Well my “crisis” has been going on for well over the last ten years! It began with an innocent run in the Paris marathon in 2003, which I completed quite comfortably in just under four hours. I was hooked – the masochistic addiction was now in my blood!
The next marathon took me to Dijon. It was a slightly different set up, as the feeding stations gave out the famous Beaujolais wines and cheese. Clothed in fancy dress as a French priest I managed to get around on my own two legs despite being slightly under the influence – never again! Copious servings of snails were also served at the end to lift the spirits.
My second Paris marathon enabled me to run my personal best of 3 hours 46 mins. After the race I had a speaking engagement to get to and finished the evening in a Korean restaurant.
The Rotterdam marathon was the first time I hit the wall and really suffered. I’d been suffering from bronchitis before the race and went off far too quickly. Around 30 km I had nothing left and it was the survival shuffle to get home. I remember meditating “Festina Lente” – make haste slowly, in my head as each painful, slow step got me nearer to the finish line. I was a complete wreck at the end needing to sit down in the street, like some devastated vagrant, to get my life back.
Lausanne was the wettest marathon. Intense rain and mist engulfed the entire course and I had to imagine the beautiful mountain views I was missing! The 30th Paris marathon followed and my Parisian trinity finished in puffed out pain.
The land of the Ch’tis is supposed to be flat…not when you run the Lille to Lens “marathon du Louvre”. There were more climbs than Lausanne! It was also an intensely hot day defying the traditional reputation for rain. Pain again crowned my efforts at the finish line.
I finally got a place in the famous “London Marathon.” The crowds and support were amazing and, as I trudged over Tower Bridge, I knew this would be a good day. I finished well enough to negotiate a trip home on the tube to dear friends in Finchley.
Like most runners, one of my dreams was to run the “New York City Marathon.” I was never able to secure a place and was not too keen on paying the enormous sums of money required to procure a place via an official travel agent. I stopped running marathons for over a year and wondered if my dream had died. Through my job I was invited to speak at a conference in New York. I accepted and then looked at the dates. It was exactly the time of the New York marathon. Spurred on by this, I was then able to secure a place by running for a charity. I was in! I trained hard to get my fitness back. I was also invited to lead an ecumenical service at the beginning of the race which was another highlight. The race is brilliant, but the bridges kill your legs! I was definitely suffering in Central Park. I took the plane home to France in the evening with some other fellow sufferers who were also wondering if they would ever be able to get out from their torturous economy seats after the night flight! After a few groans and cries we all got up and waddled out like violated ducks.
Was there still life in the old dog after New York? Did I still have something to prove? Well the rust set in for another year until I rose to a final challenge. Years earlier I had missed out on the “Berlin Marathon” due to nearly dying from heat stroke and being in a coma for three hours thinking I had been kidnapped by aliens – but that is another story! I saw on the internet that it was the 40th year celebration of this marathon. I immediately logged on and reserved a place several months in advance hoping that my waist line would shrink and that I would get a reasonable amount of training in.
Just as I began to train I managed to severely pull my right calf muscle. You have to be a runner to realise how depressing that can be. You need to rest and wait, like some Beckettian character waiting for Godot. The training deadline of three months passed and I was still injured. I was speaking again for a month in America and I was thinking of all the wonderfully fattening meals I was going to be plied with. With two months to go before Berlin I ventured out of my guest house in Seattle, an aging, overweight man, and began to run up a hill. “This is make or break.” I thought. “May my calf muscle hold up!”
Well it did hold up and I managed to be more or less ready for the race. I took a 13 hour overnight coach trip to Berlin which was in itself a masochistic travel marathon. I collected my bib along with the crowds and was ready for the big day. The impressive Reichstag with the inscription Dem Deutschen Volke greeted the thousands of runners. After a night of feverish sweating I felt tired after the first kilometre and thought I might faint! Pulling myself together I carried on. The words of encouragement to an ancient Jewish King echoed in my ears:
I felt terrible but reasoned that I might as well relish the very experience of such pain if this was to be my last marathon. I went slow at the end so that I might finish well. This seems to be a metaphor for life. Pace yourself so that you may finish with joy and success.
The last couple of kilometres were exalting. My adrenalin kicked in and I was shouting and celebrating, greeting the cheering crowds and thoroughly enjoying myself. I ran through the Brandenburg gate like a god. A great way to finish. A wonderful cold beer was served to all and a warm group shower with fellow runners set me up for my marathon coach trip home.
Ten marathons in ten years – what a wonderful joy.
Will I do another?