I’ve been asked a few times recently whether I ran ‘the marathon’ or, prior to Sunday, whether I was running ‘the marathon’. ‘The marathon’ is, of course, the Virgin London Marathon. Because that’s the only marathon, isn’t it?
When asked, I’ve said ‘no’. Not because I am now running scared of fast races on roads, but because I have deferred my entry until 2013 as I’m running a race called the Fellsman, six days after London. ‘How far is that?’ is the next question, of course. ‘About 60 miles,’ I respond.
Even now, writing the digits of this dreadful figure sends a shiver down my spine – 60 miles. How does one run 60 miles? When I tell people about the Fellsman, about its 60 miles from Ingleton to Threshfield, they tend to give a half-laugh, a shake of the head, a look of incredulity. I’ve had the same response from adults and children. Even 11 and 12-year-old school boys know how ridiculous the concept of running 60 miles is. It is unfathomable.
Nevertheless, in three days time, I will seek to run further than I have ever run. In fact, further than I ran in the entirety of last week, even though that week included a single run of 29 miles across the South Downs. In fact, further than I run in most weeks.
My 50th anniversary Fellsman instruction booklet – all 36 pages of it! – with my race number emblazoned on the front arrived several weeks ago. I still haven’t digested it all. As a Fellsman novice, my mind is a blur of checkpoints, grid references, food stops, summits and places I have never heard of (let alone visited) and grouping times, as well as a hundred other dilemmas that form the intricacies of this race.
Nor have the ‘Fellsman statistics’ escaped my notice. Out of 368 starters last year, 104 dropped out. Meanwhile, having paid the entry fee, 121 people didn’t even show up on race day. That’s an awful lot of financially-committed people who had a better offer.
I’ve no reason to drop out, unfortunately. I’m being facetious, of course; I can’t wait. I am looking forward to beginning the climb of Ingleborough, looking forward to conquering the summits of Whernside, Gragareth, Great Knoutberry, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside. I am looking forward to seeing a day pass, to still be on the hills as dusk arrives. I am looking forward to pasta at Stonehouse checkpoint, to hotdogs at Redshaw. I am looking forward to the feeling – all being well – that comes from running 60 miles and climbing 11,000ft in something like 12, 13 or 14 hours.
And more than anything, I am looking forward to being part of a legendary fell event, an event that is much more than a race; it is a journey.