I ran my first marathon in April 2004 and finished in a time of 3 hours and 37 minutes. This is OK I thought, I should be able to get under 3:30 easily enough with a bit of effort. Could I heck, as my Yorkshire wife Jan might say. I ran another 3:37, and a 3:34, and a 3:31, and one or two even slower but I couldn't break the barrier. Eventually at my eighth attempt I finally cracked it. More training, more commitment on the day, and a willingness to endure some pain over the last 6 miles got me home in 3:24, but I really hadn't enjoyed the run and my quads still hurt like hell two weeks after the race. This wasn't what I came for. I filed it away as my "sub 3:30 experience" and decided that I would enjoy my marathons at a more gentlemanly pace in future. Two marathons a year is my ration, one spring and one autumn, and this April saw me on the start line at Rotterdam, the same venue as my very first race 5 years ago. This is a training run in a nice situation I told Jan, with the Highland Fling coming up in 3 weeks I'm going to take it easy and enjoy the day. I did enjoy the run from start to finish. I looked at my watch twice, once at half way and once at 32k, and on both occasions told myself to slow down, I was going too fast and something might go wrong if I kept it up. I finished in 3:17, it was a walk in the park.
I've had similar experiences in runs from half marathons to ultras. Maybe it doesn't work this way for everyone, but for me it seems counterproductive to put pressure on to achieve a particular goal, I do much better if I forget about the watch and just enjoy the day. Just 10 days to the UTMB now, an event which more than any other at the moment I want to do justice to. I did my last real training run yesterday up Snowdon (where else, I think it was my 14th visit to the summit this year), just a couple of gentle jogs on the plan between now and the start in Chamonix a week on Friday. So I've told myself I've done the work, I have no time target other than to finish, I'm setting no schedule other than to keep me ahead of the cut-off times. I'm going out to enjoy a couple of days in the mountains.