The Ballad of Reading Fail

For the many fans of Oscar Wilde’s poetry among the members of MKEP, the title of this blog will be the highlight of this contribution[1]. In short, realizing I am able to reference Reading’s most famous inmate was a silver lining to a debacle of a race weekend. (As a rare aside to my blog entry, it transpires that when Wilde was being transferred to Reading Gaol on 23 November 1895, “a crowd jeered and spat at him on the railway platform“ – I can confirm that little has changed in the 122 years that have since passed. When arriving in Reading in my spacious five-door Peugeot hire car, I stopped at a zebra crossing to allow some “youth” to cross. Obviously using some form of “sixth sense” that is embedded in the post-Brexit teenager-about-town, one of them had clearly identified that the car contained some foreigners and spat in the general direction of our front-left tyre. In that moment, I got a feeling for what Oscar Wilde must have felt all those years ago. Granted, I hadn’t recently been convicted in a Victorian-era court on charges of sodomy and gross indecency, but then again, he wasn’t about to run[2] a half marathon. Swings and roundabouts.)

I was convinced that I was in really good form heading to Reading[3]. While being aware that elite athletes probably didn’t prepare for races by spending the day before traipsing round Legoland Windsor[4], I didn’t think this would overly affect my chances of running a good deal under the 1:14:27 I ran last September. Even the king prawn phall and undisclosed number of beers I consumed on the Friday evening didn’t dampen my spirits[5], given the confidence I had in my training.

The next morning, however, as soon as the gun went off, there was something a bit off. Even though the first 6k or so had a good tailwind, my legs felt exhausted running at a pace that a few weeks earlier had felt easy. My mind started to wander[6], I just couldn’t get into the race and I couldn’t be arsed either. And then I started to properly not enjoy it so I stopped, which I think is the first DNF I’d ever had. I had no idea why, but with hindsight (see below) it was obvious.



Until about two weeks before the race, I was pretty sure that an HM PB[7] was on the cards. I’d averaged 95 miles a week for the first couple of months of 2017, which is a lot more than ever before. All my tempo runs and interval sessions were faster than ever before and a fortnight before the race I’d even beaten a reigning world champion[8], running just over 36 minutes for 11k on a far-from-easy, off-road course[9]. In short, Pearce was in form[10], but sadly Pearce was getting cocky[11]. He’d assumed that despite running more miles than before, and at a faster pace, he didn’t need to recover from hard runs[12]; in short, that he was better than he was. So instead of allowing himself to recover from this race, he went out and ran 22 miles the day after. And then 50 miles in the three days following this. This stupidity only came to an end in the pouring rain while running past Zurich station, when he experienced what can best be described as an “Alan Partridge moment” – passing a sign advertising Toblerone[13], he stopped running, immediately pressed stop on his watch, quickly followed by “Discard”, quickly followed by “Do not Discard” [14], quickly followed by “Discard” again[15], then “Do not Discard”, then eventually “Save Activity”, and then “OK”. He was drenched in rain, bored with running, and injured from running.


Not the look of a man about to run well in beautiful Reading. Good vest though.

After that I[16] took a few days off thinking that all would be fine. Another couple of crappy runs followed over the next week, but I was still convinced that a decent half marathon should have been possible. With hindsight, overdoing the training, combined with having a one-year old that decided he didn’t want to sleep for more than three hours in a row for the month preceding my race was never the ideal preparation to run a PB, but I assumed it wouldn’t be a problem.

After the aborted effort, my wife was fairly sympathetic (in the way that wives of very average, yet nevertheless self-absorbed amateur athletes often are) and just smiled and said, “never mind, you’ve looked properly fucked for weeks, it’s no surprise”. So, to conclude the “HINDSIGHT” section, it seems that a 37-year-old with relatively little running experience can’t try to run 100-mile weeks (including loads of “mid-lengther” runs[17]), have very little sleep, and eat and drink crap, and then expect to be able to run quickly. So hopefully after two or three weeks recovering, I’ll be back running again.

Despite the fact I won’t be running London as a PB attempt, I’m still looking forward to it. As pissed off as I am now, I know that running is my hobby, and it’s something I genuinely like doing – as I proved to myself by still enjoying it when getting up at 6am to run 10k in the pitch black and minus-15 weather in January. Sub-2:30 can wait until Berlin in September. In the meantime, I’m contemplating entering an “Urban cyclo-cross” event in Zurich and a couple of downhill mountainbike races, none of which in any way represent a 37-year-old refusing to accept that he isn’t as young as he once was and biting off way more than he can chew.

[1] For the cultural philistines among us, there’ll be some “cock” innuendos later on, so keep reading.

[2] Attempt to run.

[3] Unintentional rhyme. Please ignore.

[4] Although I do like the idea of Alberto Salazar organising a fun treasure hunt around nearby theme parks for his athletes, with the end reward being a massive thyroid-medication-laced smoothie from one of the many overpriced refreshment stands.

[5] Which is more than can be said for my bed linen – for some reason I have always sweated profusely the night following heavy chilli consumption. The phenomenon first reared its ugly head at the tender age of twelve after misunderstanding the menu in a local Mexican restaurant. The look on my mum’s face the morning after when I presented the sheet and duvet cover to her for laundering was priceless, unless you consider the price I had to pay over the next decade, of her raising her eyebrows knowingly whenever I opted for anything spicier than Lemon & Herb sauce in Nando’s.

[6] And wonder. Between miles 4 and 5, I repeatedly mulled it over in my mind as to why the UCI won’t drop its 6.8kg bike weight limit. This mulling quickly turned to anger, which I failed to channel into running any faster and instead channelled it into grabbing a bottle of Lucozade far too firmly off one of the younger volunteers manning the drinks stands. And for that I apologize if you’re reading this. Which you obviously won’t be, but still.

[7] Anyone who has read this far obviously knows their stuff when it comes to running; I shan’t waste any time by explaining what HM PB is short for.

[8] World junior orienteering champion of some sort – hard to tell what exactly from the badly maintained International Orienteering Federation website, but the guy’s name was on there. So it counts.

[9] I appreciate this sounds like how everybody’s favorite incontinent, 25-minute 5-mile* runner would describe the Berlin marathon course, but trust me, it wasn’t easy. At one point a duck escaped onto the course (not in front of me luckily – as a vegetarian I would have been conflicted as to whether to swerve to avoid said waterfowl and risk injury, or to plow straight through it and hope my then impressive speed would have helped it to a rapid, humane death (and one of the weird locals who were lining the course, an easy, cheap Saturday dinner)).

[10] You may notice here that I’ve slipped into referring to myself in the third person. I find this a convenient literary device to employ when I’m about to describe myself being a dick. This is probably the reason professional wrestlers and Craig David do this literally all the time.

[11] See footnote 1.

[12] Not a cock metaphor, but at a stretch, you could apply this to the runner mentioned in footnote 9.

[13] Not sure why they bother advertising it; this shit sells itself over here.

[14] It was really cold and I was experiencing a minor breakdown – watch buttons confused me.

[15] It was really, really cold – manual dexterity has never been my forte, as this fifteen-second passage of play was to prove to any onlookers.

[16] Note the reversion to the first person – not quite as ashamed of this bit.

[17] Happy now Hywel?

2 thoughts on “The Ballad of Reading Fail

  1. Pingback: McCarkiss Coffee-time Catchup… | McCarkiss Endurance Project

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