Marathon advice from a not-quite-ready runner


TIPPING POINT:Please, take the following rag-bag of dos and don’ts for runners and spectators with as much salt you can lay your hands on, writes MALACHY CLERKIN

I AM not a man. I am a creaking collection of strains and moans wrapped in a bag of chafed and blistered skin. I am not a runner. I am a shuffling mass of swooshes and stripes lost in a jungle of underarmour and overtraining. I am not the person you should be taking advice from. I am a lumpy gobdaw who’s doing his fourth marathon just because it’s there. I am not ready. I am, however, as ready as I’m going to be.

From long before daybreak this morning, close on 15,000 people have been rising, stretching, checking, fuelling, double checking and pointing themselves towards Fitzwilliam Street for the 26.2 miles they’ve thought about every day for eight months. Mine is six days and a trans-Atlantic flight away so I’ll head out and find a remote corner of the course today, mostly to cheer the runners on but also to ponder just how I got myself tangled up in another one of these.

I’ve done three of them before and after each one I’ve sworn Never Again. And I’ve meant it too. I never meant it more than the last time in 2008. Yet here I am once more, a thick-calved dope in overpriced gear cranking out 10-minute miles and dreaming of the end. If you want proof that experience is the name we give our mistakes, I’m it. So please, take the following rag-bag of dos and don’ts however with as much salt you can lay your hands on.

For the spectators . . . Do come out, first and foremost. Especially if the course goes past your door. There are whole estates where the runners can see through the front windows of the houses they’re passing. Nothing deadens the heart more than looking left to see people in their dressing-gowns watching Jeremy Kyle while you’re barely half the way around.

Do look out for people’s names written on the front of their tops. Do call them by them. It genuinely helps.

Do not call them Asics, Adidas or Nike. It does not help at all.

Do not tell the runners they’re looking good. They are not. Moreover, they know they are not. They know they look like they’ve gone over Niagara in a barrel that has smashed to pieces on the rocks below, bouncing them out on to the road with a note in their pocket telling them they’re 10 miles from home. They don’t need your patronising lies.

Do not tell the runners they’re doing great. You don’t know how they’re doing. You have no clue. Your good wishes are welcome and the runners know you mean well but please, don’t presume to know the first thing about how they’re doing. They’re sore, tired, sick and bored. They want it to be over. They want to be lying down. They want to be ex-marathon runners. Most of all, they want the chirpy, clappy father-of-five-coach-of-50 who never saw a problem a singsong wouldn’t cure to shut up telling them they’re doing great. Thanks, but go stick your head in a bucket of sludge.

On a related note, do expect the runners to be a little irrational and maybe a shade tetchy. It’s for one day only and it will pass. I’m sure you’re perfectly nice. You’re looking great, by the way.

For the runners . . . Do try to enjoy it. When that bit is over, do accept it’s gone now and you have 25 miles left to run (24 if you’ve been really diligent with your training).

Do pick out a few people early on whose jib you don’t like the cut of. Maybe they’re too slick-looking in their gear. Maybe they’ve got their anti-fog sunglasses at the ready, just in case Marbella breaks out in Dublin at the end of October. Maybe they’re smiling too much. The reason doesn’t matter. Just find runners to take a set against. That way, each time you see them over the course of the race, you’ll dig in and try to get ahead of them. Never underestimate the power of umbrage.

Do not, however, make any physically aggressive approaches to these people. Or indeed any approaches at all. They don’t know you hate them. They need never know how close they came to being tripped from behind coming down the Merrion Road. And when the race is over, it’s immediate armistice.

Do listen to music but not straight away. The first five or six miles will pass before you know it. You’ll be picking your steps and tutting at the people getting in your running line right up until you enter the Phoenix Park. The field will be thinning out by then and you won’t have as many people by the side of the road. It’s the silence that will get you in the end.

Do not worry about the fundamentalists who have a sworn jihad against folk running marathons with MP3 players hooked to their ears. You are running your race for you, not them. You are not in their way, they are in yours. Whatever you need to get to the end, have at it.

Do, however, take out the headphones for the last mile and a half. Once you cross the Grand Canal, the crowds will thicken and the applause will swell.

If you have your name on the front of your top – and you definitely should – it will be like you have your own personal cheerleaders guiding you home.

It’s like climbing Everest and finding a ski-lift waiting to carry you up the last 150 metres.

Do behave as if you’re Mo Farah himself crossing the line. Do throw your hands in the air, do strut (if you can), do hold your index finger up to the crowd and proclaim yourself Numero Uno. No matter how many people finished ahead of you, you won your race.

Do get a mug of tea inside you as quickly as possible. It will taste like nectar.

Above all – and I can’t stress this enough – do not, do not, DO NOT ever do it again. You’ve proved the point. You’ve scratched the itch. Jump out of a plane, cycle across the Alps, have a kid, have an affair. Do all four at once and still you’ll have less stress in your life than committing to another accursed marathon. Swear off them for life and stick like glue to your promise.

Until the next time. Obviously.

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