The Strider: The barminess of the long-distance runner

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The Independent Online

Twenty-eight years ago, I could run 800 metres in two minutes dead, 1500 metres in 4min 10sec and 3,000 metres in nine minutes.

Twenty-eight years ago, I could run 800 metres in two minutes dead, 1500 metres in 4min 10sec and 3,000 metres in nine minutes.

Pretty hot... but I was 17 then. I'm 45 now, and up until a year ago all I had managed since was the occasional jog around Clapham Common. I've also got a busy job as a Fleet Street photographer, plus a wife and a family.

But if I'm going to do justice to my place in the 2002 London Marathon on 14 April, I think I'm going to have to push myself a little harder... and you can catch up with me every two weeks until D-Day.

I have made a start, though. Like the 30,000 or so others who will join me on the starting line in three months' time, I have begun training. For about six months I have been out there on the pavements and in the parks four times a week, managing to run 17 miles three times during this period. I have even raced a couple of half-marathons.

But at the end of these races I felt exhausted – the thought of then running the same distance again seemed ludicrous. Until, that is, I considered my performance. One hour 41 minutes for a half-marathon isn't bad, respectable even, and at least it puts me on course for a decent full-marathon time of around three-and-a-half hours. I'm ahead of the game.

Since then, I have joined Dulwich Running Club. But the problem now will be finding the time to step up the mileage – making time to get out and run despite the constraints of work and family life is difficult. Between now and 14 April I have to face the prospect of pounding the streets of London for at least five days a week to achieve a minimum of 30 miles.

I will be experimenting with various vile isotonic drinks and gels until I find one I dislike the least, trying a variety of pieces of kit and apparel, and attempting to avoid injury. Worst of all, my family and friends are going to have to put up with me banging on about seven-minute miles and interval training.

But at least I look the part: a sweatband for my forehead; sunglasses that do not jiggle up and down; a technical vest to wick the sweat away; a blue-and-yellow waterproof jacket with vents to manage my body heat; and running shoes with grid technology.

Finally, a water bottle which straps around my waist and is angled at 45 degrees for easy access, to replace the wicked-away fluid. My wife says I look like a trainspotter.

There was a record entry for this year's London Marathon, and entries are now closed. The official website, www.london-marathon.co.uk, will shortly be posting details of the entry system for next year. For details of over 470 other marathons, visit www.themarathonsite.com

The Strider returns on 27 January

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