History of the Marathon

The idea of the marathon was inspired by the legend of Pheidippides, a professional runner who is believed to have carried the news of the Greek victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. On arriving in Athens, Pheidippides shouted, "Rejoice, we conquer!" and then dropped dead of exhaustion.

The fifth century BC historian Herodotus, while writing about the Battle the Marathon made no mention of Pheidippides' feat and there is no evidence that the dramatic incident ever took place. In fact, the story didn't appear in print until the second century AD, over 600 years after it was alleged to have occurred.

However, in 1894, when an international revival of the Olympics was being discussed, French linguist and historian Michel Breal suggested the inclusion of a long-distance race of 40 kms (24.8 miles). Invoking the legend of Pheidippides, Breal and Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, presented the idea to the Organizing Committee of the Athens Olympics. The Greeks immediately agreed to it.

On April 10, 1896 the first Olympic marathon was held from Marathon Bridge to the stadium in Athens. Of the runners who took part the best of them was a 24-year-old named Spiridon Louis, a shepherd boy who had served in the army as a messenger and then became a postal worker. Running with shoes donated by his fellow villagers, Louis took the lead four kilometres from the Panathenaic Stadium and won the race in 2hours, 58minutes and.50 seconds - an average pace of 7:11 minutes per mile - more than seven minutes ahead of second-placed countryman Chanilaos Vasilakos.

Since then, many athletes, like Emil Zátopek, Ethiopian  Abebe Bikila and Joan Benoit Samuelson, who earned her place in history as winner of the first Olympic women's marathon in 1984, were inspired by Louis to run the 42.195 kms course.


2,500 Years of Running...
As mentioned, the modern Athens Marathon commemorates the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C., bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians. Legend has it that Pheidippides delivered the momentous message "Niki!" ("victory"), then collapsed and died, thereby setting a precedent for dramatic conclusions to the marathon.

When the modern Olympic games were inaugurated in 1896 in Greece, the legend of Pheidippides was revived by a 24.85 mile (40,000 meters) run from Marathon Bridge to Olympic stadium in Athens. Traditionally the final event in the Olympics, the first organized marathon on April 10, 1896 was especially important to all Greeks. Greece was hosting those first modern Olympic Games. The Greeks had yet to win a medal, and had one final chance to bring glory to their nation. Twenty-five runners assembled on Marathon Bridge. The starter mumbled a few words and fired the gun, and the race was on. "The excitement of the crowd waiting at the finish line at the newly constructed replica of Athens' ancient stadium was beyond description" writes the Greek historian Quercetani. Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker from the village of Marusi and veteran of several long military marches, crossed the finish line a full seven minutes ahead of the pack. His time was 2 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds for the 40 kilometer distance (average pace of 7:11 minutes per mile). When it was all over only nine runners finished, 8 of them Greeks. The host nation was ecstatic, and the marathon was born.

The United States was one of 9 nations at the 1896 Athens Olympics, thanks to sponsorship of athletes by the Boston Athletic Association. Middle distance runner Arthur Blake was the only American to enter the first marathon. Blake won a silver medal in the 1500 meters 3 days before the marathon but unfortunately this left him exhausted and he dropped out after about 14.5 miles. Planning for North America's first marathon began on the boat back to United States. The first annual Boston Athletic Association marathon was conducted on April 19, 1897, the date chosen to commemorate the famous ride of Paul Revere in 1775.

At the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the marathon distance was changed to 26.2 miles to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City stadium, with the extra distance added on so the race could finish in front of royal family's viewing box. This added nearly two miles to the course, and is the origin of the Marathon tradition of shouting "God save the Queen!" as mile post 24 is passed. After 16 years of extremely heated discussion, this 26.2 mile distance was established at the 1924 Olympics in Paris as the official marathon distance.

Today, marathons have become a running tradition throughout the world. Yet the annual Marathon at Athens, where it all began, has a tradition and an appeal like no other. In 1996, the 100th anniversary of the modern Athens Marathon, more than 3,000 runners from every part of the world gathered to run in the footsteps of Pheidippides.

Click here to see the Wikipedia entry for Marathons for lots of useful information.

My Marathon Diary

March 2008

I'm not quite sure how I got myself involved in this...

26.2 miles (42 KM) doesn't sound too far when you're having a beer and just talking about it but when it comes to actually doing it...well, that's another matter. In these days of desk-based work and commuting to the office in the car, most people don't even walk 26 miles in a typical week let alone run it in a few hours. However, I'm always keen to test myself and so when the notion of running a formal race was first brought up by Mark, one of my work colleagues, I rather foolishly (and with a bravado I'm not sure I can live up to) agreed to participate. I think we'd been talking about getting fit and this had arisen as I'd just started playing squash with one of my other work colleagues and was not doing too well (as I got beat every Wednesday afternoon when we played). Apart from the obvious blow to my pride, it began to dawn on me that I wasn't actually as fit as I thought I was. Mark had been doing a bit of running to get fitter and our conversation turned to races, 10KM fun-runs, half-marathons etc. Mark is in his 30s and as far as I can see, doesn't have an ounce of fat on him and is fitter in his pre-training state than I've probably ever been in my life! However, I'm delusional enough to think that I can compete with a younger guy and, although I'm not entirely sure which idiot it was who suggested going for the big one - the Marathon - I strongly suspect it was me.

April 2008

We all think we know ourselves and what we're capable of but we really don't until life tests us. However, I do know enough about myself to be sure that if I didn't commit to a particular date then I wouldn't even start the training, let alone run the race. Consequently, I suggested to Mark that we pick a venue and get signed up as, once we were committed, we'd be more likely to start taking the whole thing seriously. I knew that I would need a few months and I wanted, if possible, to find a marathon that was being run outside the Summer or Winter months and one which would not require me to have to travel too far. I did a bit of internet research (mainly www.runnersworld.co.uk) and I landed on the Anglesey Marathon which was being run on 21st September 2008. I reasoned that the 6 months available would be sufficient time to get into shape and that, in September, we would have a better chance of cooler conditions. Anglesey is only a couple of hours drive away from Manchester so it's reasonably close. Also, looking at the details for the previous year's race it seemed that there were only about 250 runners and that there were a range of finishing times suggesting that the race was run by pros and relative beginners alike. Mark agreed that the Anglesey marathon was suitable and we both applied on-line to the race organisers and were accepted. As part of the application process, we had to put down an expected race completion time; I had absolutely no idea so I worked out that if I ran at 6.5 mph (10.4kph) that I would finish in 4.03 hours so I put down 4 hours 20 minutes. Mark also put a 4 hour plus time but I think he can do it in sub 4 hours (which has become my [totally unrealistic] target too - but I'm not telling anyone!)

