Lord of the thighs

Posted on April 26, 2012

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The feeling of teeth chattering in your skull with every thigh-shaking stride, that crusty layer of sweat-salt plastering your skin and the need to use a stairlift for 48 hours after you finish. Marathons are awesome.

I ran/limped the London Marathon two years ago. It was a mind-blowing experience, a monumental challenge to take on and one of the best things I’ve ever done – but I’ll never do it again.

At least this was my stance until I watched the race on Sunday and remembered all over again what had driven me to do it in the first place.

Thousands of inspiring people took to the streets to sweat, bleed and weep their way through the 26.2 miles, for an assortment of worthy causes.  It’s basically impossible not to get swept away in all the excitement, and you may well find yourself slinging your ginsters pie out the window, shaking off your granny blanket shackles as you leap from the sofa and emit a defiant shriek that feels as if it doesn’t even belong to you.

I’M GOING TO RUN A MARATHON.

NO. This is not you.
Image: http://www.redriverpak.wordpress.com

Even when you calm down and realise you are not, in fact, Rocky, with a 101-year-old completing the course and one plucky chap in the midst of a 60 marathons in 60 weeks, at 60 years old challenge, it’s easy to want to get involved. Running the London marathon is like being part of a colossal, pavement-pounding team. You’re not just a lone nutter running a ridiculous distance, you’re a nutter that’s part of a genuine movement – everyone is out to achieve something great. The atmosphere is incredible, the crowd support phenomenal and you feel a bit like a celebrity as random strangers cheer you on and offer you sweets – it’s a real rush. But the grim reality of getting ready for a marathon is a far less glamorous story.

Which is why my desire to do it all again was fleeting. As I felt the familiar pangs of jealousy rising up on Sunday, I forced myself to remember the four months of gruelling, winter training runs. The perils of hidden potholes, 6am gym visits and that time I ran out of steam four miles from home and had to hobble back in the rain with a tramp shouting at me.

I don’t think the human body is even really built to run a marathon. That kind of physical exertion for four to five hours puts huge strain on the cardiovascular system, muscles, joints and back. Not to mention it may make you cry like a seven-year-old.

This is not a spaceship. This is what happens to marathon runners.
Image: http://www.uli-sauer.de

According to Eastern Illinois University, a runner’s feet hit the ground around 50,000 times during a single marathon. With each stride a force equal to two or three times your body weight is exerted through your joints, back muscles tense up which can even make you drop one to two centimetres in height by the time you’re done. After the race expect decreased immune functioning and limited blood vessel functioning in the feet. That can’t be good.

Still want to give it a try? I don’t blame you – running a marathon is a modern bucket-list must. So trendy it’s become like a rite of passage for the able-bodied and enthusiastic, so measurable it’s like a litmus test of health and fitness.

And some people just can’t resist doing it again. The allure of the thrill of the race just proves too much and gaining that immensely satisfying sense of accomplishment acts as the ultimate carrot to get them running over and over again.

But for me, once is enough. These days my sense of success comes not from completing endurance events, but from whether or not I can run for the bus without going into cardiac arrest – and I’m OK with that.

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