“If your head goes your legs go, then everything follows”.

I am very glad that evolution has decided to allow humans to type with their fingertips, because they are the only parts of my body that do not currently hurt. Marathon running is savage. I’ll skip the details, save to say that 39 hours later I feel like I’ve been pummeled with a meat tenderizer. I was worried I was overreacting post-race until I waddled to the loo after my post-run pint in a dockside pub. A fella informed me that there was a queue for the toilet. For the gents, thought I? How unusual!  Then I discovered that he was referring to the disabled facilities. Oh dear. I can’t blame him for thinking I was physically impaired. How can I describe my current gait? It resembles a zombie shuffle, with a dash of John Cleese’s silly walk, mixed with the circular calf-basiliksflapping of one of those lizards that can run across water. Even my three year old son stares at me with a mixture of hilarity and consternation. I’m in a state.

Yet I would not change any of it for the world. It was all marvellous. Even  before the run itself. For the Dublin Marathon, you have to register at a massive exhibition hall to get your number. Now I’m used to getting a neat little envelope through the post, so to arrive at the mini-city that was the pre-race meet was a bit of a shock. Honestly, the place made the Rebel Alliance look lazy. Not only were there stalls selling running kit to make Iron Man jealous, they had a ‘motivational speaker’ who looked like he was carved out of mahogany. No gentle hints and tips from him. He gave a rundown of the course that was equally inspirational and terrifying. I felt overwhelmed.

It is impossible to remember all of a race. There are these fleeting but intense exchanges with other runners and race officials, then its on with the next bit, round the corner, up the hill. Each mile is a unique experience, punctuated with motivational signs. I felt galvanised when I read ‘pain is temporary, pride is forever’, but very grateful to the lady who made me laugh at mile 23 with the message ‘smile if you’re wearing no underwear’. Tee hee. You see the best of humanity at a running event. People of all ages shout support,  hands outstretched and full of jelly beans, flapjack and other sugery boosters. Some folk bear signs, some clap, and some just watch, but they are there for the runners. I vividly recall an old lady ringing a hand bell on the steps of a church, and two sprightly looking care home residents waving out of a window.

Then you see your family and friends, and it is a wonderful moment. If you are lucky, then they pick you out, and it feels like a transfusion. As Laurie Lee said ‘the body burns magic fuels’, and with a clasping of hands all of the pain is gone. I always well up, and I don’t know if it is with pride or gratitude, but its extremely powerful. Less than a mile after seeing my folks at mile 18, I hit ‘the wall’, or ‘the bonk’, if you are more mature than me. Both my hamstrings locked, and I couldn’t lift my legs. I thought that was it. I’d failed. Then I saw the 5 hour pacer team, with their big red helium baloons. Pacers are seasoned athletes who run strictly to time, and devote themselves to inspiring runners. It was perfect timing.

As they passed me, I heard ‘If your head goes your legs go, then everything else follows’. They must have read my expression. It was a turning point. I ran with them for 6 miles, drinking in their advice. One of them had ‘100 mile club’ tattoed on to his calf, which made him an ultra marathon runner. I felt like bowing before him, but bending down would have been most unwise at that moment. I couldn’t keep up for the final two miles, but hobbled with pride. It was the intensity of the crowd that made me jog the final stretch, and then that was it. Done. A flood of emotion, topped with an immense sense of pride and relief.

©Tom Tide 2016


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