Marathon Running: Road to Perdition


2007. London. Canary Wharf. Work do. Tedious wine bar. Feeling painfully awkward, orbiting the room on the social periphery, desperately wishing I was somewhere else, trying to contribute something, hell, anything, to the conversation. Some complete Tool from Sales is talking about running. I don’t have anything to say on that…  But I’ve been hovering for an uncomfortably long period of time… Better say something…

“Oh, you’ve run London Marathon have you? Well, that’s a coincidence…” I interject…

“Why’s that?”

“Er, well, the race comes past the flat I used to, er, live in… And, one year, I watched it on telly… Kind of… Although, to be honest I only caught the end… I’m usually a bit hung over on Sunday mornings and have a bit of a lie in…” *This is bl**dy dynamite, this*

“Uh huh. I’ve ran it 3 times, raised £15,000 for charity and last year I went under 3 hours. Do you run?”

Ah, The Chilterns...

Ah, The Chilterns…

“Not really. I got lost on a cross-country race at school once, and fell down Whiteleaf Cross trying to take a short cut back to school. I was covered in bl**dy chalk…”

“Whiteleaf Cross?”

“It’s a cross-shaped chalk hill carving in Buckinghamshire. It’s really rather beautiful. Centuries old. Its origins are unknown, and there is a lot of pretty wild speculation and folklore that comes with it too. Crazy Ernest… I doubt you know him… Well, he thought it was a direction sign to the Holy Land set up by a teenage Jesus  when he was touring the British Isles…”

“Erm… Right… OK… That’s, er, interesting… Have you met William? He just completed a full Ironman Triathlon in Sydney…”

“No I haven’t… But, please excuse me… I’m just going to pour myself a massive drink!”

God Damn Running

You see, I’ve never really been a runner and never really even liked them. On the same night in question, some insufferable bore took great glee in explaining to me (very slowly obviously), how we humans are hardwired to run, arguing that it all comes down to Evolution. This particularly annoying “runner” insisted we were all evolved to run long distances on two feet in order to hunt and exhaust prey, as well as to escape from predators. This, apparently, enabled our ancient ancestors to hunt down and kill animals that were naturally faster, but not able to run long distances without overheating…

Well, perhaps. But when you have grown in up Middle England and the only time that you have really seen anyone move at any particular pace is in an awkward dash at the local Waitrose supermarket to get the last humus or stuffed vine leaves on special offer, it’s hard to accept that there is really anything natural or organic about running.

Yet here I am, about to run my fourth (official) marathon in just under 2 weeks time at Seoul International… What madness has brought me here?

A field. Brilliant. Run through it if you want. I don't care!

A field: Brilliant. Run through it if you want. I don’t care!

I guess now is the time to launch into a suitably pleasant piece about how I went full circle and caught the running bug: a beguiling rhetoric with flowery sentences designed to stir and inspire one to run with reckless abandon through, er, let’s see, I don’t know, “Englands mountains green, on pleasant pastures seen”… Or Whiteleaf Cross, perhaps.

But to hell with that! Screw narrative. I’m just going to put this out there…

My last marathon experience has left me bitter, twisted and border-line physiologically scarred for life, and has haunted me since last October when I foolishly attempted to run Chuncheon Marathon.

Granted, it is important to understand that, in many respects, I am basically a complete idiot, but regardless, the scars I carry are a direct result of this bonkers running lark…

Chuncheon Marathon Mental Disorder

So, after returning to the green fields of England for four months over the summer, and running the Swiss Alpine Marathon with a reasonably solid base of regular running, but with a breathless disregard for the all important “Long Run”, I put in a surprisingly respectable performance. I subsequently convinced myself that barely running for the subsequent two months  and the fact that I was spending 12 hours on a plane from London Heathrow a mere two days before would in no way impede my ability to tackle the 26.2

Turns out my confidence was misplaced. Shocking really.