Oh heck! I've done it now then. I'm well and truly roped into this thing. I think I'd better start some serious training!

2008 Anglesey Marathon logo

I started telling workmates and friends about the intended marathon entry and I'm sure that at some sub-conscious level, I was doing this to ensure that I couldn't back out without looking foolish. One thing which was interesting, however, was the number of people who exclaimed that they could never, ever do a marathon. They may be right and I may end up embarassed but for goodness sake, don't give up before you've even tried. I remember the scene in "One flew over the cuckoo's nest" where Jack Nicholson ( playing Randle Patrick McMurphy) tries to rip a huge sink out of the floor and throw it through the window to create an escape route. He nearly bursts a gut trying and eventually has to concede defeat but he says "At least I tried, godammit!" and, although he's failed, he's still won compared to the assembled inmates as they didn't even try. Eventually, the big Indian does rip out the sink and makes his escape, arguably inspired by McMurphy. Cracking film! - I read the book by Ken Kesey first and saw the film when I was only a teenager. I thought that scene was one of the most powerful moments in the film. It's never really left me and, typically, I'll have a go at anything. So... whatever the outcome, at least I'm going to try!

April 2008

I've done what everyone probably does and started my training by buying a whole new set of kit (including things I probably won't use or need). For me, getting the equipment is all part of the process of getting psyched-up to do whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing. I've bought drinks bottles, running vests, running shoe inserts, shock absorbing socks(!), a breathable waterproof anorak, protein bars, energy bars, a pouch for my iPod, and an absolutely whizzo piece of kit - a Garmin GPS watch with a heart rate monitor. Just about the only thing I've not bought is a pair of running shoes as I bought a good pair of Puma Cell running shoes a few years ago when I was going through another health fad and (rather worryingly) they're still pretty much like new.

the shoes! - hope they don't start rubbing

I've got a running machine at home and I go on it from time to time (but don't run very far) when I'm feeling particularly debauched or if I catch a glimpse of my expanding waistline in the mirror after a shower and I need to ease my conscience. However, everyone says that running on the road is completely different to running on a machine so I've got to get out there and give it a try. I'm 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 meters) and 15 stones (210 pounds/95.5 Kilos) in weight. I could do with losing anything up to a stone for this race but my lifestyle will make that difficult. Business lunches are necessary and I have to admit that I probably drink too much generally and will find it extremely difficult to cut down. From all the reading I've done, it's clear that the key to weight loss is 'calorific deficiency'. In other words, if what you burn in calories is greater than the calories you're taking in, you'll lose weight. It's as simple as that. So, I've either got to diet or I've got to exercise more than I've been doing - or ideally, a combination of both.

I go out for my first road run on 26th April 2008. I've got my Garmin sparked up and it's using GPS to calculate how far I've run and the heart rate monitor to keep tabs on my HR during the run. When I get back, I can bluetooth the results from the watch to my laptop (ain't technology wonderful?) and build up a complete training profile showing distance, time, average pace, speed, average and maximum heart rates etc. all shown in glorious technicolor on a graph. This will allow me to compare early runs with later runs to see how I'm improving...or so the theory goes..

I want to start off gently. I've read and downloaded a specimen marathon training regime and I intend to stick to it. Its aim is simply to get a beginner's stamina to a level where there's a good chance they'll get round the 26.2 miles without doing a Pheidippides and pegging out at (or even before) the finish line. There's no question of doing the race in a good time - just finish. On the day in question, I have to take my car for an MOT to a garage about 2 miles away so I decide to drive there and run home and then, later in the day, to run back to pick up the car and then drive home. Once I've dropped the car off, I start running from the garage with a level of enthusiasm never to be repeated. This is it; this is where my marathon training starts! My Garmin tells me that I do the 1.68 miles home in 13 minutes 54 seconds at an average pace of 8.17 per mile and an average speed of 7.2 mph. It even tells me that the total ascent during the run is 249 feet, my average heart rate was 161bpm and my maximum heart rate was 173bpm. This is great. It's like having a personal trainer and the substantial amount of money I paid for the Garmin seems justified already.

I run back for the car over a slightly different route. 1.77 miles in 15.44. A lower average speed of 6.7mph but the ascent was 760 feet - perhaps that's the reason for the slight slowdown and the fact that my maximum heart rate was 178 bpm - a little high but nothing to worry about I'm sure. Max HR is supposed to be 220 less your age as a rule of thumb and you're supposed to run at, say, 80% of your max HR. This would mean that if I were 21 years old, running at 80% of max HR, 178bpm would still be too fast and (except in my head) I'm a long way past 21. I'm sure the HR will settle down as I get fitter - think Rocky Balboa running up those steps in Philadelphia - he struggled at first too. I'm quite pleased with myself and plan to undertake a longer run tomorrow.

The following day I can't move. I can't walk up the stairs. I can't even bend down to pick up the newspaper. My leg muscles are screaming "You Bastard!!" It takes several days to recover. Bloody Hell, I only ran just over 3 miles! Perhaps this training/running lark isn't going to be quite so easy.

May 2008

My next outing is 5th May and I really don't want to go out at all. I do 4.2 miles in 40 minutes. A slow speed of just over 6mph but I'm not pushing it as I don't want to feel like I did after my first attempt. Max HR 172bpm - still quite high but who knows... I might just have a heart that likes to beat a bit faster than the norm. As long as the thing doesn't actually stop beating, I'm OK.

6th May - 4.61 miles in 45 minutes. Max HR 162bpm

7th May - 7 miles in 1 hr 11mins. Max HR 167bpm. Even slower speed - at that pace, my estimate of 4hrs 20mins will be well under and it'll take me closer to 5 hours. That would be embarassing. I undertake to train harder.

