Mark Armstrong: A holiday dilemma as training cranks up for Chicago

Mark Armstrong training run

Mark Armstrong on a training run - Credit: Alison Armstrong

Marathon mode has been firmly established in the Armstrong household. 

It’s nine weeks this Sunday that myself and wife, Alison, will be toeing the start line of the Chicago Marathon. 

The training up until now has all felt like the pressure has been off; plenty of easy miles clocked to ensure that when the targeted training really cranks up, I’m ready. 

That period has passed... Chicago has all felt a long way off in the horizon, until now. 

I had a natural ‘step back’ week as we were fortunate enough to have a week in Gran Canaria on holiday at the end of July.  

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It was lovely to get away, of course, but there was also a sense of relief upon our return that we’ve now got a clear run with no distractions to Chicago. 

One of the drawbacks of being a runner (or perhaps it is a character flaw) is that on holiday I feel like I’m caught between having the best time possible and doing enough work that you’re not playing too much catch-up when you resume. 

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I’d always want to go for a run whilst on holiday, it’s a great way of exploring where you are (take a look at Neil’s column this week). But it felt like I had to go on a run as I wanted to keep my mileage as high as possible. 

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t more than a few beers drunk and I didn’t want my daughter, Lara, to feel lonely at the ice cream counter most days...  

Gran Canaria run training

Training on holiday in Gran Canaria - Credit: Alison Armstrong

But establishing a healthy balance between being as ready as I possibly can be to tackle over 26 miles and leading a (semi) normal life is tricky. 

I absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way. I know how lucky I am to have this opportunity to go to America and take on one of the marathon majors. I’ve been watching course reviews on YouTube for the past month to keep me motivated and ensure the excitement of what’s ahead remains. 

It’s why I went back on what I said last year in one of my columns. 

I specifically remember laying out why I couldn’t see myself running an autumn marathon in the near future as the bulk of the training would need to happen during my children’s summer holidays. 

My excuse is that I’m a runner and we’re always lying to ourselves, aren’t we? How many times have you said ‘never again’ after a race only to be booking another event, hours later? 

On a serious note, it’s a huge challenge trying to balance everything as I knew it would be. I can’t see myself ever being someone who ‘just wants to get round’ a marathon as it’s not how I’m wired. But that means making sacrifices... eating better, going to bed earlier, keeping hydrated. It’s staying on top of these types of things that will ensure I’m ready to train to the best of my ability and, more importantly, have the energy to effectively run a café for my children during the school holidays (‘Daddy, I’m hungry...’) 

The next few weeks will be about really homing in on a pace that I’m confident I can sustain for a marathon. Not a single one of the three official marathons I have done so far have gone how I want them to for numerous reasons. 

That’s what happens in marathons – things go wrong and it’s how you respond to it, mentally as much as anything.  

It strips away everything and there’s a beautiful simplicity to getting from point A to point B (26.2 miles) as quickly as possible. 

There will be no magic workouts, no wonder shoes – just a lot of hard work. 

I’ll doubt myself. I’ll wonder why I’m doing it, but there will also be moments of raw joy when you feel like you can run forever.  

Hopefully, I can feel like that on October 9.