“If my life is a marathon, how far have I come? How much further have I got to go? And is this course going to get easier or more difficult?”
They’re questions I sometimes ask myself, as a way of aligning struggles in life to the struggles you face on a 26.2 mile challenge.
At the age of 51, it’s probably likely that my distance is more than halfway. Have I just crossed that milestone, am I in the last 10km or is the final straight already looming close?
And if we were aware of our own mortality in the same way we know how far a race is, would we run it any better?
One thing I definitely have learnt from the marathon are the ups and downs, the times when the going is tough, when you hit the wall – but how you keep going, you get through it, over it, out the other side and the road is easier again.
But when you’re standing looking at that red brick-face in front of you – garishly painted, graffiti style with whatever your particular challenge is – it can be hard to imagine there’s anything to look forward to the other side, let alone how to get there.
Yet we do it, time after time – jump over small hurdles, scale dizzying heights, to keep going.
And no one person’s race is the same: for some it’s an all too short sprint; others go the full ultra-distance; some get the ideal 10km, level course, perfect conditions, gliding easily towards a stunning PB; and there are those who battle through Tough Mudder-style obstacles, placed by a course director, who’s a sadistic bully.
We all have our own distance. And each race has its own challenges.
I’ve felt recently as if I’ve hit a bit of wall in life. In comparison to other walls out there, it’s not huge or insurmountable – it’s just that I’ve been choosing to slump one side of it, feeling stripped of the energy to climb over, make progress.
I’m getting there. And running helps, it really does. Running marathons – I’m on 51 now – has benefitted me so much in the last 11 years, I can’t imagine not doing it.
And as someone who’s believed at difficult times in the past that I couldn’t make it to the finish line, considered pulling out of the race, running has enabled me to see I can keep going, that yes, at times it is hard, but you get there one step at a time, you climb over the wall and feel a sense of relief and achievement.
My marathons have varied enormously. The first one I approached with over-optimistic enthusiasm, paying for it with a devastatingly hard final 6 miles. Sometimes I get the pacing just right, am race fit with ideal conditions and breeze to the finish line. You don’t get many like that!
Marathons are a challenge, but they can be a joy too – a wondrous journey, where you learn so much on the way. It’s about giving it your best shot, making the most of it, whatever race you’re in, whatever stage you’re at and whatever the ups and downs of the course.
I’m running my 52nd marathon on Saturday, 3rd September, the City to Sea Marathon from Exeter to Babbacombe, Torquay.
It’s a flat first half, with lots of steep climbs towards the end – I guess I’ll just have to take those hills as they come and enjoy the down bits.