September 05, 2010

Marathon Memoir, or, Notes on Commitment

My faithful readers, I have adhered to my promise of some months ago not to bore you with details of my arduous training regime in preparation for the Montreal marathon. Now that the regime, not to mention the race, is over, I hope you’ll permit me a few words on the subject.

Over the past weeks, the only respite from chronic pain has been the occasional spike of acute agony. Serious runners will talk incessantly about technique, stretching and all the rest but, be those things as they may, my view is that if it isn’t painful then there’s not much point. After all, if preparing for a marathon was little different from walking in the park, there would be little sense of achievement attached to the thing. In the last three months or so, I have had blisters, a bloody ankle, runners knee(s), and inflammation of the IT band (too dull to explain). I have run the best part of 300 miles, eaten a hundred-weight of pasta, lost two inches off an already respectable waistline and added them to my calves. The temperature for most of my training averaged around 30 Celcius, but peaked at about 45 for several days in July. Most of the time it has been misery. But it is done.

For those of you who care about such things, my time was 3:43. I missed my target time by a minute, but will not grumble. My half-marathon split was much more impressive, clocking in at 1:44. It will not take a mathematical genius to determine that I slowed down. A brief word on ‘the Wall’: I hit it at about the 20-mile mark and it stayed with me until close to the finish. Afterwards it returned. I can only describe it as something akin to being twice one’s regular weight and having to run through treacle. Finishing in such a state is a singular mixture of euphoria and desolation. I cannot imagine what it must feel like not to finish.

Sticking with a thing when it seems like it can’t be done is a quality that is perhaps more scarce these days than of yore. Part of the reason I ran this race was to see if I possessed it (happily confirmed). The Victorians called it ‘pluck’ but, however one labels it, one can’t help reflecting that the most common response to adversity in the twenty-first century is to give up. Resignation does not flatter us, but it is easy to do. You might say that a marathon is of no consequence – a commitment to a trifle – but I say it is emblematic. A man must know what he can endure, for life itself is a marathon. We do not choose to set about it, but since we are in the race we might as well do our level best. Everybody will meet unwelcome inclines, uneven roads, and inclement weather. I won’t labour the point. It will suffice to ask the pertinent questions: when we finish will it be with the sense of satisfaction of a job well-done? If we fail shall it be gallant or pathetic? Shall we lament that we might have tried harder, or shall we leave it all on the road?

I shall resume ‘normal life’ as soon as my legs recover. A new challenge lies in store, however, about which more anon. Before I sign off, a brief acknowledgment in the direction of the Australian man, running a marathon a week for 52 weeks, who provided me with perfect and encouraging company for the middle 8 miles or so of the race. Truly a manly individual.


  1. Run in worn out shoes. Being a collegiate runner at 60 miles a week, it works miracles.

  2. Poignant thoughts on an excellent adventure and important accomplishment.

  3. Doctor, my congratulations. You must imagine me waving briefly as you remove yourself to a smaller, perhaps a more dignified category of people, those mythical marathon runners. You must eventually become the object of song...

  4. 3:43! A triumph! Twenty five minutes faster than my best ever.
    It will soon be the 2,500th anniversary of the battle of Marathon, which gives your achievement a rich historical resonance.

  5. Thanks all. Feeling a little the worse for wear this morning, but I slept as I imagine the righteous often do.

  6. If I could give you a proper hand-shake - I certainly would.
    Congrats to you - You shall inspire me to not give up!

  7. I always feel so alive when it hurts after training. Encouraging and inspiring post!

  8. Congratulations, my good man. Most impressive. Having had several friends that have completed marathons I will say that the actual accomplishment of finishing, with a very good time I might add, is fantastic, should you have told me you trained for it, but were unable to compete, I would have been equally impressed. The daily drudgery of training must be the worst part and the true sign of a determined individual.

  9. Congratulations! I didn't doubt for a minute that you'd finish it, and with a very respectable time too.
    So.... what's the next challenge?!

  10. Thanks again. The level of congratulations after the event rather persuades one that this was something of an achievement. Most heartening.
    Next challenge isn't quite nailed on yet, but I'm looking into running a fast mile (under five minutes).


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