In the last week, thousands of hopeful runners would have been saddened (or in some cases, relieved) to receive a rejection letter, informing them that they were unsuccessful in the ballot for next year’s Virgin London Marathon.
Well, that’s not strictly true, because it wasn’t a letter. They’d instead opted for a magazine, with an Elvis impersonator on the cover and “SORRY” in great big letters. A nice way to sweeten a bitter pill, but sending magazines instead of letters is only fine as long as the quirky synergy stops there and doesn’t go on to become a trend. I’m just waiting for the avalanche of Get Well Soon ironing boards, or for my bank manager to tell me about the latest interest rates by stencilling them on a panda.
Anyway, I digress. We were talking about the VLM weren’t we? Like many of my fellow runners, like many of you, I decided to take a punt and enter the ballot this year. I’ve yet to run a marathon, with my longest training run being a paltry 15 miles. Okay, so if you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d one day be able to run 15 miles I would have punched you on the nose and called you a ruddy fibber (and that’s swearing). Then I would’ve nicked your time machine.
26.2 miles is something of a holy grail, featuring as it does on the bucket list of most runners; I knew that I stood a better chance of hitting the distance by entering a proper marathon, rather than just trying to build up to it in day-to-day runs. So a few months ago I decided to enter the ballot for the VLM, at which point I promptly forgot about it until Elvis popped through my letterbox*.
“Sorry! YOU have been unsuccessful in gaining a ballot place in the 2013 Virgin London Marathon”. I allowed myself a moment of pedantic nitpicking (the exclamation mark was unnecessary and made the whole thing seem a bit shouty and insincere, and the capitalization of the word “YOU” made it feel like they were prodding me in the chest and telling me I was a loser) before putting it to the back of my mind and getting on with my day. But then, via the wonders of social media, I started hearing about all the people who had got in. Hang on a minute, thatwasn’t fair! Surely, if I didn’t get in, nobody should get in. You’ve probably noticed by now that my brain tends to pretty much do its own thing most of the time; I try not to get involved.
Anyway, most of the people I follow on twitter or know through facebook seemed to be in the same boat as me (the HMS Rejection), but I’m assuming that this was because the people who had been successful were far too busy dancing in the streets and quaffing champagne out of silver buckets.
But a few of my friends who had got in were a bit of a surprise to me, as in all the years I’d known them they hadn’t given any hint of being remotely interested in this running lark. They’d just either watched this year’s marathon or knew someone who had run it, and decided to give it a go.
And this is where I was torn. I’m a great advocate of the whole “run your own race” ethos, and know from bitter experience that comparing oneself to others only leads to frustration. But sometimes that’s easier said than done, with the most notable hotspots (for me, at least) being the VLM and, well, pretty much all of January. Both of those occasions tend to inspire people to have a go at running, and as magnanimous as I try to be, it’s never easy to watch “Kebabs for breakfast” Nigel from accounts nonchalantly banging out a nineteen minute 5k as his token gesture of a new years resolution. Similarly, the VLM is a wonderful event that unites runners and raises a huuuuge amount of money for charity; but it also brings out a sense of self-loathing in me when I see the Chuckle Brothers cross the finish line in 03:59:59, dressed as wombles.
So what do I do? Well, I could grumble and mope (because, let’s face it, I’ve already proved I’m quite good at that) or bury my head in the sand until the whole thing is over. I could turn the air blue with a big old rant just to see if that makes me feel any better.
But no, I won’t be doing any of those things, because the bottom line is this…
As disappointing as it is to not get in, as disheartening as it might feel to see Jimmy and Jenny Newbie** sprint across the finish line on their first foray into running after I’ve spent years fighting to be anything more than a plodder; as frustrating as any of this is, it pales in comparison to how much I bloody love running. Not just the simple thrill of putting one foot in front of the other, but also the infectiousness and inclusivity of the whole thing. Anyone can do it, and everyone should do it. If I had my way, each and every one of my friends, family and casual acquaintances*** would lace up a pair of trainers and open themselves up to the joy of running. Like I said, a few non-running friends of mine were successful in the ballot, and that can only ever be a good thing – there’s a good chance that the training and the race itself will see them bitten by the running bug, and even if they cross the finish line vowing to never run again, their efforts could still inspire others to have a go the following year. Circle of life and all that.
So a heartfelt and sincere “good luck” to everyone who got through. And when the training gets too hard or the miles get too long, those of us left behind will be with you in spirit.
J* Not literally, although that conjures up some quite disturbing images. ** Not real people. I think. *** Except Geoff. He knows why.
PS: Many thanks to @Hollycall01 of http://hongeontherun.wordpress.com for kindly letting me use her pic of the VLM “Sorry” magazine, after I threw mine away in an uncharacteristic display of tidying up