IN this series of columns the remit has been to record my training for the Belfast Marathon, while giving my thoughts on matters of health, fitness and sport for others like me.

By that I don't mean lawyers, but middle-aged/older men and women who are challenged by the need to balance modern living/eating/drinking/travelling with achieving a level of fitness and body shape that requires effort.

The reason I am making such a song and dance about running a relatively obscure race is that it is a lifebelt for me.

In spite of being fit and relatively healthy, I have been overweight for a number of years. Pounding pavements is my route to a proper weight and waistline.

You as readers are my insurance policy. I will not be prepared to write in the Evening Times that I have failed or given up, and have hundreds of thousands of you look away embarrassed or nod in a superior "I told you so" way. I need to man up in front of you all.

So thank you. That's the general appreciation of your role in this project.

I owe many specific statements of gratitude too. All sorts of folk are interested in my progress, and, of course, contributing to my charity effort for St Margaret's Hospice.

As well as colleagues, friends and family, lots of runners have asked about my state of health - usually physical but occasionally mental. Not one has criticised or talked down to me, no matter how eminent they may be. Friends like Bryan Burnett of the BBC - as well as being one of our best radio music presenters and a fine runner, Bryan is the MC for many public running events in Scotland and beyond. He has been kind enough to give me a name-check on Radio Scotland's Get It On, and has sent me positive messages on Facebook.

And the other day as I went into a Good Friday church service, a fellow-parishioner whom I have known for many years on nodding terms came up to me and said he had been following my progress in the newspaper, but wanted me to know that back in the 80s, when I had done my best marathon time of 3 hours 58 minutes, he had beaten me by 2 minutes in that race. He was 53 then!

I told him the chances of me doing any time like that at the age now of 54 are less than slim but he wished me luck and gave a donation.

tHAT'S the kind of treatment I have had - positive vibes and best of wishes.

And just like the Hampden roar or the Wimbledon crowd, the athlete is swept on by this fair wind of positivity.

And so I am sure it will be in Belfast. In every race I have participated in over the decades, the crowd has played a blinder.

Indeed a few weeks ago when the Sheffield half-marathon was called off at the last minute, householders on the route came out with water and biscuits for those who ran anyway.

But the greatest shot of energy is from the bagpipes. I now know why they sent troops over the top to the sound of the pipes. If you are wilting and you pass a roadside band playing Scotland the Brave at full volume, your heart swells with pride and it is worth at least a couple of miles in added oomph.

Next week will be my pre-race column. For now, I am tapering down with shorter runs, to keep up my stamina but relax my legs. Stay with me.

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