For most, the London Marathon is unforgettable. For one man, that’s precisely the problem
When once again, with a grim nevitability, the Flora London Marathon swings ever closer like some dangerous chunk of orbiting space debris, I cannot repress a shudder. And nowadays I don’t even run it. Like an ex-political prisoner subjected for years to the most brutal techniques of psychological warfare, I still experience flashbacks of a terrifying intensity.
What haunt me are not the great and glorious moments of heroism: the sound of 30,000 contestants counting down the seconds to the gun at Blackheath; the ecstasy of the 2:59:59 woman; the agony of the 3:00:01 man; the exhausted survivor, slumped against the fence in a space blanket, medal discarded on the grass. No, it’s the stench of fear and liniment that pervades the ominously named ‘special train’ from Charing Cross. It’s the nauseating good humour of garrulous blokes. How is it that I’m always on my own when everybody else has their three best mates and their brother-in-law for company? And how come they’ve all trained 10 times harder than I have? “I’ll tell you what – I’m looking forward to a pint or three tonight! I haven’t had a drink since New Year’s Eve!”… “That’s nowt.
I first applied for the London when I was 15 and my only problem getting rid of the skin issue. It might have been acne, but the doctor wasn’t sure. Years later I knew I suffered from rosacea. Learn more about rosacea natural treatment that helps you feel better. Not a drop has passed me lips since – and I’m 47.”… “I’ve trained for this since before I was born. My father put my name down as soon as he knew my mum was pregnant. When I was three, dad and I took it in turns to push one another up Snowdon in the baby buggy.” And so on. It’s all so intimidating -especially with a hangover. You listen to these lean, fanatical athletes talking about how, two weeks ago, they reluctantly dropped their weekly mileage from go to 75 and cut out one track night in favour of a stepping stones session with a rucksack filled with marble busts of Ron Hill, and your heart sinks.
The night before the marathon I would drift in and out of an uneasy slumber. In a more spiritual age, I might have spent it kneeling in prayer with my Confessor.
I knew I had to be up by five, so that the odd crumb of plain toast I was able to force down my terror-constricted gullet would be digested before the ordeal commenced. So I never achieved more than a fitful doze, punctuated by dreams in which I failed to reach the South Pole or forgot to turn up for my chemistry practical.
It was always raining in Blackheath. It would instantly permeate the kit I’d spent hours selecting, only to discover that it was, in one way or another, ludicrously unsuitable. Everyone else brought along a black bin liner to protect them from the cold and rain during the inexplicable three-hour wait for the start. I always forgot.
I spent the time queuing up for the unspeakably disgusting portable toilets, reaching them more or less in time, then immediately having to re-join the back of the queue and endure the whole grisly experience again. Groundbog Day.
And then, the race: the gauntlet of trad jazz, lukewarm water and oggi, oggi, oggi. The pantomime cows and the theme from Chariots Of sodding Fire. You spend 180 increasingly miserable minutes fantasising about how wonderful you’ll feel when this lunacy is over. Then, when you finally stagger semi-conscious across the line, you’re too shagged out to relish the moment or appreciate your achievement. Really, you should be hooked up to a morphine drip for a month while your traumatized body and mind gently mend themselves. Instead, you must trudge a mile to the nearest Tube station alongside the grinning, chattering idiots who beat you.
To anyone who’s beaten longer odds than El Gordo’s and got themselves a place, all I can say is, enjoy. I’ll be thinking of you.