"I consoled myself with the thought that, once I had finished the marathon, I never had to run again."
Love at second sight
I had always wanted to run a marathon; it was one of those bucket list ideas that we all have at the back of our minds – someday I will run a marathon. As I got older, it became slightly more goal-oriented – I will run a marathon before I turn 40.
But that was as solid as it got. By the age of 39, I had given up taking part in sports. I had never been a runner in the first place, but now the marathon idea was just a crazy dream – I was 39 years old, about 50 pounds over weight, and got no exercise to speak of.
Then something happened – a local runner called Marcus Howlett announced that he was organizing the inaugural Tralee International Marathon to be run the following March. My hometown was to have its first marathon in 9 months time.
I signed up.
My wife was a runner, who had already completed a couple of marathons, so I decided I go training with her. I will never forget the first time she took me running. I set off determined to keep up with her no matter how hard it was. I lasted about 500 meters before I collapsed to my knees, retching and gasping for breath. I decided that I needed to rethink my training plan. As luck would have it, Marcus had set up a training group for the marathon, and they were starting a group of complete beginners. I joined up, and began the programme. We started off by walking for 5 minutes, followed by running for 5 minutes. Gradually, over the course of a few weeks, the walks shortened and the runs got longer, until there was no walking at all. I could finally call myself a runner, of sorts.
The programme quickly escalated, and the infamous Long Slow Run became part of my weekend ritual. I was one of the slowest runners in my group, and usually struggled in last and alone on these runs. I was in near constant pain, and felt awful on the long runs. I hated running. I hated everything about it – the muscle strains, the sore feet, the smug fast runners, the short runs, the long runs, everything. Running was the pits. I couldn’t figure out why anyone did this voluntarily. I only stuck with it because of pure stubbornness – I was determined to finish that marathon, no matter how much pain I had to endure. I consoled myself with the thought that, once I had finished it, I never had to run again.
The day of the marathon finally came around. I lined up with everyone else, and set off. Within a few miles, all my training buddies had disappeared into the distance, and I was running alone. I suffered on mile after mile. At one stage, I saw two spectators on staring intently at me as I approached them. The woman must have weighed 250 pounds, with the guy beside her probably 50 more. I wondered why they were staring at me like that. As I passed, she nudged the guy in the ribs and said “Look Johnny, look at him – if he can run a marathon so can you”. Bloody hell, I thought, I must look even worse than I feel.
By mile 20, I was in a whole new world of suffering. Only two things kept me going – firstly, the knowledge that my young sons were waiting at the finish line, and I couldn’t let them see me as a quitter, and secondly, the thought that as soon as this was over, I could throw away my runners, and never have to suffer like this again.
Finally, just over 6 hours after I started, I stumbled across the finish line into the arms of a Red Cross medic. That was me done with running for ever more.
That evening I signed up for my second marathon.
I ran that second marathon, just a few months later, well over an hour faster. Then I signed up for an ultra. Then another ultra. Then more marathons. In the two and a half years since, I have completed 11 marathons, 4 ultramarathons, as well as triathlons, half marathons, 10k’s 5k’s and anything else I can fit in.
And somewhere along the way, I fell wildly, totally, and completely in love with running. I love the long runs, the short runs, the people I run with, and the whole running culture. I have come through countless moments of agony, wonder, joy, despair, and triumph on that journey, pushing myself beyond any point I would have imagined. I have discovered reserves of strength and determination that I never knew I had. I have made some amazing new friends, and had some life changing experiences.
|I completed a marathon with a dislocated hip. I ran my then fastest ever 5k in the last 5k of a 100k to beat the cutoff time. I completed another 100k with just one second left on the cutoff clock. I fought heat stroke and sickness to finish an ultra. And I enjoyed every single second, because I learned to never stop pushing, to never give up, to never accept defeat. Running taught me that. But I still have lots to learn – that’s why I am doing my first double marathon in a couple of weeks, and why I am doing a 100 mile ultra next year. There are lots of roads out there, and I want to run them all!|
By Randall Wharton
Connect with Randall: