Monthly Archives: December 2012

A modern Cinderella!

It’s an interesting debate (

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.

Are you

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:






DSC_0473 - CopyEvery author’s dream is to be recognised. It’s just what happened next that was the problem. But the massive consolation is that it’s surely one of the funniest things ever on a marathon course.

We were barely a quarter of a mile into the fabulous new Portsmouth Coastline Marathon when a chap, who’d read my book and liked it, came up on my left-hand side and said “Are you Phil?”

I glanced to my left to say yes and ran straight into a lamp post. My swelling pride lasted just about a nanosecond before the awful, clanging impact sent me reeling backwards.

I felt terrible – terrible for repaying my fellow runner’s friendliness by the disconcerting spectacle of me head-banging a piece of street furniture. Just a shame it wasn’t a settee or something rather softer.

For several seconds, I couldn’t think straight, but then came the gush of blood – and boy, did it bleed in the way that head wounds usually do. It was like turning on a tap. But fortunately, help was at hand.

The poor chap – known in the twittersphere as #gearselected – was solicitousness itself as he persuaded the occupants of a parked car nearby to part with a wadge of tissues which I duly drenched.

It took me back to that moment five minutes into the New York City Marathon when a chap tripped and crashed down onto his knee. It was obvious he was out of the race, and you just knew what everyone else was thinking: that could have been me.

I staggered on. When you’ve written a book called Keep On Running, not continuing wasn’t an option, and maybe I ran on shock for a while before the impact properly hit me. At four miles, thinking of the miles stretching ahead, I was within a whisker of pulling out.

But that’s when that old cliché about marathon-running rescued me. The only person you run against is yourself. Everyone else you are running with.

And what a superb bunch they were. I lost count of the number of people who checked I was OK. I wish I had a mince pie for every runner who said “You’re going to need stitches in that, mate.” I had the distinct advantage of not being able to see what I looked like.

Their generosity of spirit kept me on track. In my confused mind, I was Terry Butcher playing on in that vital World Cup qualifier in Sweden, blood dripping down his shirt.

But you don’t bash your head like that without paying a price. At about 20 miles, as we came back alongside the eastern road, I started to lose a sense of height and depth. It became difficult to judge differing levels, and the short drop to the beach to my left was giddying in a worrying way. I wasn’t at all sure I was seeing it properly. My only option was to walk.

And that’s when yet another runner spoke to me: “We’re all keeping an eye on you, mate,” he said. And so they did. Just before South Parade Pier, with barely half a mile to go, with a head that felt like every single Christmas carol that has ever been written was being played in it, I was inches away from the absurdity of packing it all in. I was conscious I wasn’t running straight, and my head hurt like hell.

I hope these words reach runner 660. He told me he would get me over the line and he did, by which time someone else had warned the paramedics that I was coming. They were waiting for me, and the care was terrific – even if the wait at the minor injuries unit at St Mary’s Hospital wasn’t much short of the time it had taken me to run the marathon.

The upshot was five stitches to my forehead, lots of questions about what day it was, who was the prime minister, lights shining in my eyes, high-blood pressure, slow pupils, concussion and very likely a broken nose. Apparently they don’t X-ray noses. This morning, it’s roughly the shape of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Oh, and two eyes that are turning black.

It’s been a groggy, thuddingly-painful, sleep-free night, but looking back at yesterday, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I love marathons, but more and more I am realising that it is one’s fellow marathoners that make marathons the insanely-seductive events they are.

And I think I have just discovered the very best pain-killer there is: the kindness of runners.

Keep On Running, newly-subtitled Ideally Without Hitting The Lamp Posts, is available from Amazon:


The Kindness Of Runners