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.