For the last four years I’ve been getting up early on the April day after the London Marathon to negotiate the online system for an entry in its online ballot. For readers not familiar with this, this is one way in which you can gain entry into the London Marathon without having to raise at least £1,700 (some insist on at least £2,000) through a Bonded charity place.
The demand for such ballot places, indeed the charity places, is intense. Rightly so, as the London Marathon course weaves through the iconic landscape of my home city. Who wouldn’t want to run 26.2 miles through that landscape including the Isle of Dogs, Deptford, Greenwich, Tower Bridge and the Mall?
This demand means that the purported 120,000 ballot places to access an unspecified number of race places has an entry system that is prone to frustrating delays as you constantly skip backwards and forwards between browsers and different windows just to get to the end and be satisfied when you get the congratulations page at the end, and a subsequent email telling you’ve been successful in your ballot entry.
Indeed, these ballot places fill up incredibly quickly with few places left just 24 hours after the system has opened. I don’t know if anyone knows how the ballot actually works, but all I’ve got out of it for the last four years has been the receipt of the ‘least wanted’ piece of literature ever – the London Marathon ‘Sorry’ Magazine.
Whilst laudable in its aims to encourage more people to take up charity places, it is not the same as the Marathon place I’ve so eagerly sought. Indeed, when completing the ballot entry the eagerness to secure a place means you do pose ridiculous questions to yourself. So “if I order the training jacket/fleece with those fancy logos on it will that increase my chances of getting a place?” “What if I donate my entry fee to the London Marathon charity will my ball in the ballot lottery machine (I have no idea if they do it like this) be the more likely to drop?” “What if I’m hopelessly optimistic with my estimated finish time will that make a difference” “What if I classify my occupation in a really unusual way. Will the London Marathon people be looking for more Shepherds or Dry Cleaners for the 2012 race?” Based on my experience thus far the answers are No, No, No, and No.
However, the 2013 race has proved to be different as I’ve been selected by Synergy Running Club in Crouch End, N8 to represent it as one of three ‘affiliated’ running club places the club secures because of the amazing growth the club has shown in recent years, and its affiliation to England Athletics.
Along with Fiona and Danielle, come Sunday April 21st 2013, we will have the honour of completing the iconic route for our club.
Why the marathon and more pertinently, why the London Marathon?
Well, as I started to write earlier, I’m relatively new to long distance running. In Feb 2008, in the winter following the birth of my second daughter, I noticed that my weight and waist size had increased at an alarming rate and that this new ‘daddy weight’ would present me with some particular challenges for my participation in the 2008 cricket season for Crouch End Cricket Club.
Consequently, I needed ‘to do’ something about it and running seemed the perfect option – cheap and readily accessible. I’d quite enjoyed ‘cross country’ in my South London school with ‘cross-country’ representing routes across our playing fields and parks close to the school. However, I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I was sure I’d enjoy plodding along the Parkland Walk.
What became very clear early on was that I needed to set myself some kind of target instead of the ‘get fit for the cricket season’ idea I’d originally focussed upon, just to encourage me to get out regularly on self-identified training runs.
I hit upon entering the 2008 Crouch End 10k run by the YMCA and following completion of that I got nobbled by my then brother in law to running in a charity place in the ASICs 10k in central London, got caught again by him to take on the Royal Parks Half Marathon (2009), with a 1st failure in the 2010 London Marathon ballot pushing me to undertake the very first Brighton Marathon in April 2010. A feat I’ve then repeated in 2011 and 2012 with exceptional support from Ged (identified my injury I couldn’t shift) Sarra and all the great people at Synergy helping me to achieve great time improvements, as London continued to elude me.
I’d thoroughly recommend Brighton it is well organised, is a great course through what it describes itself as ‘London by the sea’, but as I see another ‘Sorry’ magazine it patently is not London.
So why Marathons? Well what I’ve found through the hours of training and preparation, numerous, shoe, kit, sports drink, gel and ‘healthy food’ purchases is that I love everything that is associated with putting yourself through this amazing challenge.
However it is the long runs that I really enjoy, partly because there is so much local to Crouch End that you can discover whilst on your feet, but also because you can head into central London and discover the River Thames from an alternative angle. What the long runs also bring me is something that I find so utterly beguiling about my other sporting endeavour, cricket, and that is the opportunity to divest yourself of all other thoughts and concentrate on doing something you wouldn’t normally do and thoroughly enjoy doing it while you do, whilst also thinking quite hard about it.
This has real parallels with things the Japanese author and runner, Haruki Murakami writes about in his book – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – that have helped me realise this. In particular the meditative quality of both cricket and running, but particularly running and the repetition required in training for your target race/s – of whatever distance. As Murakami notes:
“no matter how mundane some actions might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act”.
For me this is really true and a review of the book in the Daily Telegraph offers further insight alluding to the similarities with the great Czech Olympian Emile Zatopek who is quoted in the review article:
“When a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself…[herself]… to do a thing 100 or 1,000 times, then…[she]…he certainly has developed in more ways than physical. Is it raining? That doesn’t matter. Am I tired? That doesn’t matter, either. Then willpower will be no problem.”
This is because what I have learnt from my long run and marathon experiences so far is that the last part of the race is all about will power, just to finish the required distance.
What also chimes for me in reading Murakami is other similarities. He started running to address weight issues arising from his writing activities (my work means I spend writing research and evaluation reports rather than novella), and he had an epiphany about his career (as a novelist, not a marathon runner) when he states in the book:
“the crack of bat meeting ball right on the sweet spot echoed through the stadium… And it was at that exact moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel”.
For me it was just after completing the half marathon in Oct 2009, that my epiphany meant I knew I could go for the full marathon distance and those early April mornings continued beyond my first failed ballot entry.
So what’s this blog about?
Well, what I want to recount are my experiences over the next five months as I train for the 2013 London Marathon – one of a few items on my bucket list. I hope to share what it is like, whilst also offering some light relief, but particularly help anyone reading this to have their epiphany moment and take on a new physical activity challenge, or extend one they’re already involved in.
I’m hoping it will be a marathon and perhaps this blog will encourage that outcome more than most as it is entirely possible.
And, physical activity is really, really good for you.
Also it’s another way of channeling the loneliness of the long distance runner – not the Iron Maiden song – into something positive, and me improving my own writing.
So welcome to the ride, and keep your eyes peeled for stories of training and experiences which may, or may not, include elderly gents deliberately elbowing me on training runs on the Camden Road, or unfortunate outcomes from trying ‘new’ energy gels.
It’s the runs, the runs, son.