Martin Fletcher is one of the people running for Livability in the London Marathon this year. He shares his story.
It is Sunday afternoon. I am lying full length on my sitting room sofa. I am reading an article in The Sunday Times magazine that says marathon running can cause arthritis, atrial fibrillation, kidney injury, inflamed iliotibial bands (whatever they may be), and bleeding nipples. Is that all, I think?
Right now my entire body feels like it has been run over by a car, or dropped from a very high building, or suffered a 12-round pummeling from a champion heavyweight boxer. I am lying down because I am completely spent. My legs seem no longer to respond to commands from my brain. To walk to the kitchen to make a cup of tea would be all but impossible, so I appeal to my long-suffering wife to make one for me.
There is a good reason for my debilitation. This morning, according to my newly-acquired tom tom, I ran 17.61 kilometres. That is further than I have ever run in my life before. Unfortunately it is also 24.58 kilometres short of what I will have to run in April’s London Marathon. Right now, I reckon I have a greater chance of becoming England’s next king than doing that.
I blame my son, Barney, for putting me in this position. I was offered two places in the marathon by a young friend who works for Livability. “I’ll do it if you do it,” I said to Barney, never expecting him to say yes. To my surprise he did, and in that instant I was snared, though to be honest I had no inkling of the magnitude of the challenge I had taken on.
I am 61. I play squash and tennis. I bike and ski. I am reasonably fit for my age, and I rather arrogantly believed that running a marathon would not be a problem provided that a) I went slow enough and b) I was prepared to spend enough hours slogging along the wet, cold streets of wintry London.
Our father-son venture started rather well, at least from my point of view. We entered a five kilometre Saturday morning run in our local park. I managed to complete that quite easily, beating Barney and coming second in the 60-64 age bracket with a time of 26 minutes. In retrospect, I strongly suspect that there were only two runners in that bracket.
I began going to the gym, and one evening shortly before Christmas I entered a 10 kilometre run-in-the-dark in Battersea Park. That is where I first became conscious of my limitations. Half way through, my right knee began aching. By the time I limped across the finishing line it was acutely painful. The idea of running four times that distance filled me with horror.
After Christmas Barney finally began to train seriously, rising at 6.00am and running before work. He proposed Sunday runs, increasing our distance by 2.5 kilometres each week. The first one was 12.5 kilometres, and by the end of it both my knees were in excruciatingly pain.
I invested in expensive new running shoes and a knee support, and began doing knee strengthening exercises at the gym. The second Sunday we ran 15 kilometres, but by the end my knees were every bit as painful and I was utterly exhausted. Today we did 17.6, but Barney left me way behind as I completed the last ten or so at a pace so slow that I could sense the smirks of the Sunday strollers as they ambled past me.
By the end it was more of a shuffle than a run, a triumph of mind over body. But I did it. I got home, just, and I’m not yet ready to abandon what is proving to be by far the hardest physical test of my life. Lying here on the sofa, I’m also drawing inspiration from another article in the newspaper. I read with unbridled admiration that firemen from Paddington who fought the Grenfell Tower blaze are not just training to run the marathon.They are training to do so in their full fire-fighting kit and breathing apparatus.
Find out more about running the London Marathon with Livability here.