I did my first marathon because I was inspired by a Hundred Clubber wannabe. I looked up to her because she seemed so normal, you would never be able to guess she was some kind of super runner who had completed more than 50 marathons. There was no clue that most weekends she was out running 26.2 miles and, because she was so human she made me believe I could run a marathon too. I always thought to run marathons you needed a huge support crew or expert trainer or any one of a number of things beyond the reach of normal folk. She made me believe that little Saul Bee who had only been running for about 8 months and had felt like he was dying at the end of his first half could do it. She inspired me so much that my first target with marathon running was to become a hundred clubber.
A few years later I’m not so bothered.
What changed then? To explain you have to understand something about chasing numbers. For me running has been a story of self improvement. A story where I have been given a choice, to work and make something happen, or to settle for the status quo. I made a choice to train for 3 months to get to the end of my first half. I chose to train for my first marathon where the longest training run consisted of doing 4 x 5 mile laps of the village where I live so I could leave my ‘aid station’ of jelly babies and water in a stash by the front door. I had a story where the status quo wasn’t enough, I wasn’t going to settle for doing nothing remarkable with my life. I was going to be somebody who I could actually live with being. By the time I discovered running I had worked out I wasn’t actually the musical genius I thought I was and, this running lark was something I could do.
After that first marathon I ran another one just over a month later, and another a couple of months after that, and then it became a regular thing. Every month I would have a marathon to run and I got to know a few hundred clubbers in the process. I watched the same faces turn out every month to the same events. They would plod round, chatting and having a laugh. They were like a family, the running was secondary it was the club was what was important. A lot of them were on a mission, the quest for the vest. They were out to join the club with every step and after about a year of this it twigged with me. Some of them didn’t even like running any more, some of them were just stuck on another mundane treadmill with a monkey on their back. It was like work, a work they chose, but still more like the mundanity of work than a story of self improvement. They would turn up, chat with mates about who was doing what, and then run a small event known only to the dedicated marathoners. When they got home they would fill in their spreadsheet and keep track of the events so that nothing would be missed when their numbers were counted. I started to hear talk about the holy grail of a sub four. You ran a marathon in under four hours that was special. Anyone could join the hundred club, all you had to do was turn up and trudge them out. Running a sub four was a real acheivement, and so another mission was born for me.
For the next 2 years I chased that sub 4, and I got it. I have run a 3:59 and a 3:53 or something like that and I still think I have a sub 3:45 in me. They were both hard to acheive. I had to work to get there, I had to eat properly and cross train. I actually had to dedicate myself to acheiving that goal and it was like starting my running journey all over again. Working for some goal gave me pride in my success. Then it all went to pot. Real life took over, the mundane world of work became more difficult to manage and the focus I needed slipped away. I had a year of disappointing near misses and then I remembered the heady days of my start in running marathons. Those casual family affairs where people just met up and had a bit of fun. They didn’t push it, because they didn’t need to. Their lives were not full of specific training plans and diets. I needed a break, and I needed to enjoy the distance again. This year I decided to return to runs where time didn’t matter, however I still wanted to feel like I was contributing to my own story. I wanted an event which felt like I was stretching myseld and 10 marathons in 10 days seemed to fit the bill. Time doesn’t matter 5 plus, 6 plus hours? Who gives a damn just grind them out. A step back in time to the days where I thought I would be a hundred clubber wannabe wannabe.
And when this is done, when this year is over for me. There will be no climbing back on to the hundred club treadmill, I will be back to chasing time because although the number chasing game is a fun place to visit, I wouldn’t want to work there.