Authie et Mi

Just finish without doing yourself an injury

22nd April 2012

The last time that my brother Anton decided to run the London Marathon he had plenty of opportunity in which to prepare himself mentally and physically. But over the past twelve months there were far too many other things like: moving home, operations on his knees and big family events, to really give him the chance to do some serious training. But he was adamant that he was going to do it again and applied.

At the end of 2011 my nephew Simon was offered a place through his school and decided to keep his Da company. So three months before the race, the training begins.

The objective : To Finish and who gives a damn about the time.

Every long journey starts with a single step as they say, so running a marathon starts with eating hot curries and running to the toilet. And you progress from there. A few kilometres on a regular basis gradually increasing the distance. Then you start adding in some longer runs but not so many that you will wreck yourself.

Four years ago, Anton did just that with an eighteen mile run only weeks before the marathon making the event very hard going. The training was steady but not excessive. Both knew that they were not going to be finishing in a fast time, there were no personal bests to worry about; they just needed enough stamina to be able to keep going and mental attitude has a lot to play in it as well.

It’s five in the morning and my alarm has gone off. Time to get up and head for the Tunnel. It is the day before the Marathon and the rest of us are becoming a bundle of nerves about how they are going to get on.

Anton is a bit on edge but accepting that he hasn’t had the time to do the training and is carrying a lot more weight this time — You think carrying a 30 kilo pack on your back makes it harder. I’ve got that on my stomach !

Simon is sitting in the dining room marking students’ exam papers. My first thoughts were that the students were obviously not native speakers as some of the essays had been passed through Google in order to translate them into English.

Apparently I am wrong. These are some of the top 10% of society, our future leaders. They simply lack the skills to put two cohesive phrases together. You are not allowed to point this out because the ability to compose intelligible English in your answer is no longer a requirement for a decent score.

The secret of Simon’s pre race calm was out. In comparison to having to read this utter drivel masquerading as erudite musings on the Expressions of speech in East Enders, twenty-six and a bit miles of pounded pavement would be a welcome relief.

Early to bed and even earlier to rise as the great gathering heads to London. The first train was the 0819 and the second the 0746. Oh no ! a temporal anomaly. A harassed announcer quickly calmed us that the train for London would be the 0719. Don’t worry you haven’t lost an hour.

That lost hour up the line, the train was filled with runners of all shapes and sizes clutching their red bags. Quiet concentration on all their faces except Simon’s because he was totally zenned out in that deep inner calm which defines, no-marking land.

Hannah, Alex, and Debs had decorated their faces with supporting slogans and blown up their balloons ready to make lots of noise. It is rather like a hunt where the beaters go out in front banging two sticks together to drive the terrified animals forward.

On Blackheath the entry numbers were pinned on. They carry your contact details on the back in case you are too exhausted to understand who you are, where you are and why your body has turned to soft putty.

Anton was commencing at the Blue Start and Simon at the Red, so we said good-bye to one and then the other before walking against the oncoming flow of concentrated faces climbing the hill from Greenwich station.

I had reckoned that the best way to get across London to Tower Bridge was to walk down to the Cutty Sark and then under the Thames via the Greenwich tunnel. From there we picked up the Docklands Light Railway which took us directly to the Tower of London. The train was almost empty the streets outside packed as the crowd gathered to watch the elite runners hurtle past.

The Tower marks the 13 mile point as they turn towards Canary Wharf and then the 22 mile point as they come back in again and head towards Buckingham Palace and the finish on The Mall.

We saw some of the women and handicapped runners go past and then the leading men came across the bridge towards us. We laughed but I think it was true. The first block were all black, the second all brown and the third all white.

I managed to find myself a reasonable place to take some photos standing on a traffic island in the company of an Irish couple waiting on a cousin running with one of the clubs. Anybody who tried to climb onto the bridge, blocking my view, was told to get down by a peeler. If we could have got rid of the Cornish flag wavers as well it would have been perfect.

Having found my spot I was moving for no man. There was a bit of a chilly breeze but most of the time the sun was out and the much talked about rain was staying away. It must have been a much more comfortable day to run than Anton’s first outing which had been one of the hottest in the high twenties all day.

Even at thirteen miles it is surprising how many of the club runners were already walking. Anton explained that those trying for their personal best sometimes go off too quickly chasing the faster runners and burn themselves out. Simon had been suitably warned to take his time and run at his own pace. The plodders often end up maintaining a better average speed. A certain fable springs to mind.

As Anton and Simon had started from different gates we were not expecting to see them together but as Anton went past I got the photo of him but missed Simon who was closing in on his father.

Time to move on and try and get coffee. It was pointless around the Tower as everywhere was filled to breaking point so we slowly walked over towards the Monument. I like that area because the runners go under a number of bridges so you get a good view. They only have about another three miles to do which means that once they have gone through we then have enough time to walk down to the meeting area at Horseguards.

By this stage many of the field were walking, having a bit of a breather before running the last wee bit to the finish line.

Personally, I am impressed by the speed of the elite runners, but in all fairness that is what they do. They may find running the distance in a top class time difficult on occasions, but the actual distance doesn’t pose a problem.

For the fun runners finishing is what counts and looking down from the bridge you cannot be anything other than inspired by some of the haunted looks as folks dig deep into their reserves of will power to keep going.

The organisers recommend that you put your name on your shirt and Anton says it works. If you stop the crowd call out and encourage you to keep going. One group of girls on the side were incessantly chanting out the names as the runners went by. They must have been hoarse by the end of the day.

I was expecting my brother to come through first feeling certain that Simon would be walking by then. But they proved me wrong. Simon jogged his way through with a nearly smile and a very red face caught by the sun.

About ten minutes later Anton came in to view. He stopped for a moment to say hello to Hannah and Alex on the side of the road and then set off again. At that point it went black and the heavens opened.

By the time we had fought our way through the sea of brollies and reached the meeting area both Anton and Simon had finished, sorted their bags out and received their medals. Fighting our way back through the throng we reached Charing Cross and said our farewells to Mum and Dad. We had learnt from the previous run. Don’t let them sit down for coffee and a natter. They wont get up again.

The train was filled with happy people with stories to tell : I was running behind a man wearing balloons – and nothing much more than balloons.

As people got off the train and walked down the platform it was not difficult to separate those who had watched from those who had done. For all you might smile at some of them; core requirements to join the Ministry of Silly Walks include: courage and determination.

Posted : 24 April 2012

Travel, England