I am aware there will be people among you who have never run a marathon. Wise, clever, rational people.
I am not one of you.
In the month and a half since my last blog I have run a couple more, the Olympic Challenge in Gravesend and the Thames Meander. These were two very different marathons. The first one was two weeks after Marrakesh so I still had a bit of tiredness in my legs. It was hilly as well and I knew after five miles that I was a long way off the pace I wanted to do. From five miles it was downhill all the way, though unfortunately not literally. I got slower and slower and only a small recovery in the last few miles stopped me from tipping over into the next hour. The second one was better. This time I had had a month to recover from my last marathon. I splattered my way fairly enthusiastically along the Thames through a thick layer of mud. After the first ten miles I was slightly off the pace I needed for a PB but not much. It could go either way. Unfortunately it went the wrong way and I lost another six minutes before the end of the race but felt reasonably happy. I am left feeling ok with how my training is going at the moment. At lot of marathon running seems to be about pacing myself properly and not fading too much at the end.
So, for whatever reason, I have made a decision that running marathons is going to be part of my life. In case anyone out there is considering doing their first, this blog is going to be about that decision. I will try to answer, with 26.2 reasons, the question, ‘why on earth do I run marathons?’, bearing in my mind that this is just my personal take on it as different people run in different ways and for different reasons.
Reason 1: Running marathons helps me not to set limits for myself. For example, after the Olympic Challenge marathon, I decided to push myself further and ran Harrow Hill 10k the following day. This was one of the stranger experiences of my life because I was lining up at the start with genuinely no idea if I was physically capable of running. I ended up having to run a short distance to start on time and was barely able to raise myself beyond walking pace. As we began, whatever it is that lets me run faster during a race – Adrenaline? Common purpose? Fear of failure? Competitiveness? - kicked in and I was running. It was pretty much the hilliest road 10k I have done, including a brutal hill at the very start, but I found my rhythm and was only about four or five minutes slower than normal.
Reason 2: I like learning. After every marathon I have learnt something about running marathons. What I am learning at the moment is mostly about the need to recover properly afterwards. Apart from the obvious tiredness and stiffness afterwards, I am noticing a kind of residual tiredness. As I run more marathons I am starting to lose the edge off my speed over shorter distances. I think the answer to this is to start doing intervals and hills but I have not tested this yet.
Reason 3: I do not know when to stop.
Reason 4: It fits into my life. Most of doing a marathon is about all the hours spent doing long training runs. It is a big commitment and only possible if, like me, you have time to fit it in. I am particularly lucky because my partner, who quite frankly inspires me, not only also runs marathons but runs at almost exactly the same speed. She understands the madness that is marathon running.
Reason 5: My body seems to be able to take the strain. I am lucky that I recover pretty quickly after marathons and (so far) they have not caused me to get injured.
Reason 6: I am not alone when I run them. Marathons seems more sociable that other races and I can see a few reasons for this: some of them have a much smaller field than other races; I am now getting to the point where I recognise a few people from other small marathons we have both done so we say hi to each other; some are laps so you are constantly seeing the same few people coming the other way and you can encourage each other, even if you are running at very different speeds; at times I have run 15 miles or more beside another runner, helping each other through the pain, much more time that would be possible during a 10k unless something has gone seriously wrong.
In the Thames Meander, for example, another runner latched on behind me at mile fourteen and we ran together for a while. His presence helped me a lot as it gave me a reason not to slow down. We gave each other a few words of encouragement too, without knowing each other’s names or even having seen each other’s faces, there was some kind of bond between us. Around the twenty mile mark he hared off and left me for dead but I was the steady tortoise and three or four miles later I overtook him. He had gone too fast and was in a bad way. After the race was finished we chatted like comrades in arms and then went our separate ways.
Reason 7: I am alone when I run them. Running a marathon is all about what I have done. What I mean by this is that I can run a shorter race just on general fitness but I can only run a marathon if I have put in the effort and done the training. If I finish a marathon, it is because I have earned it.
