It is the 4th October 2020 and storm Alex is causing carnage.
For many people though, neither Alex, nor Covid-19, will be stopping their plight to run the gruelling 26.2 miles of the marathon. On the best of years, the marathon is the race of the brave. Named after the run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, who was said to have run 26 miles to share the news of battle victory, the London marathon has since become one of the most coveted and oversubscribed races in the world. Yet this year, runners will be doing it alone, all across the country. Like Pheidippides himself, thousands will be facing the unenviable slog, with nothing but Strava for company.
My Grampy is one of many people who will be putting on his running shoes and facing the storm tomorrow. He is a running veteran of many years and a picture of fierce optimism, as always. Fuelled by my gran’s spaghetti bolognese, ‘he is as ready as [he] can be’. Gran will be cheering on at intervals.
Never before has he run a marathon around the streets of Fareham, Southampton, with no cheering crowds, no fellow runners alongside, and no claxon to start. I wonder how runners will deal with the silence, with nothing to block out the monotony of their own laboured breathing but the pattering of the rain.
It won’t be a problem though- my Dad tells me the London marathon organisers have made an app, which will send out a motivational message every single mile. I can’t see how that can compensate for a crowd, but it’s a nice touch. I personally only ever run races for the jelly babies, and can’t fathom a race without them being held out gratuitously every half mile. How will they cope?
26 miles is a hell of a distance. To put it in perspective, you’d have to do your weekly shop around Tesco about 165 times to have done a marathon. Grampy is planning to do four laps of a route he’s found. Imagine looking out of your window and seeing the same man running past again four hours later. It is an immense feat to run for that length of time, as anyone who’s ever run can testify.
As a 75 year old, it’s yet more of an achievement. Grampy would often remark on the number of people running in his category waning, as the years went on. There aren’t that many people with his level of fitness, especially at 75. At the start of the year, he had an injury which made it impossible to run. Yet between July and now, he’s built up to being marathon ready. That is a lockdown well spent.
The London Marathon has been unpredictable this year. It was happening, then not happening, then happening but not in London, at a postponed date. After all, this is no ordinary year. Usually the London marathon takes place around the streets of London, starting in Blackheath and following the river Thames along to The Mall. It has been graced by many of running’s best and brightest; Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge to name a few.
However, only a handful of elite runners will be running around the usual route tomorrow, in a ‘secure biosphere’, whatever that is. Yet on their own doorsteps- come – startlines, across the country, tens of thousands of runners will be united in their attempt to run 26.2 miles. Whether it’s for charity (many of whom have suffered immense shortfalls in money due to the lack of events they can facilitate through the pandemic) or just to ‘brush off the cobwebs’, as my Dad who’s also running the marathon put it, this is a big day for many. Will it pave the way for virtual running events of the future, or prove that physical proximity is at the crux of running races? We will see.
Header image credit: Jim Ramswell