Later in May, I get invited to two Stag Parties - one in Hamburg for 4 days and the other in Amsterdam for 3 days. I never got invited to Stag Parties when I was a younger guy and it's quite funny that I'm now getting invited to the parties of the soon-to-be-married children of my friends. All thoughts of running, training and abstinence immediately evaporate and I'm off to Germany! I drank 26 pints of beer during the first day in Hamburg and still failed to keep up with some of the other guys. I'm pretty sure that drinking to that extent won't help my training regime or my weight loss goals but a good time was had by all. I can't remember what we drank or did for the rest of the time there as, strangely, I'd lost the ability to count (and at one time, even to speak). The following week I went to Amsterdam with a different bunch of guys and running never once entered my head.

June 2008

I've never lacked enthusiasm but there's no doubt I'm a bit deficient in the self-discipline area. After May's over-indulgence, I'm really back to square one with the running and there's now less than 4 months to go. In truth, I'd never even got going properly but I have lost some weight and I've continued playing squash with my work colleague Malcolm and I'm now winning the odd match. Maybe a diet of only alcohol and very little food or sleep is proving to be a good weight loss program?

It's later in June and I've started running again but on my running machine. I simply can't be bothered to get kitted up and go out on the road. That means that the GPS watch is now gathering dust. I've read that if you put a 5% incline on the running machine, that goes some way towards replicating the extra effort required on the road. I decide to put a 10% incline on.

Comparing notes with Mark it's clear he's being more disciplined than I am and running further (and undoubtedly faster) but he's also having a few problems with his tendons. We undertake to go out for a few runs together although we've already agreed that on the day of the race, we'll go at our own pace rather than stick together. I suspect it will be a bit of a Hare and the Tortoise situation but this time, the Hare actually wins!

I've been running 3 miles, 5 miles and trying to mix up the effort level - a sort of interval training. The training regime which I downloaded and swore I'd stick to is out of the window. I'm now just doing what I feel is right. On 10th June I decide I'll do a longer run and I do 10 miles. However, during this run, I have identified a problem with my left knee. Earlier, back in April, my right knee was inclined to swell after a run and I started having a bath after a run and putting cold water and then ice on the knee. Now, the right knee seems to have corrected itself and it's my left knee (and my feet) beginning to cause problems. The left knee feels really wierd as it doesn't hurt when I put pressure on it or push up but rather when it hangs loose at that point in the running cycle where the left leg is lifted off the floor before the next step. It isn't swollen and putting ice on it doesn't seem to make any difference. All I know is that if this problem doesn't get better, I'll never make 26.2 miles. Whenever the knee plays up, I need to give it 2 or 3 days complete rest before I can run again which significantly cuts down the frequency of my training. I buy a neoprene knee bandage and that seems to help a little so I've now joined the idiots who I've seen road running before with knee supports and bandages and I've always thought "Why??" I think I know now. I've only got 3 months left so I've got to keep running. I should really go to get the knee checked out but I don't want someone telling me I shouldn't attempt the marathon or that it needs some treatment or an operation. I'll just keep going and see how it improves or degenerates.

July 2008

My weight is down to 14 stone 6 pounds and I feel a little fitter. However, I have to go to Eastern Europe for a week with my best friend Paul in connection with an aircraft which we jointly own and whenever we're over there, once our business is dealt with, it's a case of drinking and not going to bed until the sun comes up. So, another setback to my training. I've also plenty to do at work as we've just moved to new premises and trying to get things sorted out before I go off again on 25th July (this time for my main holidays), means that I do very little running as I'm just too tired at night when I get home. When I do run, it's rarely and only a short distance and my training regime has largely degenerated into popping a Thermobol tablet and sitting on my arse watching the TV.

I examine the detail on the Anglesey Marathon site again and I'm beginning to get worried. The course is described as "undulating, with a surprise at the end". What the hell does that mean?!? Also, the race is due to start at 10.00am and I've done none of my training in the morning so far. I'm not a 'morning person' and I do know that energy levels change throughout the day. I really ought to try to do some running in the morning just to get myself used to it. I flew down to Mona Flying Club on Anglesey (where I know the Chief Flying Instructor and where I did much of my initial flying training) and I'm pleased to discover that the Anglesey showground (the start and finish point for the marathon) is right across the road from the airfield which means that I may be able to fly down from Blackpool in 30 minutes rather than drive down on the day of the race. I walk the first 3 miles of the course and it looks OK although it is a bit up and down. All I've got to remember is that for every incline, there should be a corresponding downhill section.

France - 28th July.

We're staying with some friends who have a house in Eastern France near Dijon. We've stopped off en-route to Southern Spain and on the second morning with our friends I decide I'll go out for an early run. The suggestion that I might have a run (made the night before whilst the wine was flowing and we were having a barbeque for 9) was met with some degree of disbelief and cynisism. This just increases my determination to go out and frankly, it has to be early as it's just too hot when the sun gets higher in the sky. I've packed my running shoes so off I go, creeping out of the house as everyone's still asleep. I feel quite good despite the wine I had last night. The first uphill bit is hard work but then I do about 7km (I'm in France now so I've gone metric!) along a cycle path with a view to turning round at the 30 minute mark and doing another 7km back. I figure 14km is better than nothing. However, as I've been running along the path (which is a little too flat to be testing) I've noticed a road running almost parallel to the path and as it seems to undulate, I decide to take the road back to give myself a bit more of a workout. I track along the road for a while and then come to a small village called Etivau. I try to navigate the small winding streets and as I exit the other side of the village, I expect to be pointing in the right general direction and to be able to see the cycle path running parallel to the road I'm on. However, it's not there. Never mind, press on, it'll be just around the next corner. I jog on for a little while and notice my left knee beginning to twinge a bit. The cycle path does not materialise at the next corner nor the bend after that but I'm relieved to see a signpost for the cycle path which I follow. I'm not running now as my left knee is positively hurting so I'm walking as fast as I can but pretty much dragging my left leg so I don't have to lift it. God only knows what I must look like but I don't care as all I now want to do is get back home to rest my knee. I get to the cycle path and head off down it as fast as I can shuffle but it looks strangely unfamiliar. I proceed for a couple of miles and I eventually manage to convince myself that this is the wrong direction (later my concerns are proved to be valid - no-one told me there were two cycle paths and I'm now on the wrong one!) There's only one thing for it - retrace my steps and get back to the original cycle path. This is not sensible given the pain in my knee but I seem to have left myself no choice. Unusually, I don't have my mobile with me - I didn't take it as the whole valley we're in seems to be a mobile signal blackspot and it's impossible to get a signal. Also, I've no water and although I wasn't intending to be out long, I should have had the presence of mind to bring some liquid with me. I've never before been for a run without something to re-hydrate me so why today? I get back to the village but get well and truly lost in the little streets. There's no-one about and I start to try to jog a little. A scruffy little dog (who's fur was probably once white but is now a dirty cream with shit stains) decides it doesn't like strangers and chases me down the street snapping at my calves. I try to out-run it as rabies is all I need!! I eventually find the original cycle path and hobble back along it but I've been out for over 2 hours now (and with all the messing about have probably run/jogged/walked/shuffled/stumbled nearly 20km) and whilst I'm still about a couple of kilometers away from home, my friend's car comes around the corner as they've come out as a search party fearing that I've had a heart attack somewhere out in the wilds. Back at the house, no-one is being particularly sympathetic about my knee and, given the frosty treatment I'm now getting from everyone and the pain in my knee (I'm struggling to get down the stairs!), perhaps I won't be going for a run tomorrow!

