I’m running the Beachy Head Marathon tomorrow. It is my ninth marathon in the 11 years I have been old enough to compete over 26.2 miles. Following a 2.50.23 London in April and a 3.15.39 Lakeland Trails in July, Beachy Head is my third marathon this year. Prior to 2011, I had never run more than one marathon in a calendar year. I thought it was a bad idea; the notion, for some reason, was lodged in my thinking. Then people like Ranulph Fiennes, Eddie Izzard and Andrew Murray started running multiple, consecutive marathons. I began to change my mind.
The achievement of Fiennes (and his running partner, Mike Stroud) to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents was hailed as extraordinary, partly because Fiennes was recovering from a double heart bypass at the time. (Incidentally, when I pointed out to my father-in-law, who has undergone a similar procedure, that Fiennes had not only ran all these marathons, but also climbed the Eiger and Everest, it wasn’t terribly well received.
Izzard’s exploits are well-documented; he ran 43 marathons in 51 days. The BBC footage of his journey around the UK was inspirational. Murray ran from Scotland to the Sahara, averaging 34 miles a day for 78 consecutive days (and wrote a book). But then along came Stefaan Engels who would outdo all. The Belgian ran a marathon every 24 hours for 365 days. He covered nearly 10,000 miles and his fastest marathon was ran in less than three hours. Bringing up the story of Engels (and Fiennes, for that matter) is always a good response to those people who say, ‘I couldn’t do that,’ when talking about the prospect of doing a marathon.
So where does that leave me? Nine marathons in 11 years? It amounts to very little, really. Murray did that in a week; Engels in nine days. The solo nature of running means there is always someone better, always someone faster, always someone madder. For all the bravado, even Usain Bolt looks over his shoulder.
All runners have been there. Among one circle of family, friends or work colleagues you’re a hero for even contemplating stepping outside into a cold, wet, winter’s night (in shorts!) to run, let alone actually enter and compete in a race. You’re a God, a fitness freak, a machine. Among other circles – a Herne Hill Harriers training session, for me for instance – I slink to the back of an all-star group and try like billy-o to cling onto their spikes. Yet put these ‘all stars’ next to Bekele or Farah on a track and they would be run ragged. Here lies the delicious frustration of running.