Exhilarating, bizarre, unique - and very painful
Published on: 28 May 2016
Marathon Man James Baker describes how he ran 26.2 miles - twice!
For five months I had been getting up in the small hours of the morning, pounding the streets of Downend, Mangotsfield, Frenchay and Frampton. Five long, cold months of preparing for what would end up being eight hours (give or take quarter of an hour) of my life: running two marathons, London and North Dorset, one week after the other. It was all done in aid of addaction – a small charity that supports recovering alcoholics and people suffering from drug addiction. Sadly one of my friend’s brothers died last year of alcoholism and I felt it fitting that I support this deserving charity. Running the London Marathon with both my friend and my wife would have been great, but sadly both had to withdraw through injury.
There is no doubt about it, the London Marathon is an exhilarating, bizarre and unique event. I have never experienced anything like it: the sense of community among the runners; the passion and support of the crowd; the empathy and aid of the stewards; the sun, the sweat, the pain, the tears, the constant running, mile after mile.
On the day, it took about five minutes to walk forward and reach the start line, where Andy (my running partner) and I started our watches and took our first tentative steps towards the 26.2 miles ahead of us. There were so many people lining the streets and cheering the runners on, it was easy to get carried away. I passed mile one and the atmosphere was incredible. Children were holding out their hands for high fives and the crowds were cheering my name and occasionally asking me to show them what was under my kilt! There were even local clergymen standing outside churches in Charlton blessing us with holy water as we ran past. I can’t describe how amazing it was. Running alongside the Cutty Sark was an incredible experience as was crossing Tower Bridge at the twelve mile mark. The roar of the crowd was so loud every single hair on my body stood to attention and a surge of endorphins raced through my weary body giving me a sense of euphoria.
Of course, this sense of elation was short lived as it dawned on me that I had another fourteen miles to go, which included the infamous Docklands and the Blackfriar’s Underpass. Sure enough, I navigated both, blotting out the sight of people urinating, wretching, swaying and crying as I did so. At mile twenty three, I witnessed something that will haunt me forever. I shuffled past David Sheath, the army captain who tragically died during this run. His stricken body lay strewn on the floor with a group of marshals and medics surrounding him. David’s face was ashen. God bless his soul.
The following final three miles were a dizzying blur. I remember racing (staggering?) along the Embankment, passing Big Ben and crossing the finish line in a respectable 3 hours 59 minutes. I then collapsed in a heap. The medal was too heavy to wear so I put in into my bag. It wasn’t until I’d left the secure runners area and needed people to know why I was hobbling like a caricature old man than I felt like I had to put it on. It was still too heavy.
A week later, I travelled to Dorset for my second marathon challenge. This race was the complete opposite of London for it proved to be an excruciating and debilitating experience. Billed as a picturesque race along country lanes through the villages of Hinton St Mary, Marnhull, Stalbridge, Todber, Stour Row, Margaret Marsh, West Orchard, Farrington, Child Okeford and Hammoon, this marathon wasn’t for the faint hearted. Don’t get me wrong – it is a wonderful, race, just not one week after running London! For twenty six miles I ran. I ached. I slowed. I limped. I doubled over. I thought I was going to be sick as I ran up hill and down dale. However the reassuring pats on the back by my fellow runners Matt, Alice and Jer accompanied with a dogged determination enabled me to complete the task (in 4 hours 16 minutes). Come the end, there were no arms in the air, no cries of victory, no pyrotechnics, I was utterly depleted. I had nothing left.
People ask me how tough it actually was (to run two marathons in the space of a week), as though you can put a number on pain. Here’s my answer: with only 200m to go in both marathons, I felt I could not run any more. With 200m to go I thought I couldn’t summon the strength to beat the exhaustion and pain howling through my body in order to run the final furlong. Bloody mindedness ensured I did, but every single muscle in my body ached. Every sinew and fibre moaned and groaned like a child not wanting to visit their grandparents on a Sunday afternoon. That’s how much it hurt.
Will I ever run a marathon again after the pleasure and the pain of doing back to back races? My body says ‘no’, but my heart says ‘definitely.’