There was a time when David Weir would fret relentlessly ahead of a competition. Every niggle and sniffle would set alarm bells off in his head. He would cast his mind back to each and every training session, wondering whether he had done enough in preparation.
Yet when Weir lines up on Shooters Hill Road in Blackheath for the Virgin London Marathon a little after nine o'clock this morning there will be the same intense pre-race stare but no such thoughts, any inner demons happily dispelled by his achievements last year.
The 33-year-old is overwhelmingly the best bet for a home win, and the public expectation is that he will be victorious on a return to the streets of London where he aptly rounded off last summer's Paralympics with a fourth gold medal. But he genuinely has no idea how he will fare, having only returned to training three months ago after a four-month hiatus.
"The London Marathon's always a funny one for me as I never know how I'm going to be at this point in the season," says the six-time winner of the event. "You know how well you're pushing but you don't know about anyone else. I'd love to make it win No 7. But until I'm a few miles in and I know how I'm going and the others are going, I genuinely won't know about my chances."
Physically, his pace in training matches what he was doing a year ago, while mentally he feels more at ease than ever. "I just feel so relaxed. Last year, there was pressure everywhere, everyone was asking about [the Paralympics], there was the expectation on the four events from the public and from myself. That was really, really tough, you could never escape. I'm now racing and training without pressure – it's liberating."
First and foremost, Weir is hoping to bring the feelgood factor back to the discipline following the terrorist attacks on Monday's Boston Marathon, where many of his rivals and friends had just finished the race.
"It was crazy watching it on the TV," he says. "I mean, who bombs a marathon? I suppose it's something that we have to expect in this day and age, but obviously that doesn't make it right. I just feel sorry for the people who got injured, particularly that family with the eight-year-old boy who died and whose sister and mother were both badly hurt. We need to put on a good race for the people of Boston, but the organisers in London always do."
Weir does not worry about his own safety on the streets of London but while his fiancée, Emily, will be on the sidelines cheering him on, she has decided not to bring their two children, Mason and Tillia. "That's Emily. She's a bit like that when something like that happens. The kids will go to my grandparents but I won't feel unsafe. I know what a great job the organisers do on safety."
Weir has had little racing in his arms since the 2012 Games. He has competed just once, at last month's Silverstone Half-Marathon, his traditional warm-up for London and an event he comfortably won. Instead, much of the winter was spent focusing on family life following the birth of Tillia a month after the Paralympics and enjoying his moment in the sun following his golden summer. His other goal has been to feed off the Paralympics, not for himself but for the Games legacy going forward.
The Paralympic movement took a monumental knock following Oscar Pistorius's arrest after the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in a shooting at his home. Weir has previously chosen not to comment on Pistorius but broke his silence to insist the Paralympics can move on from that tragedy and even thrive.
"I've not spoken about Oscar as I don't really know him – I've only really been around him for a couple of minutes at a time," says Weir. "But what I would say is that the Paralympics is not just about Oscar Pistorius. I think we saw that last summer with all the amazing stories to come out of the Games. I think there are other athletes out there on the same level as him."
As for legacy, the ongoing buzzword in the wake of both the Olympics and Paralympics, Weir is attempting to play his part with the recent launch, in partnership with his coach, Jenny Archer, of the Weir Archer Academy. "The idea's been there for years, since the warm-up track at the Beijing Games when I saw the Swiss wheelchair team," he explains. "They're a relatively small country and they had at least 10 racers there while we have three or four. That didn't seem right and I felt I needed to do something.
"Post-London seemed the right time to give something back and work together with Jenny as a team. I'm good on the technical side and the tactics and obviously she's a brilliant coach. All we're trying to do is get more people into athletics, and not just wheelchair racers but all disabled athletes and at every level."
Weir feels partly responsible for Paralympic sport as a figurehead, and worries about its future direction. The International Paralympic Committee have announced a Diamond League-style series of competitions solely for Paralympic athletes, with venues ranging from London at the Anniversary Games to Dubai, Beijing and Sao Paulo.
But the Londoner is sceptical: "I think a Diamond League for the Paralympics is a great idea, but what worries me is that they didn't get a sponsor for it. They said they wanted to experiment for a year. Why not experiment for a year with a massive company on board, or else have events alongside the able-bodied at the traditional Diamond League events?
"If you're trying to move the sport forward, you need to get a sponsor on board. Plus they didn't even ask the athletes what they wanted: myself, Oscar, Jonnie Peacock or any others. All they had to say was, 'This is what we want to do, what do you think?'
"As it stands, I don't understand the logic, I don't understand the IPC, it baffles me. I hope it will be great, but I just don't know." Weir is not expected to play a key role in those IPC competitions; not as a snub to the organisers, but because his long-term focus is increasingly on marathons.
Farah goes halfway: Learning curve could be tight
Mo Farah knows it will hurt, he just does not know how much. This morning he will begin his marathon education, running to halfway before coming back to London next year to make his debut proper. "I'm all right dealing with pain but it's different pain," says Britain's Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion, who struggled with a stitch on his last outing on the roads. "When you are sprinting you are upright, on your toes. In a marathon it is different. You might get pain in your calves – I don't know, it's all a learning curve." Farah will gain as much information as he can while resisting the urge to run on. "Every race you do you want to win, but you have to ask yourself why you are here, what you need to do, and mainly it is to learn," he said.
Robin Scott-ElliotReuse content