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Running column: The big day looms for Mark Armstrong...just keep him away from that wall

Mark Armstrong is tackling his second marathon in Nottingham this weekend. Picture: Edinburgh Marathon

Mark Armstrong is tackling his second marathon in Nottingham this weekend. Picture: Edinburgh Marathon

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I’ve been living in fear all week.

Mark Armstrong will be running along the Embankment in Nottingham at the Ikano Bank Robin Hood Marathon takes place this weekend. Picture: Ikano Robin Hood MarathonMark Armstrong will be running along the Embankment in Nottingham at the Ikano Bank Robin Hood Marathon takes place this weekend. Picture: Ikano Robin Hood Marathon

Fear of injury, fear of illness – I see danger and germs everywhere.

But most of all I’ve been living in fear of something that I thought was a real cliché before becoming a regular runner.

The wall.

Not that big wall that’s keeping the white walkers from the Seven Kingdoms…(Game of Thrones reference…if you don’t watch it, why not?).

Runners, including Mark Armstrong, will be heading through Woolaton Park in Nottingham this weekend. Picture: Ikano Bank Robin Hood MarathonRunners, including Mark Armstrong, will be heading through Woolaton Park in Nottingham this weekend. Picture: Ikano Bank Robin Hood Marathon

I’m talking about the barrier runners meet during a long run when your legs suddenly feel like concrete and every step hurts. When your breathing goes shallow and that confident stride you had at the start descends into a pitiful shuffle.

My wife recently showed me a video of a marathon runner literally rolling across the finish line in America because her legs had given out. I laughed, but in truth, it frightened the life out of me.

Fortunately that runner was only 12 metres from the finish line – I’m worried about hitting the wall well before the finish line, then you’re in real trouble.

I’ve been there before during my first marathon in Edinburgh when only a combination of my wife and an innate stubbornness got me round.

A view of Castle Road in Nottingham during the 2016 Ikano Bank Robin Hood Marathon. Picture: Ikano Bank Robin Hood MarathonA view of Castle Road in Nottingham during the 2016 Ikano Bank Robin Hood Marathon. Picture: Ikano Bank Robin Hood Marathon

I don’t want to go there again.

MORE: Read about Mark’s first marathon experience here

But I also want to run a significantly better time in Nottingham so it’s about straddling that line between performing at your maximum and exhaustion.

That’s obviously what all the training runs have been about recently – trying to find a race pace that I can sustain for 26.2 miles (that 0.2 is significant…trust me).

After much dialogue with Neil Featherby, I’ve decided to adopt a run-walk strategy. This perhaps demonstrates that I’m not as ready as I could be for this weekend but that’s due to several niggles over the last couple of months and I’ve probably chased too many running goals/events this year. Do I have any regrets about that? Not at all – I’ve loved it.

I don’t want this weekend to be my last marathon and I know there are things I can do to get myself in even better condition for future races – not booking up so many events being a good idea in future.

But that can all wait…for now I’ve got to use a strategy that’s going to get me from A to B in the quickest time and I believe run-walking is the best way to do this.

MORE: A run-walk strategy has worked for Mark in his training

It will also provide a decent safeguard from hitting the dreaded wall as the walk breaks provide a chance to hydrate or fuel and think if I need to make adjustments to my pace.

I don’t want to amble over the finish line on Sunday… I want to finish strongly and keep visualising doing exactly that. That means setting a pace that’s well within my capabilities at the start. You can feel rather different between miles six and 16.

It’s still difficult not to let the doubts set in but that’s all part of the mind games of running a marathon – once you get passed a certain point your brain can plead with you to stop – it’s good fun…

But events like this weekend are exactly why I got into running – they are the culmination of a lot of hard work, not just from me, but my family as well.

The Armstrongs will be out in force in the Midlands and I’ll have my own cheer squad at certain points along the route. This provides another element of pressure but the boost of seeing someone you know can take you through a couple of miles, even with self-doubt setting in.

I don’t want to let anyone down and I’ve got to keep telling myself that I won’t.

I just need to keep that wall in the distance…if I can do that then perhaps there isn’t anything to be afraid of after all…

See you on the other side.

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