The lazy student’s guide to running a marathon (well, a half-marathon, but what’s 13 miles or so between friends?)
In a moment of mid-semester madness at Durham University in the UK, I signed up for the Great North Run, a 21km (13.1 mile) road race on behalf of Cancer Research UK. It was a decision based on a mess of naïvete and not very good logic. I was, after all, unfit, lazy and had never run farther than the pub in my life.
Shortly after signing up I realized that I would first need to see how far I could comfortably run. Knowing that the GNR should take approximately two hours of solid running, I aimed to get as close to that as possible in a test run.
The results? Nowhere near. Plus it hurt. When I staggered back onto college grounds 30 minutes after setting off, I was hit with two epiphanies. First, running was harder than it looked. And second, I was going to have to put a lot of effort in if I actually wanted to finish the race. All this was interspersed by rather rude words that I won’t write down.
So began the season of running. I wasn’t in the same league as Rocky, but I wasn’t far off either as I ran rings around Durham, North Wales and Derby. Not only did training get easier as I stuck to the routine, but I also started to enjoy it. Before my Great North adventure, my normal reaction to seeing a runner would be to think “LOSER,” but now I see how people find the sport calming and empowering as they take to the streets and forget about the worries of the day.
Not that there weren’t some bumps along the way, mind you. Here, some basic tips so that if one day you choose to follow my lead, you can avoid the calamities that befell me:
1. Don’t run at night. Unless you have high-visibility clothing on. Not only do you run the risk of getting flattened by every work-tired BMW driver in the world, but also, it’s hard to see the road in the dark.
2. Plan your route first (aka: Don’t get lost). It’s just not cool when you have to stop and ask directions from passing old ladies, or young ladies for that matter.
3. Don’t overdo it. Once when I attempted three miles more than I could run, I wasn’t able to make it back home. The only thing more embarrassing than a lost runner is one who is an hour-and-a-half’s run away from home and has to walk back.
Apart from these mishaps, things were going great until I was hit by a genuine bombshell. My Nan, a bubbly old lady and inspiration to my sister and me, passed away as a result of secondary liver cancer. My family was devastated. Distracted, confused and disoriented, I stopped running just weeks before the Great North Run.
But time never stands still, and we all move on, even if we don’t want to. The Great North Run and the money people gave me in sponsorship during that time drove me back into action and the race took on a whole new meaning. It changed from a naïve bit of fun into my lasting tribute to Nan; I would raise as much money as possible, and complete the race in her memory.
With that in mind, how could I not finish it? I passed through the difficult nine-mile point with determination and passed the finish line in just over two hours, exhausted – my legs actually didn’t work the next day and I nearly fell down the stairs – full of emotion but a lot wiser.
And so the story of my race and of my Nan is, I think, a fitting lesson or two. First, like Confucius said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – and making that initial commitment can take you anywhere. Second, life can become near impossible at times and if we want to persevere, we have to find something worth fighting for. That, and stretch properly before and after.