OPINION: I’d rather run with the bulls in Pamplona than do another marathon
PUBLISHED: 19:30 09 October 2020
After five marathons our Second Half columnist says he’s never doing another
I know the exact moment when I knew I didn’t ever want to run a marathon again.
A year ago this week I was in a Bournemouth B&B leant over the toilet retching uncontrollably and telling myself enough was enough. Trouble was, I’d signed up for another one three weeks later.
Nothing on earth can keep the signs of middle-ageing away like signing up for a marathon. You can actually enter them at any age post-18, but for some strange reason, most of us seem to wait until we are past our physical best before attempting to prove that we’re actually not past our physical best.
It’s true that some runners get better with age, but for most of us, doing a marathon is a real slog that’s well out of our comfort zones.
If you were inspired by London Marathon entrants who completed 26 mile runs in Norfolk last weekend, then go for it. If you’re not sure, let me dissuade you right now based on my experiences.
I flew off to Amsterdam in 2013 six months before turning 39 and was ready to compete in my first marathon.
I drank a can of Red Bull before I started and picked up some energy gels that tasted like flat Sprite at the expo the day before and chain-drank those in the early stages. At mile 15 my stomach was like a washing machine. I walked a bit by a canal, felt sick, got over the line in four hours and 41 minutes, took a tram to Schiphol where I used a luggage trolley as a Zimmer frame for a couple of hours in an attempt not to seize up and then flew home. No more marathons.
And then, 18 months later, I was about to hit 40 and sensed unfinished business. I signed up for three half marathons in three weeks completing the last of them at Silverstone the day before hitting 40 and a month later was in Manchester aiming to beat that Amsterdam time.
I trained better but disaster struck minutes before the start. I jumped over a crash barrier for a last minute wee and caught the inside of my thigh on a bit of metal. I ran the first few miles with blood trickling down my leg. I got to 20 miles and had had enough. People all around me were walking and talking and I did the same.
I felt spent again and jogged over the line outside Old Trafford albeit with a faster time of four hours and 29 minutes.
I gave it a rest for a couple of years but had always wanted to run the London Marathon. I trained hard for the 2018 event through some shocking weather, enduring The Beast From The East only to arrive in London at the start line with record temperatures of 25C.
I treated myself to some comfy new socks to enjoy this marathon as best I could as I’d recently run the Wymondham 20 in two hours 50 minutes so was very confident of going under four hours.
We were penned in like sardines for half an hour in the bizarre April heat during which time a woman right in front of me on the start line did a wee over my trainers. She did apologise.
And as for those new double thickness blister free socks? They essentially helped to poach my feet in the hot weather. I was doing fine until Tower Bridge at 13 miles when I realised the skin on the bottom of both feet had pretty much come off. My dreams of a sub-four hour marathon were over so I walked the last 13 miles on red raw feet with skin flapping around like a pair of flip flops. I showed my feet to a first aid crew at the finish, they put me in a wheelchair and pushed me across Horse Guards Parade where they were bandaged up. I didn’t feel any achievement at all until my son, then five told me I was great and wanted to wear my medal into school the next day. I let him.
I should have learned my lesson but last year, with that sub-four hour marathon niggling away inside me I decided to sign up for the Dublin Marathon as a swan song. Training was great and with a few months to go I decided to warm up with a second marathon three weeks before in Bournemouth. I went off way to quick, was nailed on for under four hours until I hit the wall, felt terrible, had stomach pains, crossed the line, sat in a park unable to move, took a bus back to my B&B with a carrier bag between my feet in case I was sick, got back to the B&B, was sick and then had to contemplate sitting on a train back to Norwich that got me home at 1am the following morning.
Dublin was better, I ditched the energy gels, ate proper food, ran it slower and forgot about the four hour thing. I crossed the line in 4:25 with a mild smile on my face. I was done. I told everyone I knew I wouldn’t do another but they still don’t believe me.
Look, if you’re after an adrenaline-packed experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, do a parachute jump or run with the bulls in Pamplona, don’t do a marathon.
If you really want to do a marathon in your 40s or beyond, expect pain, tears, self doubt, blisters, black toe nails, losing toe nails, aching, potential sickness, rubbing, chaffing, bleeding, the burden of raising money for charity and hardly any fulfilment.
I enjoyed signing up for them and the early days of training, but with work, a young family, trying to socialise and have other interests, marathon running eventually takes over everything. All five runs eventually left me feeling flat, tired and far from happy.
The medals for all five are in my loft and I’d be happy if I never saw them again. You might think I’m talking bull, but I’d honestly swap all five marathon experiences for two minutes of being chased by those bulls in Pamplona.
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