Run, run, get around, I get around ... but why, I ask?
A newbie runner recounts the story of his first marathon
Marathons are silly. No person in their right mind should wake up one day and decide that they want to do eight consecutive Park Runs and some change. Yet every year across the globe, thousands of masochists congregate in the early mornings to spend hours torturing their bodies. When I started running as a New Year’s resolution, the idea of 42.2km of self mutilation was as abhorrent to me as the prospect of finding Malusi Gigaba on Pornhub. By mid November the universe, being the amateur comedian that it is, would make sure both these things happened and, as it turns out, one of them now makes perfect sense.
At the beginning of the year, the farthest I had ever “run” was a half-walked 10km that took longer to finish than a lot of movies. I’d taken up running again because I needed an inexpensive way to make a change. Fitness wasn’t the goal; in fact there was no goal other than doing something different. I had thought about joining a gym but they contain people, personal trainers and a whole bunch of pressures and expectations.
The open secret about the gym is that everybody is watching everybody else but few know what they’re actually doing – meaning that everyone is just faking it, hoping to make it. There is less of that on the tarmac because running and solitude are part of the same WhatsApp group. Sure you can run in packs but then your progress or lack thereof is tied to the group’s. Doing it alone means competing against yourself, pushing yourself just as hard or softly as you want. Not having to worry about keeping up or leaving people behind. It is just you, the road and your body. Roughly 25km into the Soweto Marathon (my first full marathon), the road and my body started having some very serious disagreements.
From what my oxygen-starved brain could make out, my body (in increasingly strident tones) seemed to be inquiring how much longer this needed to be kept up. In classic asphalt stoicism the road offered no answer and just lay there like a never ending piece of stone spaghetti. This frustrated my body no end and led it angrily to my brain’s complaints department. Not wanting to stop running and have to figure out what street an Uber would have to pick me up from, my brain politely asked to “please hold”.
By the time 32km passed neither brain nor body were on speaking terms. The sharp stabbing pain in my foot was to be borne in the same resolute manner that one ignores a child in the throes of a tantrum when trying to prove a point. The outside of my knees felt as if someone was strumming a painful guitar and my thighs were off on strike somewhere. It made no sense to quit with 10km left, however, and so on I trudged.
For me, that phlegmatic determination is why people put themselves through the trial of a marathon. Movies teach us that the act of not giving up comes after a surge of emotion and an impassioned speech. That it needs some grand impetus or some special talent. The truth is that it doesn’t. It just needs you to put one foot in front of the other and repeat until completion. You do that for five-and-a-half hours and hey presto you’ve achieved something pretty special; you’ve run from the Battle of Marathon to Athens and lived to tell the tale.