the third person, as he knew that however many months later he might be writing a blog about this tricky period in his life, it would confuse him no end as to who says what and in what tense and using what personal pronouns.

Four days later, I got bored and went for a run, but instead of caning it and ramping straight back up to 100km a week or so, I unusually showed great restraint and held back – a form of running-related “edging” if you will – and successfully managed to avoid what I had assumed would be an inevitable injury (or “shot load”, if you continue with the “edging” metaphor). For two whole weeks, I only ran every other day, and even after that, incorporated lots easy days and rest days.

I also ran a few races, knowing that I had minimal training so had minimal aspirations, something which I really enjoyed. For the first time ever, I ran a 5k where the first kilometre was not way too fast – the result being almost-even splits, with the fastest kilometre being the last one, and only ending up 4 seconds off a PB despite being in pretty poor shape[10]. I took onboard the possibility that even pacing was definitely a good idea and that not really giving a shit was possibly a good idea (“possibly” was good enough for me; not giving a shit is something I’m fairly fond of).

My training for the next month was fairly random, with me just running whatever session I fancied on a Tuesday and Thursday, and then the rest of the time running if I felt like it. I ran a slow 10-mile race in the heat, coming second and winning 70 francs worth of supermarket vouchers[11]. For the second year running, I won a small wooden horse as a member of a team in the annual 14-leg SOLA-Stafette relay in and around Zurich. Racing without caring was having decent – if unspectacular – results, but I was actually really enjoying it.

Fig 1: Second wooden horse in two years. Fuck yeah.

Fig 1: Second wooden horse in two years. Fuck yeah.

Having realised that my “target” HM would be a hot and sweaty affair in the south of Switzerland at the end of May, I decided to book a period of warm-weather training[12]. A mere 13-hour flight later and I landed in the much-overlooked running region of Singapore. I had a nice sightseeing run planned for the morning after I arrived (luckily, I was properly hydrated from drinking several pints of beer/wine on the plane), so the next day I set out on a pretty spectacular[13] long run around the ex-British colony. The objectives of my warm-weather stint achieved, I stepped back onto the plane (with the same flight crew) a mere 36 hours after stepping off it. Another 13 hours later and I was back in Zurich, ready to reap the rewards of my spell in the tropics[14].

Fig 2: It was at this point I realised I’d made a mistake.

Fig 2: It was at this point I realised I’d made a mistake.

A 5-mile tempo run 10 days from my race at just over 5:30/mile pace convinced me that I might be able to break 1:13, which would represent a PB of about a minute, so I set off for Lugano in southern Switzerland with my cock held high [CHECK IF THIS PHRASE EXISTS IN ENGLISH].

Unlike last year, when the whole family were in tow, 2018 was a solo outing. Feeling smug in the knowledge that the entry fee to the race gave you free train travel to get, I boarded the 16:08 train to Lugano on the Saturday evening. Twenty-four short minutes later, I was feeling considerably less smug when I realised this was a second-class ticket and the second-class passenger in the seat next to me getting on the train at Zug (apparently Michael Schumacher used to live there before he fell over skiing) must have weighed at least 22 stone.

Having spent the next what-seemed-like-two hours[15] genuinely worried that my portly neighbour’s encroaching thigh (it was MASSIVE) might slop onto my more delicate thigh and cut off the blood supply[16], I made my excuses and moved seats to a more spacious accommodation[17].

After what-seemed-like two hours later[18], we pulled into Lugano. Keen to get my race number, then relax in my hotel room for the evening and watch the Champions League final, I set off down the hill from the station at a brisk pace, only to be blocked on the narrow footpath down to the “old town” area by my former neighbour, 22-stone Lil[19]. This time, she had me check-mated, as no amount of tutting or scraping my shoes on the pavement right behind her would make her “cédez le passage”. Thankfully, Lugano boasts an abundance of A-grade gelaterias, and it wasn’t long before “Lil” branched off down a side street to seek some sustenance, allowing me to power on to first, the “expo” to get my number and then second, my lodgings for the night.

After a solid night’s sleep, I awoke to the sounds of a couple having what sounded like fairly average sex in the room beneath me. I immediately “chugged” 750ml of beetroot juice (never done this before, but I assumed nothing could go wrong[20]), headed to the breakfast buffet where I quaffed three bowls of sugary muesli and a round of toast and jam, before having four double espressos (technically two quad espressos, but I took a deep breath halfway through each, so my stomach probably registered it as the former).

On leaving the hotel for my warm-up, I immediately bumped into fellow competitor and 7th-place finisher in the 2016 Olympic marathon, Abraham Tadesse. For a reason that is still unknown to me, I held out my hand for what turned out to be the most awkward “hi-5” in the history of the world. Even more awkwardly, his warm-up followed the exact same route as mine (or rather, mine followed his), at basically the same speed, so I spent the next 20 minutes jogging about 10 metres behind him, pretending that this was normal[21].

Fig 3: Lugano is fairly pretty, although warm. You might be able to make me out behind the trees running closely behind Abraham Tadesse.

Fig 3: Lugano is fairly pretty, although warm. You might be able to make me out behind the trees running closely behind Abraham Tadesse.

At the start, I lined up just behind all the African runners (not wanting to sound like Nigel Farage, but there were shit loads of them) and bumped into fellow small-wooden-horse-winning relay team member Jens. We hi-5ed (this felt completely natural, although I was probably mentally comparing this to the hi-5 I’d experienced earlier, so it may not have been) and then before we – or indeed anyone – knew it, the gun went off.