Spain - August 2008

I've joined a gym for the two weeks remaining in Spain before flying home and I've been every day so far despite quaffing up to two bottles of wine a day and the odd beer (well I'm on holiday aren't I?) I've decided that I will go completely alcohol-free in the period 25th August to 21st September (I've been invited to a wedding reception on 24th August so that will be my last big blow-out).

I'm down to 14 stones 2 pounds (90 kilos), however, on occasion, my urine is the colour of mahogany and it doesn't take a genius to work out that I'm somewhat dehydrated and some of the weight loss is just fluid. The temperatures are disgracefully high down here in Southern Spain at this time of year and running on the road is a non-starter for most of the day when it can hit 40 degrees. Even in the gym it's very warm and I'm sweating twice as much as normal. I've been running and using the step machine to try to build the muscle in my knee but it still begins to hurt after a few miles and I wonder whether this is going to kill my chances of completing the marathon.

Spain. Costa del Sol. 14th August 2008

I've been to the gym every day for the last week. I feel I'm getting a bit fitter but the heat here is totally oppressive. I have taken to getting in the swimming pool immediately after my workout and this has certainly helped my recovery to the point where there's no stiffness the next day and that's why I've been able to do some exercise every day. This morning I ran on the road for the first time here in Spain and the weather was kind as it was slightly overcast. It was only just over 3 miles (my God! How am I ever going to do 26.2?) but I was sweating so much and there were so many uphill sections that I think it was about the same effort as three times the distance at home. My right foot and ankle are now hurting almost constantly but I've improvised with a wine cooler which can be frozen and I wrap this around my foot and elevate it when I've had a run and it seems to help. My left knee is definitely making an audible clicking noise now when I move it but the neoprene support is helping so I'm just going to keep training through it. There's only just over a month left and I won't be doing much for the last week as all the pointers I've read suggest that only light exercise is recommended in the final week.

wine cooler provides an improvised training aid (note the swollen ankle!)

I've still a long way to go in terms of building fitness and endurance. I'm absolutely certain that I can run constantly for about an hour at 6.5 to 7.0mph but can I do 4 hours plus? Have I enough time left to get myself fit enough? Even if I do, there are so many things which can go wrong - I could get a cold in the week leading up to the race; I could trip and sprain my ankle in the first 100 meters; the weather could be howling winds and driving rain. I'm beginning to think the odds are against me completing this marathon but I have to try. The Beijing Olympics are on TV at the moment and all the competitors seem to be saying the same thing - "preparation is the key to success". I seriously think that I've not given this challenge the respect it deserves and I certainly haven't prepared as well as I could have done in earlier months. If my knee holds up, will I even have the stamina to complete the course? Under 4 hours?... forget it! That seems totally naive now. I'll be lucky if I finish at all, probably last and limping home just before the course closes after 6 hours! On the other hand, I'm sure a large part of this is mental as well as physical. I've always thought of myself (rather immodestly) as being mentally stronger than average in terms of determination so I'm soon going to find out whether I'm up to it or whether I'm just kidding myself. Joking apart, this could be a significant defining moment. If I don't finish the race, it's not just the marathon that I'll have failed at. It could substantially undermine my own self-image.

I've deliberately not looked for sponsorship and none of my family or friends will be at Anglesey to cheer me on as I want it this way so that it's just me and the course. That way, it'll be easy to back out. I want to know that if I complete the race, it's because I had the inner determination to do so and that there are no external influences spurring me on. What am I trying to prove? I don't quite know but I do know that I would have thought it completely daft to try this a decade ago and so it's probably just another example of my mid-life crisis and the fact that I'm a different person to who I was when I was younger. Maybe I'll just keep on doing madcap things until I routinely fail and then I'll become an old man and take permanently to a pipe and slippers, reading the Times in front of daytime television. Fuck that! Not yet! I'm going to do this!

Map of the course - the run is anticlockwise - click for larger version

Race map of Anglesey (The race is run counter-clockwise. Click picture for larger map)

Race entry confirmation

Mark and I have both recieved our entry packs. The thing which troubles both of us is that included in the pack is a height profile of the course. It seems to start off fairly well with a gentle downhill section of about 6 miles but the last third of the course looks an absolute bastard! Most of it is uphill and some of it is not what you'd refer to as a gentle climb! We now know what they meant when they said the course was "undulating with a surprise at the end". Bollocks! Maybe Anglesey wasn't such a good choice after all and we'd have been better doing a city run like the London Marathon which is flat all the way round. Next time (although there won't be a next time!!) we should do our homework better.

race profile

Blackburn - 28th August 2008

Less than four weeks to go and I arrange to go for a run with Mark. His Brother-in-Law who was going to do the marathon with us has now dropped out so it's back to the two of us. Mark has researched a route which has its share of ups and downs to try to prepare us for the uphill sections of the Anglesey course. I'm keen to go but I'm convinced that Mark will significantly out-run me. Whilst I'm sure his confidence will be bolstered by knowing he can run further and faster than me, mine will take a bit of a knock as, whilst I know that Mark is younger and fitter than me, it's easier to live with the thought than the actual evidence!!

