Tonky is at one with the marathon. Ommmm…
I was in the finishing chute of
the Yorkshire Marathon and the results were in. I’d snaffled a PB by six minutes (3:03:58) and if there’s a sweeter ( legal) feeling available to me at the age of 47 I don’t know what it is. I was weaving around on unsteady legs, chatting to anyone who would listen to me. I love the finishing zone. We were in Yorkshire, as well, so you can imagine how friendly it was. A yellow-vested fellow had just run 3:09. It was his fourth marathon this year. ‘I just can’t stop doing ’em!’ he exclaimed. He was 53 but looked half his age. Having won good-for-age places in the London Marathon, several chaps were bouncing around and hugging relatives. A lad sitting on the floor seemed close to tears. ‘It hurts so much, every time,’ he said. ‘But the feeling’s so good. I can’t describe it. It’s madness.’ It’s a dizzy, absurd sensation – simultaneous exhaustion and elation, and an overwhelming sense of peace.
In the weeks that follow I reflect that every marathon mirrors its locality. The London Marathon is like the city – busy, noisy, a wonderful, manic, intoxicating chaos. Yorkshire felt calmer, more relaxing and because there were fewer runners, you connected with each other more. About six miles in I’d found my crowd. The sub-threehour posse had assembled, clicking along together, chatting amiably, commenting on the course, sharing water. We knew the race had not started yet and that when it did we knew it would be a battle with the marathon rather than each other. We would be scattered – some propelled to victory and some veering to the side of the road, broken. But for now, we were there to help each other, part of the same river of runners flowing as one. It reminded me of being a kid, running with the Harriers round Scarborough. The course was classic Yorkshire, too – a bit ‘up hill and down dale’. Nothing too serious, just the occasional incline and, more enjoyably, the odd long, gentle downhill to relax into. At around 10 miles I felt the effort starting to nibble. You’re rationing your mental energy, focusing on form, dropping the arms and shaking them loose.
Through halfway and on schedule – time to start the countdown. A slow releasing of the valve, an unravelling of the spring inside. Take on fuel, scoff a gel. Tuck in, crack on. There’s no chat now. This is the marathon right here. I’ve just run 13.1 miles faster than I have in ages and I’ve got another half to go. Chunk it down – one 10K, two Parkruns and a finishing burst.
The section of the race that stays with me is 20-24 miles. It’s here that the miles done in training are withdrawn in one smooth surge: time to cash in the long runs, the speed sessions, the hills. I was lucky this time, I had a good one. Indeed, between 20 miles and the finish line I was overtaking people, which, for me, is incredibly rare. For the first time I was racing the marathon as opposed to enduring it. The miles had chiselled my style down to a low, urgent shuffle. I’d found a bubble of energy. It felt glorious. For a moment I was just muscle and limbs and a beating heart.
The distance got me in the end. I tightened up, my stride suddenly laboured and I waved goodbye to a sub-three-hour finish. But that melancholy was mingled with a joy that has stayed with me.
Weeks later I’m still smiling at my memories of Yorkshire – the high-fiving vicar by the side of the course, the fact there’s a bloody great hill 400m from the finish line, and I recall the 50-something woman who limped in to the massage room after the race. ‘Good run?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ she sighed. ‘People kept calling my name. I was just…crying.’ She shook her head and turned to face me – and I saw a deep happiness. The marathon had done its job.
TalkTonk PAUL TONKINSON