When I say that I like to run people’s eyes often widen. Their gaze sweeps over my stocky (some might say bulky) physique and, although they try to fight it, their eyebrows imperceptibly rise with doubt. I am, after all, not the perfect image of a tall, thin, athletic runner. I am closer to short, thick-set and way too fond of a glass of wine in the evening. But I do love to go for a run, albeit often one dominated by LSD; and before those of you with minds still dominated by experimental university excursions start to snigger, I will clarify that LSD stands for Long, Slow, Distance. No sprints or hill intervals for this burly fella. I prefer to go out, plug in my iPod and contemplate a run that covers some landscape, take a journey if-you-will.
Some of the most memorable experiences I have had while visiting new places have been while going for a run. In my mind there are few ways to better understand a new place than to commit to a long jog through it, especially first thing in the morning. I’ve run past trash collectors heaving cans, swerved around delivery guys swinging crates of produce into restaurants and leapt over the occasional bum taking a final slug from a bottle of cooking sherry. This philosophy has allowed me to run in some of the most wonderful landscapes – the islands of Greece, Icelandic coastlines, some of Europe’s most famous cities, African countryside (doing my best not to be eaten by lions), innumerable locations in America and finally, and by no means least, my home town here in Australia.
Each run, in addition to leaving me heaving and struggling for breath, is my way of getting to know the place that I am visiting. I am not an appreciator of the discombobulating experience that often comes with being a tourist, and I frequently use a run to reconnoitre the day’s adventures, returning home to tell my wife (with a haughty chuckle and a debonair smile), “Yes dear, I know how to get to the Vatican, it’s just a quick hop down Via Cavour, right on Via del Fori Imperiali and Via di San Marco – “Named after my great, great, great-grandfather Pietro di San Marco, no really Ash, really!” – a quick right onto Via d’Aracoeli before turning left onto Via Vittorio Emanuele II and following it through, you’ll see St. Paul’s on your left.” These situations make me very, very happy but do not, I am sad to say, endear me to the missus!
Unlike many of the running people that I have met, ambulation faster than walking is a relatively new passion for me. I became a jogger, actually a “yogger” (I think there is a soft J in there for those of you in the know!), after making the rash and ill-advised decision to run a marathon. Not being overly thrilled at the prospect of self-motivation for five hundred miles of solitary training before the big day, I signed up for a training team. Joining the team proved to be one of those fortuitous events, as it led to my acquaintanceship with a wonderful – and somewhat debauched – group of buddies. Our core group consisted of an international franchiser of children’s gym facilities, a lawyer/Christian, an accountant/cubical dweller, not-for-profit worker (me), and a struggling entrepreneur. Each Saturday we would meet and, surrounded by highly toned people with portable GPS systems and fresh enemas, alight from our cars with audible creaks and groans.
We were, it should be said, not the star (but probably some of the more entertaining) pupils of “Nutty”, our running coach. Not having staked our entire identity on this running caper, we boasted often wry attitudes towards our running compatriots. We delighted in arriving (and loudly bragging) fresh from last night’s wine-a-thon, five course dinner, beer—fest, industrial rave or, in one of my buddy’s case… a threesome with two fat girls. Stories of our escapades and capers, both real and imagined, where how we defined ourselves and quickly established us as the “drinkers with a running problem”. By the way, I have declined to “out” my naughty buddy from above, but I feel comfortable stating that any website this bloke might operate could reliably be called, “Five Decisions Away… from a huge mistake.” So let’s just leave it at that, shall we?
Each 15 mile run was quickly followed with a sizeable breakfast at our favourite diner “Kathy’s”, where the staff and other patrons did not seem to mind our flushed faces and sweaty, reeking appearance. Somewhere late in our training it was someone’s bright idea to celebrate our first twenty mile run with a celebratory tipple, resulting in multiple beers on the tailgate of my truck at 8:30am. At first shocked and dismayed at our lack of commitment to running culture, most people who passed (including Nutty, our coach), willingly joined our little band of misfits for a wee nip.
I get hungry when I run a marathon too. Let’s face it. Anybody running 26.2 miles is going to run out of fuel at some point. Most marathoners choose to bolster their quickly diminishing carb levels with a gel shot, which tastes and feels like sucking on a flabby bag of honey, not something I want to do as I hoof it along a roadside. Instead, I lust for carb rich density. If someone was to ride a bicycle along beside me at mile 17 and dangle a burger in front of my face… I would totally eat it. In defence of this philosophy are numerous cell phone requests to Ashley and spectating friends for items such as pizzas, hot dogs, burgers, chips, bacon (always great), tater tots. I am Pavlov’s dog whenever I run past a convenience store. I once ate a 7-Eleven hot dog at mile 14 of the Philadelphia marathon, while running up a hill. It was, I must confess, a mistake.
“So, completion time doesn’t seem to be a concern for you?” other marathoners often ask. To which I always take a step back, frame myself with my hands, and look at them with a sceptical expression while responding, “Do I look like a Kenyan?” Finishing a marathon upright and maintaining a pulse is the order of the day for me! I don’t carry a watch, check my time each mile nor care really. What is more important to me is the experience, sharing it with friends and seeing how my body responds to running the sort of distance that killed the Greek soldier Pheidippides. And having seen Greek soldiers in the movie 300 I feel somewhat proud to have bested a fella who looks like a plastic bag full of walnuts. I like the feeling you get when crossing the finish line, that first beer after a successful race, the look of pride in my wife’s face and reflecting on the journey later. The overabundance of emotions that surge through your mind whilst on this journey is also wonderful to behold. On that note, I choose to end this post here, with a collection of thoughts while on various marathons…
Three, two, one, let’s go. Man it’s crowded. I really need to pee. I shouldn’t have drunk all of that coffee. Get out of my way, grandma. This feels great, it’s going to be no problem. Hey you over there, how do you know my name? Oh, that’s right I wrote it on my t-shirt. Great bands, are they going to have this uplifting music at mile 20? All right, getting a little sore now, better stretch, don’t forget to have a drink at each water stop. Look at those cheeky buggers having a beer while we slog it out! Man, a beer is going to taste good after this is over, eh! Come on boys we can do it, How about I call Ash and get her to bring us some pizza? Man, this is getting hard. Look at that senior citizen, he’s kicking our ass. Don’t call him a ‘little fella’ Mike; He’ not that guy’s kid, he’s his midget buddy! Oops. Run away fast. Jesus, this is hard work, what happened to all of my energy? Ash, just roll two pieces of the pizza up and hand it to me, no I don’t want to hold the box! Crap my legs are hurting, how far is the finish line? I wish I could stop right here. Cheer up boys, not far now. Don’t tell me I’m doing great asshole, I have pains in places that you couldn’t imagine. Okay nearing the end boys just think about… not running! I can see it, it’s only another few hundred yards, let’s speed it up and get it over with. Yes, I know your legs hurt Matt, just man up! Okay let’s hold hands when we run across the finish line. No it won’t be construed as an affirmation of our gayness, it’s just celebratory. Annnnnnd done… yes thanks for the water and heavy medal. No, I don’t need a silver emergency blanket, okay give it to me. I just want to sit and never get up again. Ooo, they’re giving out free beers and massages over there. I am never, ever doing that again. Next year…. okay, as long as we can have a big greasy breakfast at Kathy’s after our training.