“If you’re losing faith in human spirit, go out and watch a marathon.” Kathrine Switzer*
Is training for a marathon sexy? No. It’s exhausting. For 16 tedious weeks it’s you against the weather, your own mind, a life more interesting. You get sunburnt in February and stung by hail in April. Out running you talk to yourself, you shout at yourself, you cry. You – the one who always calls ‘one for the ditch’ – places your hand over your glass after a couple of drinks because you have to run 15 miles in the morning. Men yell from vehicles. Dogs trip you up. You chafe.
But do you feel sexy? Fuck yes. Despite an ever-present tiredness you also feel constantly horny. You pass endless miles thinking about fucking. You lift your running shorts to your face to smell yourself as you strip off. You savour the burning muscles in your arse and thighs, a Pavlovian Bell for other memories. You love your body more.
Are runners hot? Let me think about that? Toned arse and legs. Stamina. Mental focus. Yes, runners are hot.
And there’s the emotion. Running over Tower Bridge with tears in your eyes, not because you’re halfway through but because you just spotted your friend, a few days out of surgery to remove a tumour from her breast, waiting for you. At mile 23 your brother sends you a photo of your niece, still wired up to the oxygen that’s feeding her weak premature lungs and later a friend who was tracking you on the app asks why you suddenly got faster at that point. At mile 25 you hear a partner call your name and knowing he’s fresh from a train from his Grandma’s funeral you feel a surge of affection that back in the normal course of life you forget to translate into words.
You’ll become an enthusiastic cheerleader for others. You sit in bed on a Sunday, eating croissants and tweeting as you watch two blue dots move round a European city. You wobble in after a night of comedy and wine and look up the progress of someone you won’t meet for another few days as they churn through 100 miles. You sit with your friend and her four-year-old son, warming your hands on coffee cups, waiting for Daddy’s head to appear over the brow of a hill on the South Downs at the end of his 60 mile race.
It can make you a bit weird too. You’ll suffer Marathon mentionitis forever more and your friends will rib you mercilessly. You’ll stare at other people’s running shoes in the street. You’ll pass off slovenly behaviour like eating peanut butter straight from the jar as part of your nutrition programme. Whether you run in knickers or not becomes a very important conversation topic (I’ve actually had this chat with at least six female friends over the last four years!).
When you start out you think it’ll be ‘one and I’m done’. But you’ll be back. For all of the above reasons but also the medals. Oh yes, medals! Big, hefty, satisfying medals. Sigh
*In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon when it was still a men only race. During her run a race official attempted to rip off her race number but he was shoved to the ground by her boyfriend and she completed the race. It was not until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially. This year, aged 70, she marked the 50th anniversary of that race and ran again wearing the same bib number: 261.
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