A failure at football, rubbish at rugby, crap at cricket and hopeless at hockey. I was never sporty at school, only ever making it onto a competitive team for badminton (albeit the ‘B’ team!) and occasionally managing a passable performance in house cross-country.
You won’t be surprised to discover then that I never really followed up on any particular sport as I grew up. I’m an avid armchair motorsport fan and enjoy the occasional round of golf, but neither of these pastimes is going to do much to boost my long term fitness levels.
And yet here we are on the cusp of marathon day and I’m about to take on a challenge that only a small proportion of runners will ever complete.
It’s quite a jump and just goes to show how much I’m come to love running, despite the moans about winter training, aches and pains, blisters, early starts, late finishes and weekends no longer being my own.
As I look back on the journey (here we go, getting all X Factor now and talking about ‘journeys’) that’s the first thing that jumps out – I genuinely love running.
I love the escapism, the sense of freedom and the fact you can keep challenging yourself to reach a new level. I love the sense of elation as you reach the finish line in a race, oddly juxtaposed to the feeling of excruciating pain as you push your body to the absolute limit.
I love the camaraderie with fellow runners (aka nutters), perfectly illustrated through this very online community.
But perhaps above all I love the fact that, as it turns out, I’m actually quite good at running! It’s taken me until my late 30s to discover it, but with some commitment and regular practice I’ve found a sport I can perform well at. Take that sadistic PE teachers from my school days – not a sporting disaster zone after all…
What else have I discovered through running, and specifically training for the marathon?
A solo pastime can still be competitive
I don’t race others when I run, I race myself. Tracking time and distance through a GPS watch has transformed my approach to running. I now have PBs that are there to be broken and I can, if I choose to, run with a clear purpose. It makes it altogether more meaningful. And to see how my performance has improved over the course of the marathon training programme is immensely satisfying – and confidence boosting.
Running can be bad for your wealth
Kit, gadgets, nutrition, race entry fees, travel, magazines, books…it all adds up! The more seriously you take it, the more money you are tempted to spend. And the more you run, the quicker your kit needs replacing. I’m still reeling from the cost of two pairs of top of the range Asics shoes to see me through training and the marathon itself. That said some of my purchases have genuinely enhanced my performance so I’d call that money well spent.
“You’re gonna need a bigger belt”
Or a smaller pair of jeans. This isn’t applicable to everyone, but since I started running seriously (ie targeting half marathons and then the full) I’ve shed around two stone and dropped two waist sizes. I feel great! My wardrobe, on the other hand, requires some serious attention.
There are a lot of closet runners out there
It’s amazing how many friends or colleagues have piped up since I started marathon training – oh I sometimes like to go for a run. Or I’m planning on doing a 10k / half marathon later this year… It could just be that I pay more attention now, but it does seem like the parks and roads are getting busier with runners. That’ll teach them to keep hiking up the gym fees – roads are free, after al!
Training can make you obsessive
I lose track of when bills are due. I forget when I’m supposed to have serviced my car. I can’t recall people’s birthdays. But I will meticulously fill out my marathon training spreadsheet four times a week, every week. Every minute and every mile is logged all the way back to last September. At least I’ll have something to remember the experience by!
Training can make you boring
While I can’t say I’ve noticed anybody un-friending me on Facebook, I wouldn’t blame them if they had. Nick is up early for a run. Nick has set a new PB. Nick has run (insert number of miles) today / this week / this month. Nick is fundraising for the marathon – please donate here. And so it goes on. If it’s been dull and repetitive I can only apologise. Just indulge me for a tad longer and it will all be over… Until the next time, of course. Anyway, look on the positive side – if I wasn’t enjoying it I wouldn’t feel a compulsion to talk about it so much.
The human body is capable of simply incredible things
I’m going to run a marathon – that’s pretty impressive in itself. But I have friends who run ultras. I’ve met a local runner who’s completed the Marathon Des Sables – and he’s blind. Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days. Rob Young set out on a mission to run a marathon a day for an entire year. And so it goes on. Runners seem to know no limits and they deserve bucket-loads of respect and recognition.
Fundraising is as hard as the training, perhaps even more so
Like many London runners, my route in has been via a charity place. I’m hugely grateful to Beacon Centre for offering me their one and only place – it will be a privilege to represent them. With just over £1,500 raised, and new connections established through my workplace where we can provide volunteer support, I’m hoping they are pleased with the outcomes. But I won’t lie – it’s been tough. A lot to think about, organise and fit in around the pressures of training (not to mention real life). I’m never comfortable asking other people for money and if you’ve supported Beacon through my marathon then I can’t thank you enough.
Not every run can be spectacular
You hit the roads one week and it feels great. You bag a decent time, recover quickly and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Try the same run a week later and it’s hellish. At first this frustrated me, now I shrug it off. You can’t be a hero every time so don’t beat yourself up over a bad run. Whatever you do is an improvement on sitting on the sofa.
If it hurts, make sure you don’t Google it
Marathon training can make you paranoid to the extreme. What is this pain, why does that hurt, how long will it take to subside and will it stop me achieving my ultimate goal of finishing London? I’ve been there, I’ve self-diagnosed lots of Latin-spelt ailments that threaten to cut short my running career and I’ve come to conclusion of…stuff it. Keep calm, and carry on running! Deep Heat is your friend…
I couldn’t have trained for a marathon without a loving and understanding family
It’s a fitness test for the runner, and a drawn out test of patience for their loved ones. My wife has been the best – from 5.30am alarm calls to three hour plus Houdini acts on a Sunday. She’s never questioned it, objected to it or made me feel uncomfortable committing so much time to it. Thank you x
So there we have it – a thousand or so words of self-reflection and this sporting novice is ready to show ‘em how it’s done. If you’re running on the 26th the very best of luck to you. And if you’re watching, give us a wave and an extra loud cheer. We’re definitely going to need it!
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