We set off at 09.15 on a damp, misty Thursday morning and the route takes us from Blackburn into Haslingden and then back on a parallel track. I didn't get much sleep the night before as I was up late and also (unwisely) I'd played squash with my other work colleague, Malcolm, on Wednesday afternoon. At least I'm not losing at squash all the time now as I've won quite a few games but this Wednesday we actually draw as we were at 1 set each and 1 point each when our time ran out and the next players came on court. We're supposed to play for either 30 or 40 minutes but when we looked at our watches we'd played for nearly an hour and a half so it's perhaps not surprising that I'm a little stiff and my right foot's hurting on the morning of the run. My worst fears are realised almost immediately as Mark springs off, Gazelle-like, carrying all 73 kilos of his wiry, muscular frame and I try to keep up by dragging my considerably heavier bodyweight along at the same speed. A gap opens up almost immediately and I'm well out of breath before we've gone 2 miles. I decide not to try to keep pace with Mark but just to try to keep him in sight and run at a reasonable pace of a 10 minute mile.

There are quite a few uphill sections but, as I've said before, for every up there's got to be a down, and after a while, I stop looking at the Garmin watch and just settle into the run and try to put my mind elsewhere. I can still see Mark in front of me by a few hundred yards but I think he's actually going slower than he would normally just so I don't fall too far behind. At the 6 mile point he stops and is waiting for me as he's not sure if I know which way the course goes. When I catch up to him, we walk for a minute or so and then start jogging again. As soon as I know which direction to go, Mark's off again and as most of this stretch is uphill, I quickly lose sight of him.

At about the 10 mile mark, it's raining and I'm beginning to look like a drowned rat! I've not taken any water with me so I'm running with my mouth open to catch some raindrops and I'm periodically sticking my tongue out and licking as far around my mouth as I can to get some salt from my sweat back in me. I'll bet, gurning away, I look a very strange sight to anyone seeing me from an approaching car but at this stage, I just don't care. I'm running down a narrow road where there are cars coming in both directions. There's no footpath so I have to stop and lean into the trees at the side of the road or I'm in danger of causing an accident or getting hit by a car as there are lots of twists and turns in the road and the oncoming cars can't see me too far in advance. I almost expect to find Mark's body somewhere in the undergrowth having been winged by a speeding car but hey, it is the road after all, and I know how annoyed I get with runners and cyclists who are frankly dangerous on a road. My right foot has been hurting under the ankle all the way so far but as I'm trying to get out of the way of the cars, I step on a fallen tree branch with my right foot and the ankle twists. I get an excruciating pain where before it was a dull pain and I know I'm in trouble. At this point, I've done about 11 miles and it's taken 1 hour 50 minutes which is spot on for my 10 minute mile pace. It's also quite encouraging as I've stopped to answer two mobile phone calls en route which I certainly won't be doing on raceday. However, that's the end of my running today and I limp the next mile or so back to where Mark and I had left our cars at the beginning of the run. The full distance was 12.3 miles (19.68km) and I did it in 2 hours 8 minutes. Mark did it in 1 hour 55 minutes but did have a short break when he was waiting for me at the 6 mile point. If we extrapolate that result, Mark will be finishing the marathon about 40 minutes before me.

Given the state of my foot, I'll now be happy if I can run the marathon and even finish it within the 5 hour qualifying limit let alone get close to 4 hours. However, based on today, I still think Mark can do it in less than 4 hours.

29th August

I've got nipple chafe, a welt on my neck where the cords of the gym bag I was carrying were rubbing when it was raining, my legs are aching and my left leg feels particularly peculiar as I think I was favouring it yesterday to take pressure off my right foot/ankle. So.... not exactly at the peak of physical fitness! My right foot is absolutely killing me so, contrary to my initial intentions, I'm off to a sports injury clinic to see a Physio on Tuesday. I've already outlined my marathon ambitions to a lady called Laura when I made the appointment on the telephone and I stressed that I'm doing this run even if I have to hop around the course! She thinks that they may at least be able to suggest some sort of strapping which will help to relieve the pressure on the bit of my foot that's giving me most trouble. She'll do a proper assessment of the problem and I'll find out whether it's something I should (or could) still run on or whether, if it's ligament damage or a small stress fracture, I should be resting.

30th August 2008

I've been 'on the wagon' now for nearly a week and I haven't had any alcohol whatsoever since my last blowout at a friend's wedding last Sunday (when I got thoroughly pissed and bored everyone to death with tales of my derring-do). I finished off my last double Jim Beam Bourbon and ice on the stroke of Midnight. I know a week is not long but for me, it's a real achievement as I can't remember the last time I went even a couple of days without booze. I've been losing weight and it's not surprising as I've done exercise pretty much every day for a month or so now (with the odd deliberate rest-day) and I've been trying to push myself. When my foot has been hurting too much to run, I've been on the low-impact cross training machines which seem to squeeze even more sweat out of me than running. Once again, therefore, I'm sure that some of the weight loss is due to water loss but not all of it. My body's changing slightly and I don't think I'm imagining it. I'm down to 13 stones 12 pounds (about 88 kilos) and I've definitely lost some fat. Hopefully I'm replacing some of it with muscle and, although I would never have believed it possible, my thighs do seem slightly bigger. Of course, all of this might mean that I still fail in the marathon but just a little further round the course, but it's a step in the right direction. At the very least, I'd like to think that after this, I will be a little more moderate in my alcohol consumption (but I'll stop short of total abstention!) and I'll certainly keep up regular excercise.

