The easy thing to do at this point would be to write a quick (and no doubt even more self-indulgent) blog about how today’s race went, how it feels to have one of your legs seize up after a couple of miles and rely on paracetamol and stubbornness for the rest of the race, how good it feels to have finally stopped, how much I appreciate Simon and Cath’s company for the last 8 days, how much it means to have all the support from family, friends and a whole load of people I’ve never met, and how much I’m looking forward to the 4 pack of Guinness that I left in the fridge. And which had better still be there when I get home.
But I didn’t want to do the predictable thing; I’ll put some stats up later and try to thank everyone properly when I get a chance.
Now seems a more appropriate time to talk about the why’s rather than the what’s, partly because it’s the end of the adventure, and partly because the why’s were all over London today in another fantastic marathon.
I started running partly because I was getting too fat, and partly because I managed to get a place in the 1997 London Marathon. With reasonably diligent training, I managed to cross the line in 3:58, and frankly, I thought at that point that I was pretty much the athlete’s athlete. By reading up a bit more on this marathon lark, I realised that, whilst dipping under 4 hours was not to be sniffed at, it was hardly an Alf Tupper like performance. So I got some help from some very knowledgeable (and in Mr Neil Featherby’s case, slightly scary) people, and managed to get down to under 3 hours in a couple of years. Then I joined a club, and met an absolute inspiration in the form of Peter Andrews, who was kind enough to give me some coaching, and I ended up posting some fairly good times in races. Peter died suddenly in 2005 and I don’t think I’ve ever gone for a run since without thinking of him.
And the whole point of that is to tell you that I’d found something that was difficult, but achievable, and reacted well to hard work. And that, in my opinion, is what is really, really fantastic about this sport at any level. You can start at any point, and almost invariably get better/faster/further by working hard. And then you learn that you can push your limits a bit further. A friend of mine, who is a terrific athlete, once told me that he found it frustrating that people told him he made it look easy. His point was that all the runners at the front of the pack are trying just as hard as everyone else. They’re just faster. And that’s why running is such an amazing leveller, because you try as hard as you can, and your only real measure is yourself and the clock.
So, every time I ran a race, like most other runners, I was effectively trying to hurt my body as much as possible in order to get the most out of it. As Steve Prefontaine said:
“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”
That’s why I ended most marathons that I ran either throwing up or in tears. And sometimes both, which was really embarrassing. (There are a lot of cameras at big city marathons, often trying to capture those ‘runner gives all’ moments.)
Anyway, I was getting pretty familiar with what a marathon felt like. In the best shape I’d been in for years, I entered the first Virgin London Marathon in 2010, got a great start, then cramped up at 14 miles, and recorded a 12 year Personal Worst. At which point I wondered whether this was really worth the candle, went into the doldrums for a little while and started to think about different things to do with on Sunday mornings. Then I started following some endurance blogs, including last year’s John O’Groats to Land’s End run…and that led to the 2005 Paris to London run. And then I made the mistake of starting to think about trying something similar…
I’m not telling you all of this to big myself up. I just wanted to write down how I got to this point, and what the ‘why’ was all about. It’s this:
First, find something you don’t think you can do. And then do it. And then remember what that feels like for a bit.