The M word

Running sort of took me by surprise, like the proverbial machete-wielding koala in the sock drawer1. I never really set out to be a runner; running was never on my radar, and to be honest part of me didn’t quite believe that runners even really existed. In the bookcase of my mind, they occupied the same shelf as leprechauns, tooth fairies, Bigfoot and the Dutch.

But somehow I fell into it and, by the time I came to my senses, running had become my thing. That was about four years ago, and since then I’ve taken part in races, I’ve written hundreds of blog posts about (sort of) running and I’ve hung around with some truly amazing athletes (without having one single molecule of talent rubbing off on me). Oh, and last time I checked, precisely 89% of the clothing in my wardrobe was wicking. So, all things considered, I think it’s fair to say: Ich bin ein runner.


What sort of person runs for four years without stepping up and having a go at what is generally accepted to be the pinnacle of running?

The Marathon. Haven’t done one, haven’t tried to do one, haven’t even entered one. It’s shameful. That’s like Batman doing a big ninja training montage, building the batmobile and sewing a costume, but never actually going out to fight baddies.

(It’s not like that at all; I just wanted to compare myself to Batman, but you get the idea).

I love the idea of running a marathon, of joining that special club. Love it, love it , LOVE IT. The number “26.2” has taken on an almost mystical life of its own over the years, and people all over the world have it tattooed on their bodies or stuck on the bumper of their car. No words are needed; just the number alone has come to symbolise the awesome capabilities of the human body, a testimony to all that can be achieved through determination and the occasional bit of chafing.

The problem is, 26.2 miles is easy to read, whether on a piece of paper, a bumper sticker or on the hairy arse of a plumber from Shrewsbury. Whenever I read a marathon race report, my mind overflows with romantic images and I picture myself powering towards the finish line, a tsunami of emotion, a moment of triumph that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

But actually running 26.2 miles? Running it with my legs? Different matter entirely, and that’s where the fear kicks in. I bloody love running, we all know that, but try asking me if I love it when I’m coming to the end of a long run. No matter how much I’ve enjoyed myself, after 2+ hours of plodding there’ll usually come a point where I just want it to be over. I’ve never got to the point where my body curls up into one big screaming lump of anguish, but a combination of slightly-heavy legs and vague mental weariness is usually enough to make me start fantasising about how great it’ll be when the run is finished.

And if that’s just on a 12 mile LSR, what will I feel like as I come to the end of the real might-as-well-be-thirty-mile deal? Okay, so the race atmosphere and the sense of “ohmygodI’mactuallydoingabloodyMARATHON!!!” will carry me over a lot of the discomfort, but I’ve seen race photos of people finishing their first marathons, and the vibrant race atmosphere didn’t stop them from looking as though they’d just been beaten with pool cues and then put through a car-wash backwards.

I guess my problem is that I just want it to be memorable for all the right reasons. I don’t want to cross the finish line swearing “never again”. I don’t want my first marathon to be my last.

So what’s the solution? Well, we all know that at some point I will run a marathon. It’s going to happen. The only variable is whether it’ll be “meh” or “uuuuuurgh” or “wheeeee!”.

Readers, I have a plan.

And I’ll need your help.

Watch this space.

1 I may have a different book of proverbs to you.

14 thoughts on “The M word

  1. Only four years? No rush to get to it. Spend some more time building up your base. I did my first last year after about 8 or 9 years of ‘sensible’ running.

  2. It took me 8 years. Before I got to the start line of my first, just last year, I’d already entered a second so I couldn’t say ‘never again’. It took me 15 minutes to get passed the WTAF have I just done, never again to reach that level of elation that says ‘wow, I RAN A MARATHON’ and has driven me to enter a third last year, an ultra and six this year. So far.

    I’m just the ultimate plodder. My target this year is five hours. And medals!

  3. I’m a big believer in it (running your first marathon) happening at the right time & the need to pick the right race. Running a marathon is bloody brilliant, but it’s a huge commitment & you need to reeeeeally want to do it. And when you do want to do it, it’ll be great!

  4. I reckon you trick the Marathon by slyly doing a 30-mile Ultramarathon first. Then you’ll be all “what about the other 3.8 miles, shouldn’t we aim for a round number?” at the end. Seriously, what could go wrong?

  5. Crack on Jay! There’s a massive bit of bling out there waiting for you at mile 26.5 (because they’re NEVER actually 26.2 …)

  6. Definitely NOT alone! Took me just over 4 years to run my first marathon. Only that marathon was considered a training run for an attempt at a 50 mile race. Yes – 50!! MILES!! Because I was more terrified of the much bigger distance the marathon was fun. Brutal but fun. And yes – I have pictures to prove I really did look like I had walked through a car wash and was happy about it haha!
    Since then I’ve run 34 marathon/ultras and I’m hooked. I’ve found out I’m a trail runner. Navigating, getting lost, self navigating and being taken to some amazing views really makes the distance enjoyable. Well – enjoyable up to the last 3 miles where I just want to get to the finish and grab a cup of tea!!! That never seems to change. So 3 miserable miles out of 23/27/47 miles is just fine with me 😉
    Good luck with the plan. 🙂

  7. LSR is loads easier if you do it with a group. Well, actually it’s kind of harder since they push you more than you’d push yourself, but you think about how hard it is a lot less. I’ve been a solitary bastard on my runs until recently but joining a training team was the best decision I’ve made in my running so far. Looking forward to seeing your progress!

  8. I ran my first marathon back in 2011 after running only for over a year as I was offered a sponsorship by Nestle. Back then I thought it was the hardest challenge, but after training for it and running it, I can assure you that if you train properly, you will love it. I ran my second marathon last year in Prague, an planning my number 3 in Amsterdam this September. You can do it! Good luck with the awards!

    • Thanks for the encouragment 🙂 “Training properly” isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally associate with myself, but it sounds like it’s what I need to do.

      Incidentally, does being sponsored by nestle mean that you could just demand chocolate milk whenever you wanted? I have images of a special red telephone and some helicopters.

  9. A marathon was a perfectly good 20 mile race until some sadist added another 10k on the end as a joke. I have made my husband promise to hit me over the head with a paving slab if I should ever utter the M word again.

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