IN precisely 38 days from now, I will be lining up for the start of the 2014 Brighton Marathon.
With just three half-marathons under my belt, and no small amount of fear in my heart, I shall be pounding the pavements for 26.2 miles to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society.
When soon-to-be marathoners bring up their forthcoming baptism of sweat, chafed legs and knackered knees, the normal reaction tends to vary between muted admiration and a bemused look, before the follow-up question: “Why the hell would you want to do that?”
Despite the notorious difficulty of completing the marathon, a distance three miles longer than the entire length of the Northern line (High Barnet-Morden), there are many reasons to take on this seemingly insurmountable challenge.
For me, like so many runners, it’s personal – my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago, a day I can still remember vividly, and one I’ll never forget. Dementia exists for most people in a vacuum, only sucking in those affected by it, but the truth is that this debilitating, cruel disease can pounce on anyone, at any time.
My mum’s particular form of dementia is early-onset Alzheimer’s, the hardest of all to take, because it strikes right at the moment when, as someone who has worked extremely hard all her life, she ought to be able to sit back and relax a little, perhaps see the world, celebrate being mortgage-free, or just live how she always wanted to, before work and responsibility got in the way.
Having watched my nan struggle to remember my name and face when, in her final years, she succumbed to the ravages of dementia, I am determined to enjoy every moment I have with my mum, a person I admire more than she will ever know.
It is at times like this that, when faced with a disease which seems all-consuming, help is often at hand. Although my family are yet to use the services of Alzheimer’s Society, I know that in years to come this charity will be at the forefront of my mum’s life, and that is why I was never going to run for anyone else.
A marathon is three miles longer than the entire length of the Northern line (High Barnet-Morden)
Back in December, Alzheimer’s Society called for dementia research funding to be increased seven-fold amid the announcement that Prime Minister David Cameron had pledged to double Britain’s spending on finding a “cure” for the disease to £132million by 2025.
While the increased focus on dementia is welcome, this figure is dwarfed by spending on cancer, and charities such as Alzheimer’s Society are torn between providing care for families and sufferers now, and trying to battle the disease in the longer term.
Although one, ten, a hundred or even a thousand runners will not change this overnight, the same rings true for the myriad of other worthy causes that motivate perfectly sensible, logical, normal individuals to sign up for what will almost certainly be the longest run of their lives. The day itself, however, is actually a very small part of the rather large commitment that is running a marathon.
Unless you are grinning imbeciles Jedward, who reportedly ran the Los Angeles Marathon without putting any miles in at all beforehand, a mountain of training must take place before you feel ready, and I doubt anyone really ever does, to spend three, four or five hours lifting one foot while the other touches the ground at some sort of speed.
Not only this, but the prospect of spending, as my training guide requires, six days a week doing some form of exercise, is quite a shock to the system, especially if that system is normally tired and grumpy, like mine.
Training? On a Saturday? When I could be lounging in front of Soccer Saturday mindlessly eating crisps? Nah.
Becoming a marathoner even requires you to learn a whole new vocabulary: fartlek (pardon?), interval running, aerobic cross-training, threshold, continuous hills and strength and conditioning. It’s a far cry from my favourite words and phrases, such as “chocolate”, “fancy a pint?” and “yeah, let’s get chips”.
Having said that, those south of the river are blessed with stunning views and leafy parks in which to perspire and, in my case, blast out a cringeworthy running playlist through headphones that certainly aren’t “noise cancelling”, which can lead to some odd looks when Calvin Harris’ “I Need Your Love” comes on shuffle.
Battersea Park, for instance, is to running what St Paul’s Cathedral is to, er, cathedrals. As in, pretty good. It also happens to be the number one destination for seemingly thousands of runners, and is packed with what a friend described as “lycra-clad t****” from morning until night.
Yesterday I smashed through the 20-mile “wall”, after dodging tourists and sightseers along what felt like the entire length of the Thames Path, and eventually clocked 21 miles, a mere 5.2 short of the total I will have to achieve just over a month from now.
I now have one long run remaining before the big day, to be followed by a succession of (still long), but ever-decreasing distances.
Suffice to say, were it not for my stubborn determination, which is to blame for me signing up for this stupid thing in the first place, I might have given up and joined the hundreds of city workers lunching on the South Bank.
That said, whenever I put on my extremely unfashionable running gear, I think about why I’m doing this, and who it’s really all about. My dad ran the 1988 Mars (an even less appropriate sponsor than Flora spread) London Marathon in three hours and 57 minutes.
I’ve no doubt that, had he known back then, he would have been running for the same cause I am, because he has handled my mum’s illness in the most incredible, brave and selfless way, and keeps our family going single-handedly.
But either way, I want to make both he and my mum proud.
And hopefully beat his time.
Some extremely generous people have sponsored me so far, among them far too many kind-hearted workmates (not to mention my sister’s wonderful friends) to thank on here, but I still have another £360 to raise over the next few weeks.
If you would like to donate to a wonderful charity, you can do so by visiting my JustGiving page.
Oh, and the less said about the chafing, the better.
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