15k – 3:30 Marathon Pace

This running gig is piss easy. Maybe I am a “runner”. Maybe I’m good at this. I’m great. I can just turn up and rattle off a marathon without really doing anything. Imagine what I could do if I pulled my finger out…

16km to 18km – 3:40 Marathon Pace

How far is a marathon? Oh, sh*te, this is getting quite tough. I’m slowing down…

19 km – 3:50 Marathon Pace

This is interesting. My head suddenly feels like it’s about to explode. My legs don’t appear to belong to me anymore. Is that Pippa Middleton? I don’t feel well. I’m pretty sure that isn’t Pippa Middleton.

I’m stopping. I’m feeling dizzy. I’m going to be sick. This isn’t good. I don’t want Pippa to see me like this… Get your arse in gear, Buckley!

20km – 21km – 4:15 Marathon Pace

This isn’t working. I’m a massive failure. I’ve proper b*alls this one up!  What the hell am I doing with my life? What the hell am I doing here? Right, screw this! This race chip is going on a journey, alright. It thought it would end at the Finish Line, but instead it’s story will end here in a rice paddy. Do I feel bad about this? No. It’s not my fault. I don’t make the rules! Sorry chip, time to fly…

22km- 6:66 Marathon Pace

Did I just really rip my race chip from my shoe and hurl it into the ether? Was that me? Christ on a Bike, wouldn’t Mother be proud…

Ah well, it cannot get any worse, can it? But what’s this? Oh dear. I really feel sick. And… Sweet Baby Moses, I seriously need to find a toilet. Like now. What about the rice paddy? No, Matt. Stop it with those bl**dy rice paddies!

Ah ha! That will do. A police station! Right then land speed record, you’re mine… A thousand panicking wildebeest on the rampage can’t stop me now…

Still, that Police Officer might. He doesn’t seem too impressed with me. I don’t understand Korean, but I’m mainly getting “angry” right now, but sorry mate, your toilet is now my toilet and that’s just the way it is…

So, there it is. Sorry. I feel better now. You see, running can be hell. Chuncheon was retribution. Seoul International hopefully will be my rehabilitation. Bombing half way through a marathon certainly gives you a humbling experience and plenty of time to reflect on things, although it should be noted that I was essentially brain dead at this point so how coherent these reflections were are questionable. Either way, for what its worth… Here it is…

What I Thought About When I Thought About Massive Marathon Failure, during the 20km death march to the finish line…

“Crowd Support” – don’t look at me like you feel sorry for me. When my strength returns I will throw you into a Rice Paddy with my Race Chip. Got it!

“Jessica Ennis” –  Comments removed by moderator.

“Long Runs” – Probably a good idea next time.

“Marathons” – Why? Just….. WHY?

“Pace Runners” – these people unquestionably experience an incredible high at the end of a marathon, bringing people over the line to achieve long-standing goals, the fruition of months of hard work, commitment and effort… But what about the people that crash? There should be a qualified Mental health counselor running at the back of every marathon field to treat people for all the psychological scares picked up along the way…

“Pacing” – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The clue is in the name. So why can’t I stop myself flying out of the traps like a greyhound on acid, but finishing like a demented swan on sedatives…

“Race Chips” – surprisingly aerodynamic.

wall“The Wall” – apparently caused by “…the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy.” I think that’s nonsense. It’s Satan. And he’s trying to rip your soul out through your knee-caps!

“Water Stations” – When you are running full tilt and bravely pacing through water stations, you are received warmly and graciously – broad smiles, eager shouts of encouragement, and you feel amazing… When you are staggering, looking like you have been beaten up by a tumble dryer, shaking your head and grimacing in a cocktail of pain, grief, shame and embarrassment, used water cups scattered across the ground, testament to the fearless endeavours of those who actually managed to run through there, you feel like a prize Tosspot.

So, see you all on the start line, Ladies & Gentlemen.

If you see me throw my race chip into Cheonggye Stream or sitting on the side of the road, hugging my knees and sobbing like a schoolboy, best just keep your head down, keep running, and not interject with some bloody comment about how “we are all hardwired to run”!!

Matthew Buckley

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