What I Did When I Didn’t Run A Marathon

Sometime last year, sprawled across the sofa with my laptop on my lap, I ended up watching the Virgin London Marathon. I’d probably meant to just have a bit of a gawp from the lazy safety of my living room, a gawp tinged by the resentment of the perpetually unsporty. But instead I stayed on BBC One and watched the coverage for some time, taken by the stories of the runners and the long routes they had taken to wear their numbered vests.

The real stories of the London Marathon aren’t of athletes or superstars, of course. You can tell that after five minutes of watching the coverage. They’re of average Joes and Josephines raising money for big charities and small charities; running in four hours or six hours or eight hours; hidden inside elephant costumes and gorilla suits; doggedly determined on crutches.

I was transfixed. I was awed. I was inspired.

I sent a message to my sister, high on the endorphins of watching someone else do something inspirational. We should run a marathon! I said. I looked up training schedules and advice for non-runners. Running a marathon was a huge challenge, the internet said, but entirely doable with the right training, commitment and determination.

 So we signed up, my sister and I, to run the Brighton marathon, which would be taking place the following year. April 6th. Which is tomorrow.

As you can probably tell by the title of this blog, it will not be my trainers hitting the wet Brighton streets (forecast: rain) tomorrow. It will not be me in the bright orange vest. I am not running the Brighton marathon.

It all started well. I did a lot of reading on how to go about getting myself ready, not just for a marathon but for long distance running in general. I did the Couch to 5k (which is brilliant, thank you NHS) and bought trainers and running gear. I divided up the following year until the marathon into training chunks, so I’d be ready for the real training to begin several months before the marathon itself.

There are plenty of reasons people don’t end up running marathons. First, running is hard. Second, the body, if used to an exercise regime of walking and trips up and down the office stairs, doesn’t always respond very well to a sudden change to high-impact exercise. Usually this only translates as things like muscle pain and cramps, but occasionally it shows up problems you were happily oblivious of, like the fact that you’re actually flat-footed and that said unawareness of this can screw up your knees. This is what happened to me.

But the point of this blog isn’t to lament my unmarathoned status. The point of this blog is for me to take a written moment and appreciate how the twists of my marathon non-journey lead me to achieve something quite different: I wrote a book. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t think, hey, I’m not running a marathon, I should write a book instead. But that’s what happened. On the evenings and weekends I would have increasingly dedicated to running longer and longer distances, I wrote instead. Over the same several months I would have been turning into a runner, I typed myself into the writer I’d always wanted to be.

I know this isn’t an either/or situation. It didn’t take a failed marathon attempt for me to finally get over my writer’s block of several years, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the failure to achieve something big had spurred me on to achieve something quite different. However subconsciously, I chose to use that period of time to actually do something. For once.

There’s a part of me that’s wistful when I see the signs around Brighton warning of road closures for the coming marathon, but it’s just a small part. There’ll be other marathons, other opportunities, other challenges.

I’ve attempted to assuage my one true regret, which is not raising the money I’d hoped for the MS Society, by sponsoring as many of my friends who are running for charity as possible. I hope one day to be able to try again and raise the money the MS Society needs and truly deserves.

For all this, I’m not making any grand statements about how another door opens when one closes, but I do think of this unexpected last year as a small reminder of how paths sometimes choose themselves, how where we end up isn’t always where we expected and sometimes it really is true that things fall apart so better things come together.

To all those running tomorrow’s Brighton marathon and any and all marathons around the world: good luck and congratulations! I am still transfixed, I am still awed, I am still inspired.


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