There is a debate going on about how many marathons I have run. One argument has it that Sunday will be my 15th, counting the number of times I have covered the distance in one go. But not all of those have been organised, timed races.
My housemate, Michelle, thinks I should count all of them. My colleague Maria Elena thinks anything other than a proper race is a waste of time and shouldn’t count. That makes it more like 13. Whichever you think it is, what isn’t in doubt is that I’ve learned a thing or two about how they work, and how to get through them. So here are my thoughts, for seasoned runners or first-timers. Take from them what you will.
Marathons hurt. A lot. I love competing – love the challenge of 26 miles. I love sharing it with 35,000 others, knowing that everyone running is doing their own bit of good and that the world will be a little bit better at the finish line. I love the crowds – the noise, colour, imagination (and jelly babies). I love all this but there is no getting away from the fact that they really, really hurt.
Starting steady is crucial. Going off too fast is the biggest chance you have of blowing up later, and not finishing. It’s actually hard not to go off fast, as nerves and adrenaline are an agitating mix. Taking water on board at every opportunity, and sugar when you need it, is also key. These are standard tips that you’ll find anywhere, but it is a fact that there will come a time in the race when you want to stop. When every muscle fibre is screaming at you and you ask yourself why the hell you’re putting yourself through it. That’s The Wall. It’s when you’ve gone a long, long way but you have a long way to go and you start to seriously doubt whether your body will get you to the end.
My wall is always 18 miles. Always. It’s still as horrible now as it first was, but I’ve learned that the only way you overcome it is by fighting back. As an expert or a novice, you can give yourself the tools you’ll need to face The Wall, and crash through it with enough left to reach the finish and crawl to the pub.
The first is to make sure you know where your charity’s cheering point will be. I’m lucky that I work for a charity (CAFOD) but raise money for LLR, so I get two lifts. For all LLR runners who haven’t done it before, you will quickly discover that LLR is easily the most visible and the most vocal charity on the course. More of the same please guys; it makes a massive difference.
Another is to make sure your friends are well-positioned. It’s no use seeing them in the first mile, but it’s always good to see a friendly face during those long miles on the loop to and from Tower Bridge. Above all though, you need your friends at Embankment – the home stretch – when your mind is at war with your body and you’re praying for it to end.
Above all though, the thing that gets me through the dark times is thinking about the reason/s you’re running. You can break that down into prepared thoughts and inspirations that you can draw on when you need it. For the first time this year I’ll be breaking down each mile and assigning it to someone or something that can occupy my thoughts, inspire me, give me strength and drive me on. Here’s the breakdown:
Miles 1 and 2: All about controlling the pace. At this stage I’ll be looking to post 7/7.30 miles.
Miles 2 and 3: I’m not hurting at this point but still trying to settle. I’m going to spend this time deciding whether I’d prefer to see Carlos Tevez or Mario Balotelli in the City XI next season. I don’t think we can afford to lose them both (tweet me your views @domgoggins)
Mile 4: The rhythm kicks in. Theresa, my sister, gets this one. It’s because I’ve still got the strength to laugh, and she cracks me up more than anyone in the world. Gidge.
Mile 5: PJ and Will. Both running, and I know that I am partly to blame. They are two of the best mates you could ever ask for. I hope I’m still running with them at this point. Go on lads.
Mile 6: Sophie and Craig Bates. They know why.
Mile 7: Amy Pollard. Because she inspired me last year, she’s the cleverest person I know and she uses it all to do good, and because she’s earned some support.
Mile 8: My aunt Nora, and my Nan. Because Norz will be thinking of my all the way through, and because Nan has faced down all of her challenges and come through stronger every time.
Mile 9: Carmel Bartley – my aunt, and Nan’s daughter. Because Lymphoma took her from us before I had the chance to get to know her, and everyone misses her.
Mile 10: Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. Because their support is overwhelming, because they don’t laugh at me when I fall short, and because they’ve become friendships that will last.
Mile 11: Clare Lyons. Because we don’t sit together anymore, but she’ll always be a source of strength.
Mile 12: My brother Matt, and his wife Sooz. Just anyway, but also they know why.
Mile 13: Mum and Dad. Nothing needs to be said here.
Mile 14: Past halfway. The pain begins. Geoff Thomas gets this mile. Living proof of the complex effects of cancer, because he’s a massive force for good after nearly giving his life, and an inspiration to me. And because he’s still getting over THAT miss against France.
Mile 15: Aboubachar Clement Safari. A guy I met in Rwanda. He watched his parents die in the Genocide, raise his 13 brothers and sisters and put them all through school before getting himself an education. Sacrificed everything for them.
Mile 16: Generose. The strongest, most defiant, most ill-treated, inspirational women I have ever met. She lives in Eastern Congo.
Mile 17: Ray Clarke, for Emma.
Mile 18: Chris Jackson. Jackson always gets The Wall. Because I probably wouldn’t have done any of this if it wasn’t for him, and hopefully he’ll have knocked it down half an hour earlier.
Mile 19: Lance Armstrong. Yes, this is a massive cliché, but reading Armstrong’s books raised my aspirations, physically and in terms of what these projects could achieve. Whether you like him or you don’t, it’s pretty much the second best story ever told.
Mile 20: Fr Dave Heywood. Because he battles on and serves people with humility and love, despite the dice being loaded against him.
Mile 21: Hazel Staten. A wonderful woman I have met through LLR, who beat her illness and now brings bananas together all over the country to raise money with a smile.
Mile 22: Jack Robb-Eadie, along with Stuart, Kath, Alex and of course Louise. Because she was too young, because I love them all, and because Jack is my best mate.
Mile 23: Jonathan Tanner. One of the best. Because he is putting himself through hell for love, and he’s making a big difference to a lot of people. He inspires me more than he knows, and I hope I can help him through. Make sure you cheer him on.
Mile 24: John Reeve. LLR trustee. Father to a boy taken too soon by the same thing that took my friend. Because he’d walk through fire to stop anyone having to go through what he did. Because I wish I’d known his son. And because I know he’ll never stop.
Mile 25: Jack Groom. A boy I’ve never met. He’s sick, and he tweets his updates. He’s a child who has faced more than most of us are ever likely to, and he does it with humour and hope. A marathon is nothing compared to that.
Mile 26: The final mile, always for Steven. Because he’s the reason I started. Because I wish he was still here, and I won’t let him be forgotten. And because I hope we’ve made him proud.
So there it is.
Finally, I mentioned the pub. You’ll gather that a few friends are running this year so we’re all going to meet in the Chandos, Trafalgar Square, for a few well-earned pints. You are all welcome to join us.
Remember, you can donate here.
Time for the game face