Early September 2008

Laura the Physio reckons that I've completely buggered up the ligaments around my right ankle. I'm sure that this was done when I did a Military 'Round' parachute course in Holland last year (seeTexel Wings) but I don't say anything about this. She analyses the way in which I stand and run and concludes that I run on the outside of my feet and due to the ligament damage, my right foot is rolling over as I run. She suggests some padding in my right training shoe and also some strapping to strengthen the area around the ankle. She clearly knows what she's talking about and expertly applies the strapping which makes my foot feel much stronger even though my ankle is still hurting. Perhaps the reason the ankle is still hurting is that Laura has manipulated the area around the pain in order to break down what she describes as scar tissue and as she digs her thumbs into my foot, it's all I can do not to jump off the table. As she continues to inflict pain I casually remark that what she's doing is so painful that it's almost pleasurable. She looks at me in a rather guarded fashion, not entirely sure whether I'm joking and, no doubt, wondering if she's dealing with some sort of masochistic perv. I make an appointment to go back in a couple of days.

Laura suggests trying a run with the strapping on to see if it helps. I've done a 7 mile run this week and now I do a 10 mile one and the strapping does seem to help a little. I run a cold bath after the run and as I'm sat there in the freezing cold water, I wonder - not for the first time - what the hell I'm doing and why. I'm knackered and shivering; my penis has shrunk to such a small size that it looks like nouvelle cuisine and my balls have receded so far into my body cavity to escape the cold that I'm sure I can feel them in my throat! Are we having fun yet?? Why did I ever want to do this marathon? It's so tempting to pack the whole thing in but I'm getting so close now and I'll always want to know whether I could have done it so I may as well press on and find out.

I've still not had any alcohol to drink and I'm now down to 13 stones 10 pounds (87 kilos). Regrettably, it's now beginning to seem to me that the weight is coming off my face rather than my gut and I'm being told that I look a little gaunt. Maybe it's just worry that's making the pounds drop off!

Two weeks to go..... and I've got a sore throat....

7th September 2008

Less than 2 weeks to go and my throat is feeling very rough. It's probably from the running at night in the cold and damp and feels like it's going to come out in a cold but I'm overdosing on Vitamin C to keep it at bay. At least if I get a cold now, it's unlikely I'll get another to coincide with the race date but as I currently feel a little under the weather, I'm not training as hard so I'm now worried that I'll have slipped back too far by the 21st.

On Monday 8th, I'm going down to Mona on Anglesey and I intend to walk the course just to familiarise myself with the route and to see how steep the inclines are. It's one thing to look at a profile of the course elevation on a chart but altogether more helpful to see it for real with your own eyes.

On Monday 15th, I'm planning to do my 'big' training run of 20 miles. I wasn't going to do this initially but I've been reading quite a bit about the science of a marathon run and there is a specific purpose to the 20 mile pre-race training run. It seems that the Human body is not really designed to run for 3-4 hours plus as it's physiologically designed for 'fight or flight'. In other words, we're only really intended to be able to run in short bursts to out-run any threat. Glycogen apparently provides energy to the muscles and body and typically, a body has sufficient glycogen levels to allow someone to run up to 15 - 20 miles. After that, the body has to start looking for its energy elsewhere and that's when it starts breaking down fat and muscle protein. The body finds it much harder to generate energy from this 'reserve' source and fatigue develops. This, it seems, is what results in the phenomenon of long-distance runners hitting 'the Wall'. It is a physical condition rather than a mental one but the mental effects of the physical symptoms are very significant too. I've read that one way in which marathon runners prepare is to build their glycogen levels to a higher than normal level by doing a 20 mile run about 6 days before race day. This depletes the normal glycogen levels to rock bottom. They then follow a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for 3 days to reduce the levels still further and then for the last 3 days, they switch to a high carb diet (known as carb stacking). The high carbohydrate intake boosts glycogen levels and because the muscles have been starved of glycogen previously, they accumulate more glycogen than normal and in theory, this sets you up for 4 hour plus endurance levels which should take care of the 26.2 miles before the glycogen runs out. It's referred to as 'Glycogen Supercompensation' and if it works, it sounds like a damn good idea (and I'll try anything at this stage as I'm now getting worried and desperate in equal measure!) However, this tactic is not without its potential problems. First of all, the period over which the glycogen levels are drained and kept low can result in muscle wasting - especially the muscles which are going to be needed to carry me round the marathon course as its these muscles which will have had their glycogen levels reduced by the 20 mile training run. Secondly, when the glycogen levels are raised again, water bonds to the glycogen and this can result in feeling fuller and result in a little sluggishness. This could, of course, completely cancel out any positive effect of maintaining energy levels for longer if I'm having to use more energy initially to simply get going. Hmmm... it's tricky all this stuff isn't it?

One thing that even I can understand is that caffeine, as a legal stimulant, has been proven to improve performance and so it's been suggested that drinking 2 -3 cups of strong coffee about an hour before the race might help (but what will it do to my heart rate? I don't want to bugger up my ticker as the length of the race will put it under greater strain than usual anyway).

I've decided that I'll just run the race at a gentle pace and that I'll stop for 30 seconds at each water station rather than slosh water all over the place by trying to drink on the run. This will give my heart a very brief period of recovery and, if re-energised, I should theoretically be able to bound away at a faster than normal pace and make up the time lost whilst stationary. This 'walk - run' method is apparently used by a lot of runners these days. If I can maintain an average of 6 mph,assuming no injuries along the way, I should complete the course in just under 4 hours 30 minutes and this has now become what I hope is a realistic target. I saw a statistic recently which said that the average time for a male competitor in all marathons run in America in recent years has been 4 hours 32 minutes. If I can be better than average then that'll do me!

8th September 2008

Well, if time is not a consideration, I now know that I can do the 26.2 miles of a marathon as I walked the course today. I flew down to Mona early to get in before the RAF start operations at 09.00. I parked my aircraft next to Mona Flying Club's hangar and got changed into my running kit but, as I intended to walk most of the course rather than run, I put an extra top on and a jacket over the top and a pair of track-suit bottoms over my running shorts. I also took a small rucksack with sandwiches and drinks etc. Consequently, I'm not kitted out in exactly the way I will be on the day of the race but it's a lovely clear day with just a light breeze and I spark up the Garmin and set off walking at a brisk pace.

The intention is to see and familiarise myself with the course and judge the inclines so that there are no nasty surprises on the day. I don't think I've ever walked 26.2 miles before but I set off with my course map in hand and not a care in the World. This should be easy; if I'm going to run it in a couple of weeks, I ought to be able to walk it no problem.

