This marathon lark is surprisingly good fun. My excellent walking buddy Di and I have built up an excellent rapport and lack of embarrassment at walking round in fancy dress; we’ve been Thunderbirds, national representations of Scotland and Wales, fairies, pirates, and a lot more besides.
Each marathon gets that little bit easier because we know what to expect; how to deal with the preparation, lead-up to the day itself, the actual event and the wind-down afterwards. I wanted to share 10 of the most prevalent things we’ve learnt over the last few years; things that we weren’t told and had to learn as we went on.
1. Confidence. Up until the day, and perhaps even during the walk itself, you will doubt yourself on a fairly regular basis. You will doubt that your back, trainers, and feet will see you through. Ignore this voice. It’s a persistent and insidious one but, as long as you’ve trained, a liar.
2. Bowels. You will become a martyr to them and find yourself discussing them in more depth than you ever thought possible. Meals in the 36 hours leading up to the marathon will be dominated by a single thought; “Has this got enough time to pass through my system before the start?” In my first marathon, back in 2012, I miscalculated the time of my last meal before heading off and, three miles in, I knew that I wouldn’t get any further. Thank heavens we were at a pit stop. Your lavatorial habits won’t stop for anyone, especially if you’re walking overnight, and when you need to go, you’ll need to go now.
3. Fancy dress. It will become entirely natural and normal to see people everywhere in strange, odd, and downright funny costumes. A couple of times, I’ve suspected people were wearing fancy dress when they were just dressed up – or, at least, their version of being dressed up. I especially despair when I see people at the start line wearing plimsolls or flip-flops. Sadly, that happens all too often and, despite their confidence, those people never make it to the end without cheating. Oh, speaking of which …
4. Cheating. I’ve see people, as I’ve approached the end of the marathon, climbing out of cabs looking as fresh as daisies and then casually strolling over the finish line. Bastards. A special place in hell is reserved for them.
5. Stewards. Stalwart volunteers who staff the start and finish lines as well as the route, refreshment stands, and toilet stops. They fall into two main camps; friendly, cheerful, perky individuals who are cheering you on at four o’clock in the morning, and sullen, awkward, quiet people who can barely raise their eyes, let alone a smile or a cheer. It’s completely ironic, but your own mood alternates between needing one sort of steward or the other, and your mood will almost never align – after the half-way point, they will never align – with the spacing of these two types. You can’t help yourself, but occasionally – just occasionally – you begin to dread the thought of hearing the next volunteer saying “Come on! You know you can do it!” Terrible, but true.
6. Crowds. At the start of a marathon, you’ll be penned in by large quantities of other people, all of whom want to get over that start line at the same time as, or preferably before, you. You will begin to hate the lack of personal space with a vengeance, then be forced to wearily accept it and then oddly crave it at occasional intervals – but still rejoice when the crowds begin to thin.
7. You will never want to see another banana again as long as you live. They’re an excellent source of energy and a perfect pick-me-up, but there are bananas EVERYWHERE on the route. The smell and the taste lose their attractiveness very quickly.
8. The wall really hurts. When it hits, you will suffer; sorry, there’s no sugar-coating that, so there you are. It won’t always hit you, but you’ll know it when it does. In my second marathon, both my walking buddy Diana and I hit it at the same time – 18 miles in, just as we reached Billingsgate Market, and we were so close to giving up. But we pushed through – thankfully – and it passed. I also had a horrendous stitch on the 1/2 marathon I did in 2014, and that hurt A Lot. I was limping by the end, and it mentally ruined me for a few minutes.
9. Stairs will become the enemy. When you finish the marathon, try and avoid stairs if you can. Your back and legs will be aching tremendously, and if you can stay on one floor for as long as possible, it’ll be more comfortable for you.
10. You will become an expert on trainers, training clothes, and weather forecasts. You begin to examine every single shop for the best type of trousers; do you want them thicker or thinner, longer or shorter, black or while, nylon or polyester? So many choices … And then there’s your trainers; how much do you spend on them? What sort of trainer suits your feet? Do you have a special analysis done of your walking gait to help decide, or is that just a waste of time of money? Then there’s the weather; it defines what you take with you – a hat? an umbrella? a kagool? None of the above? How has the weather forecast changed since the last time you checked five minutes ago? You become a little bit obsessive, but also teaches you how to plan for every eventuality.
You know what? I’ve just read all this back, and I remember how much I love doing marathons; you get such a buzz from doing it, it gives you a focus and drive that you weren’t aware you had, and gives you such a sense of achievement. Read the above, take on board as much of it as you want, and then forget the rest.
If you’ve ever considered doing a marathon, then do it. If it’s a walking one, I might even see you there!