From the very start, everyone went mental[22] and after the first mile I was already down in about 100th place, despite running said first mile in 5:25 or thereabouts. I’m not sure whether it was the voice of fictional, recently-deceased ghost-Sensei or non-fictional, still-living wife which told me to “not be a dick and go out that fast”, but whoever it was[23], I stuck to the idea. Throughout the race, all the dicks who’d gone out too fast (bar the 22 runners who finished ahead of me) blew up and got a short, sharp taste of Pearce’s well-paced medicine[24] as I overtook exploding[25] runner after exploding runner[26]. The first 10k or so were genuinely the most enjoyable 10k of a race I’ve ever run, mainly because I just wasn’t that bothered about my time.

At half way (which the organizers had helpfully marked with a sign in English saying “WELL DONE, YOU COMPLETED A QUARTER MARATHON OR HALF OF THE HALF MARATHON OF 10,547 KM”), I glanced at my watch and it said 35-something minutes. At this point, I panicked as I realised that I should start caring, as I could be on for a decent PB. The enjoyment quickly faded and I started breathing very heavily, which was mainly down to the exertion of running at 5:30/mile pace in 25-degree heat (and possibly some panic).

Somehow, I managed to remain on pace for the next 5 miles or so, after which I spent most of my mental energy pessimistically looking at my watch and working out what my worst-possible finishing time would be if I slowed by a given amount. Before I knew it, I was pointlessly sprinting past a Kenyan (female) and bearing down on the finishing line. Seeing a (for me) surprisingly low time on the clock, I thought some sort of celebration was in order, but then remembered I’m (still) British, so that sort of thing is frowned upon; which gave rise to my “celebration”, with sweat pouring down my head, blood draining out of my nipples, and dignity deserting me with every step taken.

Fig 4: The holy quaternity – twatty face, bleeding nipples, shorts almost revealing already tiny knob, crap “celebration”. Lack of club vest was due to me forgetting it and having to buy a new vest the night before at the expo.

Fig 4: The holy quaternity – twatty face, bleeding nipples, shorts almost revealing already tiny knob, crap “celebration”. Lack of club vest was due to me forgetting it and having to buy a new vest the night before at the expo.

I’m still not overly sure how I managed to run for 13 miles at a speed about as fast as my usual 10k pace, even more so given I was heavier, less fit and running in hotter weather than I ever do. With hindsight, it was 50% not giving a shit, 50% getting some decent training in, and then 50% the magic Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes.

So, in conclusion, reader, you would be right to draw literally nothing from this blog post. I know I’ve learned nothing.

Fig 5: Healthy recovery on the train home.

Fig 5: Healthy recovery on the train home.

 

Footnotes:

[1] While this may not represent a truly verbatim transcription of the conversation that ensued at the “Sportklinik” in Zurich in mid-March 2018, it pretty much sums up the discussion that I and Dr. Kästner had – in summary, I had a minor hip injury and he told me I should probably stop running for the next few weeks. (The conversation also took place in Swiss-German.) (And there was no nurse present – that bit was definitely bullshit.)

[2] Again, not the doctor’s exact words.

[3] Another estimate.

[4] AD

[5] John 11:1–44

[6] This will be the last such flashback/flashforward – I know for a fact that Hollywood actor Guy Pierce is a bit of a dick when it comes to taking legal action when he even sniffs a similarity to his hit backwards/forwards film Memento. And to think he started off as Mike in Neighbours.

[7] Sadly, this bit is true.

[8] Knob joke for Hywel.

[9] And still isn’t.

[10] My actual shape was literally poor; I’d embraced a lot of February and March in much the same way Ant McPartlin would embrace a Monday morning – loads of beer and wine and not spending a single second thinking about poor old Dec. My weight had ballooned to 74kg from my usual 69-70kg (granted, this high watermark was taken pre-piss, but not even I can piss 4 litres of liquid).

[11] This may sound a lot, but in Switzerland it’ll only get you a frozen lasagne and two bottles of Stolichnaya vodka.

[12] I had four Delirium Tremens and thought it was a good idea to book a weekend in Singapore to see a friend.

[13] Spectacular both in terms of the scenery and spectacular in terms of the fact I managed to sweat over 6 litres of water out in a mere 90 minutes.

[14] Mainly limited to really bad guts from some adventurous Thai food and crippling jetlag.

[15] According to the Swiss railway timetable, it was 17 minutes.

[16] On the combined 26 hours of flights to/from Singapore, for which I’d forgotten to download any Netflix onto my phone (I was going to get House of Cards, which I’m no longer allowed to watch at home because, according to the wife, “it’s all a bit rapey”. Her stance didn’t even change when I mentioned that Kevin Spacey’s raping was far more likely to affect me than her, so she should be quiet), I spent a copious amount of time (about 5 hours) reading the inflight magazine, where there were numerous warnings about DVT. (After those 5 hours, I realised that long-haul flights give you loads of film and TV on the screen in front of you – problem solved.)

[17] I think this is how people in Victorian times used the word “accommodation”. I could/would research this, but I’m a fairly busy man.

[18] This time it was two hours.

[19] Almost certainly not her real name.

[20] Which I was right to do – no issues whatsoever.

[21] It clearly wasn’t. I feel awkward typing this now.

[22] Not literally.

[23] On reflection, it was me finally learning that one should run at an even pace.

[24] Not literally.

[25] Not literally.

[26] Not literally.

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