Relief, blessed relief was the over-riding emotion when I recently completed my second marathon – this time in Edinburgh after my maiden 26 miler in Cork last June.
With tiredness streaming through my system, with lactic acid soon to bubble through my muscles like lava in an angry Icelandic volcano, all I wanted to do was sit down.
Of course, sitting down and becoming motionless is the last thing a runner is advised to do after completing the mighty distance, so I remained upright and ambled towards my medal and goodie bag. And I mean ambled!
The finish line of a marathon is a placed of mixed emotions and some unpleasant bodily motions: after all, your chances of getting sick are increased by 600 per cent after such a physical test.
So as I ambled towards my gear bag and the promise of water and talc, I saw couples who’d run together embracing. I saw upset runners embracing their upset mothers having run in memory of their other, sadly deceased fathers.
I saw men and women laid in a heap on the roadside, utterly clapped out – and more than one on a gurney getting medical assistance. And there were more than a few throwing up. Make no mistake; the end of a marathon is far from a place of universal joy.
In saying that, I saw just as many happy, proud, satisfied faces reflecting on a job well done. And take it from me: anyone that completes a marathon has done pretty damn well in my book.
I also witnessed runners who still, somehow, had a pep in their step, despite running the final eight miles into a headwind gusting at 40 miles per hour. If I’d been wearing a cap, I’d have been doffing it in their direction.
So why do it – why put your body and your mind through the mincer by choice, taking, on average, 52,000 foot strikes to get from start to finish?
The challenge, the thought of completing the distance and being able to say those three precious words “I did it” ran frequently through my head during the long runs in the weeks before the big day.
The additional sleep, the rest days, the increased intake of water (I don’t think I’ll need another glass until August!) and the welcome post-run meals all became part of the recent regime.
Under-preparing for a marathon isn’t the wisest course of action, irrespective of your desired finishing time. Yet, in saying that, even the fittest and fastest marathon runner has no idea how he/she will feel both in terms of body and mind once they break that tape.
The ambition of following in John Treacy’s footsteps – at least in terms of covering the distance as opposed to winning Olympic silver – passed through my mind on occasion.
As a five-year-old, I can (just about!) recall being called into our sitting room to watch the footage of the great man from Villierstown etching his name into Irish sporting history in Los Angeles.
To maintain his position in the face of blistering Californian heat in what was his first ever attempt at the distance remains one of the greatest feats achieved by anyone wearing green.
Running the distance also offered a cursory reminder of just how hard Treacy worked during his magnificent running career and a humbling reminder for us with pens who sometimes rush to judgement on an athlete’s performance.
After all, there’s none of us who haven’t had a bad day in the office – it’s just that ours don’t happen to be screened for the viewing pleasure of thousands in their homes.
It’s also reminds me of those who bombard radio phone-in shows during Olympic Games, many of whom are completely oblivious to the rigours of training and just what’s involved in achieving qualification for the games.
Speaking of marathon runners, Olympic legend Emil Zatopek once said: “We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 metres. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”
That’s certainly one way of describing those of us, fast or slow, elite or social, who’ve taken on the great distance.
Canadian runner Jerome Drayton painted a less heroic profile of the race and those who commit to it. “To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain colour to someone who was born blind.”
Is it draining? Yes, on so many levels. Is it tough? In ways that weary limbs and a tired mind cannot even fully comprehend. But is it rewarding? You bet your life it is. After all, I can now say “I did it”, and my frame has been sturdy enough to take me around two marathon circuits.
And I’m sure I’ll do so again. Now when that will be exactly remains to be seen, which brings another marathon quote to mind.
“You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.” Amen to that and bravo to an event that will forever remain one of the greatest sporting challenges of all. Now then, where are my runners…