I guess my interest in running partly revolves around finding a form of aerobic exercise that I could do in my own mediocre manner and not let anyone else down, and does not involve swimming (which I don’t dislike as such but takes so much time to organise, involves fighting off everyone else in an overfull pool and, to confess, I needed remedial swim lessons at secondary school – if I ever manage to avoiding drowning at some point, I have a lot to thank a certain Mr. Gibson, who took the time to show me that water was not, actually, that scary and was willing with others to spend their lunchtimes helping those of us who were frankly useless to doggy paddle towards competence) and cycling – which I never learned to do as a child, and has therefore held me back ever since. For goodness sake push then and let them fall off and hurt themselves. They’ll thank you later.
A few years ago I did the London Marathon for the wonderful charity Mission without Borders, having been, um, persuaded by a friend in our church congregation. At that point I was the reluctant runner; something some friends of mine thought was a bit strange, as I run regularly. But, let’s be clear, there is a difference with running a few miles regularly in a desperate attempt to try and compensate for calorie intake and running a blessed marathon. I hate marathons. They are just too long to be fun and just turn into a boring parade of pain. I have limitless respect with those with the strength of body, and perhaps more importantly, strength of mind who are able get round those 26.2 miles and the time is a matter of semantics for me. I didn’t want to do it and the race and the training was not fun, even if the achievement was. This is the difference. It will take another whole level of persuasion to make me attempt a marathon again; I suspect that I have learned better now to duck when the ‘opportunity’ comes my way.
Up until recently, I felt comfortable with half marathons. Actually, that sounds as though they are easy. They’re not. On Sunday I completed the Great North Run and had to walk one mile of it; the unexpected sun and heat, and two nights of strangely disturbed sleep had sapped all my energy. In the last few miles I saw three or four men – younger and fitter looking than me – collapsed and being tended to. Tragically someone died. It is not a minor thing. But until this weekend I’d kept up an illusion that it was something I’d be doing forever.
As I stood at the start line – with 50 odd thousand others – I was struck by the number of young people and first timers. And I felt a little jealous. For them this was the biggest deal; for me, it was, in the end, a number and another finisher medal. There were no surprises on route, I’m never going to get close to my 1998 (oh God, so long ago!) personal best and while it is nice to revisit things you see as important, at the same time there is a point where you have to ask is it really worth the pain and the hassle to do something you have done so many times before? So this will be my last Great North Run – while I still love it. I’ll do it again maybe in a decade for old time’s sake; I’d do it again if any of my younger friends wanted to run and felt like having an old hand along. But I think it is generally time to call it a day on this particular part of my life which is absolutely stuffed with happy memories (oh, the pain fades, don’t you know?). I’ll probably do half marathons again. But maybe it time for my running adventures to take a different course.