I ran the London Marathon in April 2007, a decade ago. As a non-runner all my life, my decision to run – in a marathon of all things – was taken after two incidents. The first occurred on Marathon day in, I believe, 2005. Having had a standard boozy Saturday night in a forgettable South West London venue (I have forgotten where), culminating no doubt in sambuca shots and a chicken kebab at around 3am (again, I forget the particulars), I slept for the morning and emerged, blinking, unsteady and shaking at around 1pm to forage for provisions and coffee. A woman coming down the street towards me was also unsteady and shaking, but she had a shiny gold medal around her neck. 1pm and she had run 40k and all I had achieved was to sleep off a raging hangover.
The second incident was when I went to watch my brother run the London Marathon in 2006. Quite simply, anything he could do, I wanted to prove that I could do, despite the fact that at the time I could barely run for the bus. It was a tough year: by summer 2006 I could do 5k, followed by 10k in the Autumn and then a half marathon in January 2007. I ran to work with my flat mate, from Battersea Power Station to St Paul’s, past MI6 and Westminster, arriving in the office exhausted by 9am. It was going ok: the half marathon, my friend Kate and I completed in 2 hours 10.
Then there came the excuses. Nerve damage in my ankle, busy at work etc etc. The day itself, 22 April 2007 was over 30 degrees, which was tough after the cold temperatures that we were used to in training. But, I finished. It wasn’t a stellar performance, in fact my brother ran it again but I didn’t see him for dust and he had to wait at the finish line for 1 hour and 47 minutes for me to stagger over. Anyway, the great Haile Gebrselassie didn’t complete the course that year and I did, which is a small but important victory that I cling to when I recollect my short-lived running career. I couldn’t ascend or descend stairs without a handrail for a week.
I haven’t done it again, have barely run since. When I saw the runners come in yesterday (this time on the TV), I wasn’t gripped by middle-age existential angst that I wasn’t doing enough in my life. In fact, by the end of Sunday, I felt that there were certain similarities with running a marathon and looking after three sub-five year old children, such as:
– Rising early on a Sunday morning: the 18m old and 3 year old were in our bed at 5.30 a.m. climbing over my head and demanding milk until I could bear the reek of their wet nappies in my face no longer.
– Eating the same breakfast: porridge, of course, this time demanded by a 3 year old who then refused to eat it as it was too hot (even when it wasn’t) and lobbed most of it around the kitchen.
– The amount of exercise done / calories burnt: laps of the garden chasing a football, running along the pavement after my daughter on her bike, trampoline bouncing and dealing with the subsequent injuries, hosepipe wars, two loads of washing, at least an hour spent on my hands and knees picking up thrown food, play doh and toys.
– The toilet issue: not the Paula Radcliffe dilemma but the potty-in-training 3 year old’s – how to fish a steaming turd from his pants and deposit it down the loo without dropping it on the floor / on the baby’s head and then trying to prevent him running around with pride exclaiming ‘I’ve done a poo poo in my pants.’
– The grim determination needed to make it: this time, to make it to 7 pm and wine o’clock.
– Emotion at the end of the day: this time not tears of joy of reaching the finishing line, but tears brought on by my four year old saying out of the blue: “Mummy, you’re really old, so you’re going to die.”
All that relentless toil on marathon day, and unlike a decade ago, no crowds cheering us on, no medal to proudly display for a finisher’s photo in St James Park. Yup, having collapsed on the sofa last night ten years on, I not only felt as if I had run a marathon, but that I would rather have run a marathon. Maybe next year.