I look at the extract of the Ordnance Survey Map and the height profile and although I'm definitely following the right road, what I'm seeing doesn't seem to fit with the height profile we've been given. According to the information, the first few miles is all downhill but I'm seeing gradual inclines which are uphill sections in my opinion. Bloody Hell! If these inclines are deemed so insignificant they're not even shown, how steep will the really pronounced inclines be? I press on and get into a stride but, as is now usual, my right foot begins to hurt almost immediately. I've got it strapped up but it's particularly tender this morning. I try to think happy thoughts and keep going not knowing whether to flex the foot to try to work out the pain, go flat-footed, or try to walk on my instep to stop the foot naturally bending out which streches the damaged ligaments. Whatever I try, I just can't get the pain to abate. Nevertheless, I keep going - just as I'll have to if it hurts on marathon day.

I'll cut a long story short - at 6 miles I think it's going to be a doddle. At 10 miles, I'm motivated to get to the halfway point of 13.1 miles in less than 3 hours as that will keep me within the course closing time of 6 hours. I manage to do the 13.1 in 2 hours 55 minutes but it's actually quite hard walking and I'm beginning to hurt in more places than just my foot now. Some of the uphill sections are quite steep but short; others are less severe but punishingly long. Despite my previous optimism, the downhill sections don't seem as plentiful as the uphill ones. At 15 miles I can feel blisters forming on both of my heels. I try jogging a bit but my foot's killing me. Walking is meaning that my feet are hitting the ground about twice as often as they would if I were running. I'm favouring my left leg again so I try to deliberately put more weight on my right one which results in a very unnatuaral gait. The pain in my foot is now radiating right up to my hip and my lower back. I'm 20 miles out in the boonies and, like a total wimp, I'm genuinely not sure I can make the last 6.2 miles. I feel the blister on my left heel pop as I'm walking and it's a perverse relief to have a pain to concentrate on which takes my mind off my right foot.

The last section is largely uphill and it's on the A55 which is full of speeding cars and there are no footpaths. I spend most of my time leaning into the brambles at the roadside to avoid becoming roadkill like the numerous hedgehogs and other little furry things (and one fly-encrusted, dead, black dog) that I've seen squashed or damaged on the road and in the undergrowth. I'm walking on the right-hand side of the road to face the oncoming traffic but that means I've got to lead with my knackered right foot as I step into the undergrowth to avoid the traffic. I've been here before and whilst not wanting to get clipped by a car, I also don't want to twist the foot and aggravate the problem. My progress is therefore painfully (literally!) slow. I see a sign saying 4 miles to Mona Showground and can't believe I've only travelled 2.2 miles.

I get back eventually but the whole walk/shuffle has taken 6 hours 34 minutes without stopping (except once for a pee and once to detour to a shop for some water as I'd run out). I even had my sandwiches on the move but now I'm absolutely fucked! I'm hurting everywhere, my blisters have both burst, I think I'm going to lose the toenail on the big toe on my left foot (as it's gone completely black as it's obviously been pressing on my trainer and I had to take out the insole at about the 17 mile mark). To cap it all, the hamstring behind my right knee is now hurting too and I can only put this down to dancing in and out of the bushes to avoid traffic and walking unevenly to protect the foot. I'm a complete wreck and it's all I can do to fly home. My confidence has taken a real battering and I'm not sure my various pulls and aches will have come close to healing by next week when I had intended to do my 20 mile run. My sore throat is coming out in a full-blown cold and cough and I have real doubts whether I can do this race even in 5 hours as there is now a big psychological barrier there. I have just realised how far 26.2 miles actually is - it defies the laws of mathematics as it's not just two 13.1 mile runs; believe me, the second half is much, much longer! Ironically, the reconnoitre which was supposed to give me an advantage has left me physically impaired and mentally uncertain. I have nothing but admiration for the guys who run these races as I finally know how big a challenge it actually is. I'm just not sure if I can be one of them....

15th September 2008

I'm supposed to do a 20 mile run today - 6 days before the race - but I just can't do it. My cold has turned into a really nasty cough and last week I'm sure I had a chest infection as I was coughing up all sorts of unmentionables, I had a temperature and my lungs and upper chest were burning. I even had a day off work as I felt so crappy. I'm eventually feeling a little better but my lungs are really tight and I keep having fits of coughing. It's taking me a long time to shake this off which can only be due to my body's defences being weakened as I was pushing myself a little too hard. I reckon my lung capacity must be that of a two year old at the moment and my training for the last week since I walked the course has been non-existent. Everyone is telling me I shouldn't be doing this marathon and intellectually, I know they're right but emotionally, I still want to have a go. If I limp round in 6 hours, at least I'll have done it (although not gracefully). At least my blisters are healing up and I've taken a knife to the big toe area of my left training shoe to create a kind of toe-shaped flap to ease the pressure on my black nail which is very uncomfortable but which will be quite painful if it detaches. My running shoes are useless after this race but I'll probably never use them again anyway as I'm convinced that with all the running, my feet have gotten bigger and I've gone up a shoe size. It would be foolish to think about getting a new pair at this late stage so I've improvised. I'll just have to hope it's not raining on the day as the flap will let water in and then... more blisters! I must have been fucking bonkers to get myself involved in this and I just want it to be over now so I can think, talk and dream about something else.

17th September 2008

Four days to go and I've still got a bad cough and I'm totally congested. Arrrrgh!!!! I'm running out of time!

20th September 15.00 - (race commences 10.00 on 21st)

Less than 24 hours to go. I wonder what state I'll be in this time tomorrow? Will I still be running or will I have washed out? There was even a time when I expected to have finished well within 5 hours, but not any more - if I even finish, it'll be a miracle. I wish the race was a week away to give me a little more time to recover as I've still got a really bad cough and I'm slightly out of breath when I go upstairs. I'm actually getting quite worried about the whole thing now as I know it would be difficult enough under normal conditions but if I'm a bit unwell, the magnitude of the task becomes even more daunting. I can only hope that when I get running tomorrow and get warmed up, the internally generated heat will open up my lungs a bit. If not, there's no doubt I'm going to fail. I know what I'm doing is daft in my present condition but I've backed myself into a corner so I have to have a go. The old saying about someone's mouth writing cheques that their body can't cash springs to mind. Will I ever learn...???

