It’s an interesting debate (https://marathonaddictuk.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/the-kindness-of-runners/)
You are less than a quarter of a mile into the Portsmouth Coastline Marathon when you run straight into a lamp post that you are sure wasn’t there last year. With blood streaming down your face, you decide to carry on.
a) Heroic, sporting, a role model
b) Stupid, reckless, foolhardy, self-centred and mad?
My wife – four days later – has just managed all of b) in the one sentence, highlighting the truth of that old thing about men being from Venus and women from Mars (unless it was the other way round).
My week’s great debate has split the men from the women as surely as it has split the marathon-runners from the non-marathon-runners. A guardedly-disapproving maternal “You’d already proved you can run a marathon” seemed to me to be missing the point.
This was definitely new territory. I hadn’t actually proven I could run one with a broken nose and a gashed forehead needing five stitches. Nor had I shown I could run one with concussion, that bizarre, disorientating sense of the route coming up to meet you and then doubling back to trip you up.
In my mind, I was joining – as a very junior trainee associate member – that great club which surely boasts the great Bert “What broken neck? I’ve got an FA Cup final to play in!” Trautmann as its life president.
At the very least, my little lamp post altercation lifted what would have been a so-so marathon for me into the ranks of something outrageously worthwhile. If there was an immovable object on the route, then I am honoured that it fell to me to attempt to be the unstoppable force.
The last five miles were dizzyingly awful, which meant a disgraceful amount of walking, which meant a finishing time 12 seconds inside four hours. Without the bump, I would probably have run 3 hours 45 minutes, which would have been a fairly forgettable time on a genuinely-different, challenging and enjoyable course.
At least now, I have got the stuff of my own little running legend. I’d like a blue plaque on that lamp post (to replace the red splat) because maybe, just maybe it will prove another turning point in my running career.
My last four or five marathons really haven’t been terribly enjoyable, on the basis that a marathon will always throw up something to knock you off your stride, and I was starting to think that the great god Marathon was trying to tell me it was time to pack it all in.
But it took running into a lamp post to knock some sense into me. I don’t want a difficult marathon to be my last marathon. I want to bow out on a good one, which means that I probably won’t bow out at all. If I do ever again actually manage a good one, I know it won’t be long before I decide that it’s not good enough.
To do a decent marathon, you need so many different factors coming together in your favour that inevitably it’s just a matter of minutes before you start to think that things were just so massively stacked in your advantage that you really didn’t exploit them enough.
And so it goes on.
That’s the nature of marathons. A little bit like picking at a scab, perhaps. Pick and you will want to pick some more. Or maybe I should say like picking at your stitches, which are currently driving me nuts. Thank goodness they are coming out tomorrow.
In the meantime, it’s a lovely thought that in Portsmouth, there’s a lamp post that will always be Phil. It’s a little like a modern Cinderella. I wonder if Portsmouth City Council will now scour the land in search of a runner with a profile which fits the dent in their lamp post.
Perhaps my reward will be a princess who wouldn’t answer the above question with
b) stupid, reckless, foolhardy, self-centred and mad.
Oops, feeling guilty for saying that! The fact is that Fiona has always been a fantastic support to my running, always encouraging, always there. And even if she has just called me stupid, reckless, foolhardy, self-centred and mad, in fairness I should point out that she quickly added that she expected nothing less…
Keep On Running, newly-subtitled Ideally Without Hitting The Lamp Posts, is available from Amazon: