There are so many benefits from running a marathon, it could change a nation.
We may be still hallucinating. We may still be stuck on that ‘home stretch’ with legs screaming, feet pounding, head spinning and lungs collapsing. We may still be cursing the poor training, the wrong running shoes, the chafing shorts or the blistering socks. In short, we may still be suffering from marathon madness. But having just completed the Brighton Marathon, we may also have a strange idea that somehow makes sense.
We hereby decree that all adults, aged 20-45, will, without fail, perform 26.2 miles of national service.
Right. What is this all about. Well, hold on there, sparky. Just consider some of the benefits.
1. The Comfort of Strangers
There’s always a lot of tosh talked in this country about the Dunk**k spirit. What does this mean? All pulling together, strangers helping strangers, a bond drawn between those that can help to those that need help? Well, a marathon day covers all of this and more. First are the volunteers, taking time out of a Sunday to hand out water and sports drinks to grabby, gasping runners. Without them we couldn’t survive. Then there are the supporters. Standing for hours on the side of the road, waiting for their guy or gal, but in the meantime shouting encouragement to all that run past. Some just stand there continually clapping, in awe of the effort and concentration on show. It brings a tear to the eye. And then there are the fellow runners. Cheering as the Kenyans flash by them on their way to the finishing line, while us mere mortals are huffing and puffing at halfway (no tall poppy syndrome here), stopping to help the stricken, running for charities, running to raise money for the less fortunate. We all need to remember how enriching the comfort of strangers can really be.
And it’s pretty unscientific but a good example are runner’s forums – so much of the internet is full of bile and bitchiness, but these forums can be a utopia of community, encouragement and good grace.
2. Run, Fat Boy, Run
The day before a marathon, especially those smaller in scale than the London Marathon behemoth, and it’s easy to spot those in town to run. Not by gender, not by dayglo (even runners take a sartorial day-off sometimes), not by height, or age. No, in a group of supporting family or friends, the marathon runner is easy to spot. They are slim. (The day after the marathon, they are also easy to spot – those that can’t seem to walk upstairs (and downstairs? forgetaboutit…)). All this talk of rising obesity, but you simply cannot train and run a marathon overweight. It just doesn’t happen. You may not be supermodel svelte, your calves may be the size of waders, but its rare to see a flabby long-distancer. Just think of the health benefits across the country (erm, forgetting for the moment the dodgy knees and ankles!). And as you train, as your body develops – it’s a physiological marvel. You’ll never disregard your body in the same way again.
3. Need Some Discipline
You can’t Facebook your way to the finish line. There’s no app that will make your legs move. Simply put, you can’t take a shortcut. Running a marathon takes self-motivation and discipline. Early morning runs, foregoing the night down the pub, waving the sofa goodbye. It instils a regime in our floppy lives. Sounds horrible until you try it.
4. Get Out There And See The World
Gyms, those money-sucking plastic palaces of preening and posing, become irrelevant. A treadmill is a poor excuse, and we ain’t gerbils. Training will take you out across the cities, lanes and fields. Let’s make up some statistics. 30% of your runs will be in the dark. 20% and you’ll get damp. 5% on ice and snow. But there will be many runs when you are alone in the wonder of a gorgeous dawn, or bathed in an evening sunset. Cutting swathes through fresh cut grass, or the wonders of our towns sleepy-eyed and yawning. Cars, those lazy-making conveniences, will become your enemy. Distance changes shape – a 6 mile walk into town and back becomes simple, even desirable. A nation of folk in touch with the environment, whether urban and rural, with the revealing perspectives this brings, can surely be a good thing.
5. Conscientious Objectors
‘It’s boring. I hate running.’ But as The Boss keeps singing: baby, we were born to run. To hate running is as ridiculous as hating breathing or sex. Look at our bodies – we were designed to run, just like the snake is born to slither, the frog to jump. In fact running is the very essence of our evolutionary development. We ran to survive (and to get the boy/girl and hence reproduce). But now we have a choice. We always have a choice, don’t we. So we can choose to be slothful, cynical, mocking, lazy and self-destructive. Or not.
Communities around the world come together – as a village or town – around races. The same happens in the UK even if they can be on the bizarre side – cheese-rolling, pram races – you name it, we’ve got the weird. But it is in our DNA, it’s how we celebrate being alive, fit and healthy.
Does this all still sound so strange? Really? Go for a run and think about it.