21st September 2008 09.45

I've had a sleepless night at a hotel on Anglesey about 3 miles from the start line of the marathon. I have porridge with sugar for breakfast, 3 cups of strong black coffee, some Lucozade Sport, a banana and some raisins. I've decided I hate porridge but it's slow-burn carbs so I have the full bowl. I've strapped up my right foot as best I can but I'm now getting used to it hurting pretty much all the time anyway. I've also taped up my black toenail as I don't want it coming off. My colleague Mark (who I'm blaming for this whole show) has been staying at the same hotel and we arrange a taxi for 08.00. We drive to RAF Mona and stow most of our gear in the Saratoga which I'd parked right across the road from the marathon site at Mona Flying club when we flew down yesterday.

We walk across the road to Angelsey Showground and we're issued with our race numbers and timing chips. The chip has to be attached to your shoelaces as the race is electronically timed and records the time over the start line and also (if I finish) over the finish line. The registration hall looks like a meeting of anorexics anonymous - there's not an ounce of fat in sight (unless I look in a mirror). Some of these people have obviously run numerous marathons before (no silly costumes here as they're all deadly serious) and not for the first time, a fear rises up in me - not that I won't finish, but that I'll finish dead last! I think I'd actually sooner be dead than last but that's just the macho bullshit talking; what I really want is to finish without permanently damaging myself and in a good time. As far as damaging myself is concerned I read recently that people who are first-time marathon runners who haven't been knocking up 100 miles a week during training (which I certainly haven't) are in danger of developing a permanent heart arrhythmia and I definitely don't want that as I don't want to fail my Class 1 flying medical just for one race. Also, the way I'm coughing and the tightness in my chest don't bode well for a good time and I have to joke with a number of other competitors that " I must give up smoking soon" as I'm coughing so much at the start line that people are beginning to stare.

Paul pre-race. Looking more confident than I feel.

21st September - 14.46

Well, I'm finished and against even my own expectations, I've completed the course, not come last and recieved my finishers medal. I don't know what I feel now... a sense of achievement perhaps but I suppose mainly relief. At the finish line, once your time is registered (it's really pleasing to hear the "beep, beep" as you go over the line and know your time's been recorded) they cut the timing chip off my shoelaces and I'm given the medal, a bottle of water and a Mars bar. That Mars bar provided a welcome energy boost. I'm in reasonably good shape but begin to stiffen up almost immediately and I can't find Mark who's got all my warm clothes in his rucksack. My phone is in the aircraft so I can't ring him and I wander around looking for him for a while getting colder and colder and more and more stiff. I eventually go back to the registration hall and get some vegetable soup and a banana which are provided free to the competitors. There are lots of runners stiffening up like me and they're staggering around and walking like they've got a broom handle shoved up their arses. It looks like the filmset of Night of the Living Dead and I realise I'm one of the extras! Joking apart, if I don't get warm soon, I'm going to be ill and if I stiffen up any more, I don't even think I'll be able to climb into the Saratoga, let alone fly it back to Blackpool. Overall I feel fine but my legs are rebelling and I don't think I can walk across to the airfield. I've just done 26.2 miles but I can't walk the extra half mile so I improvise and blag a lift in a police van. I explain my situation to a bunch of coppers in a police van who look as though they're getting ready to leave and, on the basis that I will have to rule myself medically unfit to fly if I stiffen up any more, they very kindly offer to drive me back to my Saratoga. The Chief Flying Instructor at Mona Flying Club nearly shits himself when he sees the cops turning up but his anxiety turns to curiosity when he sees me tumble out of the van being waved off by a dozen Bobbies. I get some clothes out of the aircraft, ring home, get a coffee at the airfield clubhouse and prep the aircraft for the return journey. Mark eventually turns up and we get airborne. We're back at Blackpool for 17.30.

As far as the race itself is concerned, I'd set off reasonably well and my time to the half-marathon point of 13.1 miles was 1 hour 58 minutes which I was quite pleased with. If I'd been able to reproduce that over the second half, I'd have been in within 4 hours but I knew that was never going to happen. As I've mentioned before, the second half is much longer than the first and the Anglesey Marathon is significantly uphill for much of the back end of the course. I was at 20 miles at not much after 3 hours so I would have been in within say 4 hours 15 minutes if I'd been able to maintain about 6 mph but the last part of the course is a real bastard and my average speed on the last leg must have been close to 0mph so my time was eventually 4 hours 46 minutes. Not a brilliant time but not bad for an old guy with the first stages of TB! Also, Mark (who was off like a whippet) came in at 4hours 30minutes so as he's only 36 I feel there's no shame in coming in only 16 minutes behind him particularly as I deliberately eased off towards the end of the race and was quite happy to come home in one piece at any time under 5 hours. I'm convinced Mark could do less than 4 hours on a flat city marathon course and I'm comforted by the thought that my time would undoubtedly be better too.

The race itself is an interesting experience and a significant test of willpower. If I hit 'the Wall' I'm sure it was at about 12 miles as the desire to give up from there all the way to the end of the race was very, very strong indeed. The fact that I started flagging so early could be due to the fact that I was under-par health-wise and also that we had a cloudless sky and a even a number of the seasoned runners were complaining about the heat. The only way to carry on is to just keep bashing away and to think about something else. I thought about my Wife and my two Sons, I thought about not wanting to let friends or myself down, I thought about all manner of things but most of all, I thought about Clare Whittle. I've known Clare for a number of years and she was a lovely, lively, intelligent, caring young woman. Tragically, she passed away on 3rd September from a brain tumour which had been diagnosed only days before her death. Her passing was a tremendous shock to everyone and I cannot even begin to imagine how her Parents and her Sister are coping with her loss. Today, the day of the Marathon, would have been her 28th Birthday. It just doesn't seem fair (See Remembering Clare on Facebook). I am very much aware that my involvement in this marathon is selfish, trivial and frivolous when compared to tragic events such as this. The least I can do is dedicate my run to Clare. With that in mind, I wish I'd done better.

I'm not smiling - I'm grimacing in pain! Post-race with my hard-earned medal. Not much for all that effort.

Running this marathon is without doubt the hardest thing I've ever done. I won't be doing another one. But a triathalon.......??

Marathon medal Mark & Paul with finishers medals



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