Tonk Talk

Tonky is at one with the marathon. Om­mmm…

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents - Paul and fel­low co­me­dian Rob Deer­ing’s run­ning pod­cast, Run­ning Com­men­tary is avail­able on itunes and Acast. @Run­com­pod

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.


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