Spot me walking up stairs these days, and you’ll know that I’m in the long grass of marathon training. I creak noisily, find myself eying my mother’s stairlift greedily, and have downloaded an app to show where the escalators, travelators and lifts are in public buildings. I think I may be turning into a Dalek for stairs are no longer an option for me. Emotionally – thankfully – I am more flexible and find I can easily identify fellow marathoners even when they are not signposted by lycra, trainers or boring for England about their training schedule (guilty as charged).
When I’m at work I wonder whether I should make a bigger deal of my tired legs. In teaching you cover miles and miles (well, miles) each day, but walking assertively in kitten heels doesn’t count towards training miles apparently. If I had a little more street cred and better co-ordination I might consider wearing Heelys or taking a skateboard out on lunchtime duty. Being master of either set of wheels could potentially make me Queen of the Lunch Queue – as long as I glide to enforce hungry Year 11 crowd control and don’t face-plant into the recycling bins.
This morning I’m back out pounding the long miles with one of my running crew. She’s thought ahead and distracted attention away from her tired legs by redying her buzz cut cyan. It’s a great plan. I notice – as I bimble along beside her – that all the other runners and cyclists we pass gravitate their eye gaze to her head rather than to her feet. She gets a great response from the running community and she looks like she’s finding the training easier than I am. I am just banking on the power of energy gels.
We’re running along a reclaimed rail track and a few miles in have to start playing ‘I spy a marathon runner’ as a distraction from the pain. It’s hardly a taxing game – for the uninitiated, I suggest you look out for:
- The runner who wears an ‘ammo’ belt of energy gels slung over his shorts.
- The runner with at least two camel packs and an intravenous feeding tube.
- The runner with ‘serious’ headphones wound around their bandana.
- The runner with a t-shirt publicising the last marathon – preferably a ultra – that they ran in. (I hadn’t realised that Bognor ’75 was a vintage runner’s vest to collect, but there you go).
- Male runners with unfeasibly short shorts and shaved, pipe-cleaner legs.
Despite marathon empathy we note that none of these runners look quite as stiff in the legs as we do. We blame yesterday’s bootcamp. I’m not one to complain, but I do think there was some unfair bullying by the instructor yesterday as he targeted us to repeatedly, ‘take a run out to the rubbish bins’, while the other slackers all stopped for a water break. He’s a sport masseur in his spare time, and I do wonder whether he was targeting for future client fodder.
To distract myself further I start reading other runners’ vests to learn a little more about their running pedigree. Since I’m wearing a Weston-Super-Mare half marathon t-shirt I realise I’m not going to get much kudos in return (great run but not a heavy hitter on the national circuit). We soon agree that long distance running would be much more interesting if anyone training for a future race, advertised that race on their running vest.
Rather than sharing a ‘runner’s nod’ (a technical term for that almost imperceptible doff of the chin that allows a fellow runner not to have to engage in conversation as they run past) we could then engage in encouragement and best wishes for miles yet to come. ‘The Rainbow Run looks like it’s going to be a classic this year, remember to wear sunglasses to avoid flour in your eyes,’ or ‘That Sodbury Slog’s a bugger isn’t it? Great goodie bag at the end though’. ‘Were you at the famous Bath Half when they delayed the start because the First Aid tent floated down the High Street, or were you deferred from the renown 2018 snow cancellation?’
Runners could even get sponsorship from event organisers if they publicised race places still available. I’d certainly be prepared to plug Tewkesbury Half – I’d give it a 5* rating on my t-shirt, in fact ‘It’s a cracker, chaps. Superb organisation. I got a PB there last year: Places available for May 12th. Let’s Do This!’ Today I should have been plugging 20/20 Fission in Gloucester on 16th March, but I see there’s no need for the race is full. My legs are so stiff this morning that I’m actually wondering whether to deface my t-shirt and sell my own place at the event – yes, there may be a choice on the day of running 20K or 20 miles, but neither option seems appealing this morning. (Granted I’ll still go for a 5* rating on Rate my Run – tough gig but fantastic cake at the end).
Taking this idea off the running track and back into the real world, it might be useful for us all to publicise what we’re ‘training’ for; we’re all pretty rubbish at recognising that everyone has got ‘stuff going on’ and that this is likely to make the most affable human creak a little. So at work I could wear a badge saying, ‘be kind today, I’ve got a big meeting to prepare for and I didn’t sleep well last night’ or a student could signpost, ‘no homework, don’t even ask, home life rubbish and no, I don’t want to talk about it’. I might invest in some portable LED message lighting to sell to colleagues. I know electronic messaging is illegal in cars, but for colleagues, surely it’s a way to go: I.HAVENT.HAD.COFFEE.YET.SO.PLEASE.TREAD.CAREFULLY .
I just think that in-vesting might make life just slightly easier for those silent heroes who paint on a smile each day and never complain but are in fact battling chemo, redundancy or even the death of a loved one.
Back to the training, we finish our inner city run a little solidly, but we do finish. As we walk back to the car, in my head I feel there’s almost a bounce in our step. Marathon miles done. We walk past a runner just limbering up to start his session; he smiles sympathetically, ‘training for a marathon, eh ladies?’. I’m wondering if it is my empty ammo belt or my bandana that gives us away – it’s certainly not my t-shirt. My companion just doffs her cyan head at him and we limp past.