“But you run marathons all the time” say my non-running friends, and it’s a sentence that gets my back up more than it should. I’ve never run a marathon. I am training to run my one, my only, my first, my last marathon. Yes, I did complete the Dublin marathon last year. But I didn’t run it. Running a marathon is not about going out and slogging 26.2 long, slow miles in a time far slower than what you are capable of. It is about four months of training, long, lonely icy runs through waterlogged paths, wearing holes in your trainers, saying “no” to nights out in favour of nights running, pouring over plotaroute.com, making friends with the local hills and developing a pathological fear of the common cold. Any reasonably fit and healthy person could go and knock out a 7:07 marathon if they wanted to (whether they actually want to is another matter). But marathon day is really only the very tail end of the marathon process, and if you haven’t gone through the rest of it, you haven’t run a marathon. And I did not do those things (because of injury, but it makes no odds, either you did it or you didn’t) so I am not a marathon runner. Yet.
The other problem is that a lot of non-runners think of a half marathon as a type of marathon. I suppose I can see the logic in this; both have “marathon” in the name, and one distance which is too far for most people to run is much like another until you actually try to run them. But a half marathon is nothing like a marathon. It is not even really like half a marathon, since the second half (and the training required to get you through it) is so much harder than the first. I will use a couple of analogies to illustrate this point:
For the academic amongst you, a half marathon is like your end of term essay. It takes a bit of preparation, a few long nights in the library, and you eventually knock it out in a couple of hours. You may forgo a few nights on the tiles to concentrate on it, but life generally goes on. A marathon, on the other hand, is your dissertation. It seems like an insurmontable task and it consumes your entire life for months. There are sleepless nights. There are times when you think you will never get it finished. You lose touch with your friends and family. You lose touch with reality. As the deadline approaches, you forget a time when anything else existed. And suddenly it’s done and finished and you will have it on your bookshelf for the rest of your life, and occasionally bore them talking about it after a few shandies.
Or for the pizza lovers, a race-day analogy. A half marathon is like ordering a big, juicy, stuffed crust pizza with all your favourite toppings and a sweet chilli dip. You have quite a decent appetite, and you love pizza, and you munch the whole thing down. Afterwards you don’t feel quite so good, your stomach is bursting, you’re dehydrated, the chillis have brought you out in a sweat. You enjoyed it, but you never want to see another pizza again. Running a marathon is like eating that pizza, and having another one turn up, and being told that you will be a failure and disappointment to all your family and friends if you don’t swallow every last bite.
While a half marathon is a great achievement (the Brighton Half of 2016 will go down in history as one of the best days of my life), it is not on the same scale as a marathon. So – if you have a friend who is running their first marathon, don’t think it will be easy for them, even if they are an accomplished runner. Even Mo Farah struggles with the marathon distance. It is one of the hardest things they will ever have to do.