Adrian Chiles: Bird-brained scheme for disguising lack of pace has wings

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The Independent Online

You're probably fed up of hearing minor celebrities blather on about their marathon training. Well, you're in the home straight now and won't have to endure much more so I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to sit through a brief résumé of my trials and tribulations.

You're probably fed up of hearing minor celebrities blather on about their marathon training. Well, you're in the home straight now and won't have to endure much more so I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to sit through a brief résumé of my trials and tribulations.

Seven years ago I ran it in four hours and 18 minutes. I employed a sophisticated pacing technique which involved running the first half at a near sprint in less than 90 minutes before embarking on an absolutely awful slow death-march to the finish lasting nearly two and a half hours.

One day, I promised myself, I'd go back and run it properly and do so in much less then four hours. Most Joe Joggers, as the race director Dave Bedford affectionately describes us, are guilty of taking too unscientific an approach to training. Classically, this means running straight out of the front door, breaking into a sprint, sustaining it until your eyeballs are popping out, slowing down a bit, jogging home, jumping straight into the shower, and staggering off to work with the sweat still oozing down your back, gluing your shirt to your skin. This you do four days a week until about a month before the race when, having read some advice somewhere or other you go out for a three-hour jog and nearly die of boredom and cramp. Crazy.

Not me though. I know it all. I am the most well-informed, scientific, diligent crap runner the race has ever known. I'm like the kid at school who knew everything there was to know about cricket but couldn't bat, bowl or field to save his life.

I've trained long and carefully. I've used a heart monitor to check I'm running slowly and steadily enough on longer runs, and explosively enough on shorter faster interval runs. I've built up my mileage; I've lost weight; I've got much nicer kit. Everything is perfect except for one small detail: I'm just not going any bloody faster.

I know this because new technology makes it possible for me to know it. I saw advertised something called a Garmin Forerunner 301 - a large watch equipped with satellite navigation that accurately measures how far you're running, at what pace, and it monitors your heart rate, too. I had to have one.

Tremulous with excitement I headed off on my usual circuit along the Thames, but this time in communication with (as I understand it) three different satellites out there in space. I noted with real joy that I was running at about a six-minute mile pace with my heart only ticking away at about 140 beats a minute. Truly I had become an athlete.

After I finished, as I did a few stretches, I looked lovingly at my new toy but at that moment the expression on my face changed as suddenly as if I was an actor in a sitcom. I'd seen a little "km" in the corner and realised that the confounded thing was set to metric. My seven-mile course, was in fact less than five. My pace was pathetic.

The following day I went out for a two-hour run along the route I'd always told myself was 17 miles. Nope. GPS tells no lies and the truth was my 17 miles was 12 miles. Not even a half-marathon. Despair.

But this was February and after all the training I'd put in I couldn't pull out now. Miserably I jogged away, occasionally bumping into lamp-posts and other runners as I became too absorbed in all the bad news my Garmin Forerunner 301 was conveying. I resigned myself to a time not much better than my last one - so slow that I would surely again have to endure the ignominy of being overtaken by some clever dick in fancy dress.

But then, a brainwave! I nearly broke into 10-minute mile pace with excitement as the solution presented itself: I would be the clever dick in fancy dress! Not only would I raise more money for charity, I'd have an excellent excuse when I failed to break five hours. Genius.

And I knew exactly which costume I wanted. West Brom have a mascot called Baggie Bird. He was my man, or bird anyway. I called Mr Bird up himself at his home in Halesowen 10 days ago. He sounded a bit doubtful but agreed to meet me with the costume outside Villa Park last Sunday. The first thing to say about Baggie Bird is that Dave Challoner, who is normally inside it, must be a footballing genius because he has Baggie Bird taking shots and doing keepy-up and all sorts of things, yet when I put the bird's head on, it turned out you can't see a flaming thing. But the rest of the costume, wings, tail and all, felt rather comfortable. Yes, this bird would fly.

My first, and only training run, was in Ravenscourt Park, London W6, on Monday afternoon. I've always wondered how the fancy dress runners actually practice. Now I know: they just run round and I'd say more than half of the general public take absolutely no notice whatsoever. Outside the Tube station a bloke emotionlessly asked me for 50p with absolutely no reference to the fact that he was begging from a giant throstle.

But if half the general public ignore you, the faces of the other half truly light up, and it's tremendously uplifting. I might break four hours tomorrow after all. I just wish that when I went into broadcasting I'd known what I know now: for a good 10 years I've been doing my damnedest to entertain people on radio and television. I wish I hadn't bothered. I should have just spent the last decade running around urban parks dressed as a giant bird.

A photocall was arranged at West Brom's training ground. I strode out in full Baggie Bird attire. Shyly, I kept my distance waiting for training to finish. But to my horror Nigel Pearson waved me on: "It's bibs versus no bibs," he shouted, "only two touches. Baggie Bird can have as many as he likes."

Even if I say so myself, given that I had no boots on and I was wearing a bird costume, I acquitted myself quite well. "You doing the marathon?" said Neil Clement. "You must be mad."

"I know," I replied, "I'm just worried that if it rains this'll be like a giant sponge."

He stopped smiling. "Hang on a minute - you're not actually running in that thing are you?"

"Er, yes."

"You are mad," he said without malice but with lots of feeling.

adrian.chiles@btopenworld.com

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