A Good Idea At The Time?

JAMES KELLY’s marathon blog: “as each passing mile accumulates, the distance to the finish doesn’t seem to decrease at all”

hare hounds James Kelly marathon run running stamina

Imagine the numbers increasing one by one; 13, 14, 15.  This isn’t a counting exercise though.  The numbers don’t represent seconds or minutes, nor do they represent pound coins (or, as we’re all students, pennies).  They don’t even represent the number of people pulled at Cindies during term, but rather something that requires even greater stamina.  These are the miles that pass by during the marathon.

Now imagine the despair that grows out of the sensation that as each passing mile accumulates, the distance to the finish doesn’t seem to decrease at all.  It makes getting up for that 9 o’clock lecture seem almost pleasant!  And yet thousands of people voluntarily tackle the marathon.  I’m James Kelly, Marathon Secretary of the Cambridge University Hare & Hounds, and like many members of the university, I will be running a marathon in the coming months.  I’ve been given this opportunity over the next few weeks to demonstrate (perhaps as much to myself as to you!) why a marathon is a brilliant experience.
The first question that we usually get when we confess to having entered a marathon (and one that is repeated with increasing frequency and vehemence as the legs start to ache around mile 18) is, why?  Sure, the first time someone ran a recorded 26.2mi – according to legend, at least – was to inform Athens of the defeat of the invading Persians, but, I mean, we have phones now.  And cars.  And anyway, no one would ever trust you with an important message because I’ve seen your exam results and you’d forget it by the time you got to your destination.  So why bother?
The defence that best holds up in court is temporary insanity, often generated by that fifth or sixth pint in the pub/college bar/club (delete as appropriate), when, feeling like Superman, you declare the marathon to be easy.  And moreover you could beat your mate’s dad’s friend’s son, who ran 3:45, without even training.  Blindfolded.  On one leg.  Easy.
Or maybe you want to look like Superman and win the kind of long lasting fame and glory that only finishing as First Superhero or Third Elvis can bring you.  (Beware if this is your aspiration; a rhinestone Elvis once broke 2:45 in the London Marathon, while Bananaman last year was only just outside 3:30).
Many runners have more noble intentions.  For some, the marathon is a catalyst to get fit, to radically change lifestyle.  The act of completing the race is the victory, and with every passing mile comes an increasingly acute knowledge of his or her own physical and mental limits.  Still others run to support a charitable cause, sacrificing body and mind for those who are in no position to do the same.
But before we forget, the marathon is a race, and a lot of athletes compete to set personal bests, to win medals and to ascend the national rankings.  Okay, it’s not always their distance of choice; usually they’ve been forced up to marathon distance because they were tired of being beaten on the track, have lost the quickness of youth, or needed increasingly long training sessions to better procrastinate, but, although they have no hope of beating the Kenyans, this doesn’t cheapen their competitive ambitions!
A lot of the time it comes down to pride.  Some might run because, badly underprepared on the first attempt, they finished behind not only Third Elvis, but also a man in full clown costume (large shoes included).  And after seeing the athlete they just pipped in a sprint finish embrace his grandchildren (!) at the finish line, they vowed to return one day to finish amongst their own age group.  I can promise one thing: I’ll have you this year, Third Elvis!
I happen to be chasing a quick time as I embark upon the training that will increasingly dominate my next few months, but I’m united in purpose with the hundreds and thousands of people who, for whatever reason, will join me on the starting line.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.