There’s a maxim that’s popular amongst runners it goes “dead last is greater than did did not finish, which trumps did not start”. My 23rd marathon brought this to mind yesterday. The Temple Newsam marathon was tough and, as my interest in this quotation implies, I finished last. That was a first for me. In a way it’s nice after 2 years and 23 marathons to still have new experiences, but it still hurt and it taught me a valuable lesson.
It took me 5hrs55 and I struggled! A lot! It was a really undulating trail marathon, so a lot different to the pancake flat city streets of Manchester last weekend. Soon after the start today I knew I was in trouble, but I managed to dig in and stuck at it doggedly until I was done.
That I finished at all has a lot to do with Helen, the tail runner. She accompanied me throughout the race. Having company on a long run is great. It raises you spirits. It’s not for nothing that Alan Sillitoe wrote his famous story, “the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. Running is a solitary experience and it can be very hard on the mind, especially when things aren’t going well.
When the race started my legs felt heavy. I tried running for a few minutes, but there was nothing there, no energy and no spring in my step. As I began to walk, and was passed by the only runner behind me, my heart sank a little. My expectations for the race changed. I had wanted to get around in a decent time, while maintaining my streak of not finishing last in a race, but this switched in an instant and I was forced to rethink my plan.
This streak was something I took a lot of satisfaction from. No matter how much I’ve been battered by treatment or how tired and weary my body has been, from running and training in the gym, I always managed to finish in front of others. I was very proud of this. But from an excess of pride comes arrogance and hubris. I have always tried to be humble about my achievements, but where running is concerned perhaps I’d started to feel entitled, like I was too good to finish last.
I was sad when that runner passed me, but now I’m pleased for him that he did and stayed out in front. He was better than me. It was a great reminder not to take myself too seriously. I’m no better than anyone else. There probably aren’t many people running a marathon a month alongside chemo every two weeks. But that doesn’t mean anything at all in a race. Not one thing!
I might have finished last, but I made it back before the 6 hour cut off for the race. It was by no means my slowest marathon and if I’d entered a bigger race with more participants there would have been hundreds behind me. But I wouldn’t have learned anything about myself or gotten to meet and spend almost 6 hours with Helen, a lovely fellow fitness nut and optimist. We had a great laugh. Besides, if I wanted not to be last I could train harder, or run fewer marathons. No one gets anything for free and as Oprah Winfrey has said: “running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it”.
Anyway it’s onwards and upwards to the London Marathon next week. A truly wonderful race and I’m very excited to take part for second year with my lovely wife Louise. I’ve not run marathons three weeks in a row before. Chemo every fortnight makes running hard and I’m pretty much running at my limit. Last weekend was tough, yesterday’s race was tougher still, but I’m determined!
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