Reason 8: Anything can happen. Perhaps because it is a longer mileage, there is more scope for unexpected things to happen. I am pretty consistent with most distances but when it comes to the marathon I have never been able to predict how a race will go.
Reason 9: I hate marathon running. Forcing my body to keep running for that length of time can be horrible. Ok. I know, I know. Some of you might be thinking this does not really count as a reason to run marathons but for me it does. Perhaps I should rephrase it slightly: I hate marathon running but I show myself that I can do it anyway and this gives me a massive sense of achievement.
Reason 10: Because one day I would like to do Ultras.
Reason 11: Because I may just be a bit weird.
Reason 12: I can never take running a marathon for granted. When I start a marathon, part of my feeling of excitement comes because I never know for sure if I will be able to finish. I feel this at every race but more so for a marathon. Marathons always feels special to me in a way that no other race does.
Reason 13: Come on! It’s a marathon! That is so cool. At some level, part of me feels like I am Pheidippides (google it- I did).
Reason 14: I do not mind spending a bit more cash on a race which is good because some marathons can be expensive.
Reason 15: They do marathons abroad too. While admittedly I am no Piers, I have visited Paris, Amsterdam and Marrakesh for the first time by doing marathons. Marathon running is a very good excuse to see new bits of the world.
Reason 16: Because I can. It suits my physical and psychological running style. I like the shorter, faster races too, but I do like digging in for a long races: that process of drifting into a meditative rhythm. I never get bored, even in long training runs, and when I set my mind to something I tend to maintain my focus for a long period of time. If this is true for you, maybe you are a marathon runner too.
Reason 17: Because I couldn’t. For a large part of my life I have been a very very long distance away from being able to run a marathon. I wanted to, and in my mind selected Berlin as my first. Then as the years went by I never got past a half marathon. My running cycle would be this: would train during the summer; run a half marathon or two around September or October; not be able to run anything long when it got cold because of my asthma; lose all my fitness; start again in late spring and repeat. Eventually I resigned myself and accepted I would never run a marathon. Then I broke the cycle and have now managed to transform 13.1 miles of hurt into 26.2 miles of hurt. It is hard to describe what it felt like when I ran my first marathon and when, this year, I got a place in the Berlin Marathon.
Reason 18: The medals.
Reason 19: Running a marathon burns up thousands of calories. I can eat whatever the hell I like afterwards.
Reason 20: The mental challenge is intense. In part this is about digging deeply into mental resources when they are the only thing stopping me from doing the sensible thing and falling down where I stand. It is also about judging how to pace the race: finding the delicate balance of running the first bit at a pace that is neither too slow to ruin my time or too fast to fade badly in the last section and ruin my time that way.
Reason 21: Because of the 100 Marathon Club, which part of me thinks I could join one day. For those of you that have not come across this, it is a running club for people in the UK who have run at least a hundred marathons or ultras. You get a t-shirt.
Reason 22: ‘Shut up Gary and just keep running.’ This is the reason I give myself during a race when my mind is shouting ‘Why are you doing this, why are you doing this’. I have finished every marathon so far so I suppose it kind of works.
Reason 23: The crowds. More than in any race you are beautiful and lifesavers. Thank you in advance mile 23.
Reason 24: The buzz.
Reason 25: The finish line. Reaching it is beautiful.
Reason 26: What happens in marathon running flows over into other areas of my life. When I finish a marathon I am inspired elsewhere because I carry inside me the knowledge what I can do more than I think.
Reason 26.2: In conclusion, above and beyond everything else, the single best reason to run a marathon is…
OK. I have set myself the task of giving 26.2 reasons for running marathons so unfortunately in the middle of that sentence is where I am going to have to stop. Finish it yourself. And, if you do manage to, maybe I will see you somewhere around the 26 mile mark. And we will share the hurting and the massive, massive sense of achievement.