But the training has its benefits. I’m leaner and stronger in marathon season than at any other time of the year.
While my athleticism is still less Mo Farah and more Moe from the Three Stooges, my health and mental wellbeing are the best they have been.
The original marathoner, Greek soldier, Pheidippides, would wince at the sight of someone as tall, gangly and awkward as I am running the distance that wrote him into folklore.
In 490 BC, he ran between the towns of Marathon and Athens, delivering word of a victory for his people over the Persians.
He then collapsed and died.
Fancy, cushioned running shoes and modern training schedules mean I’m just about alive at the end of each race.
The finish line of a marathon is like an Embarrassing Bodies audition. Grimacing faces signify weary souls with swollen knees and ankles, chafed nipples and thighs, queasy stomachs from too many energy gels, red eyes from sweat and dust, blood blisters and black toenails.
All these are just minor ailments, because the returns of training are exponential to general health.
Long-distance running can be life-changing and I can write that without feeling the least bit twee.
It changed mine.
In my mid-20s, I hit a fitness slump.
I’d always played soccer, but due to irregular working hours in my job, I wasn’t making all the training sessions.
I couldn’t commit to being at a certain place at a time determined to suit the team.
Instead, procrastination became my pastime.
I have a skinny constitution, so weight has never been a problem for me, but my work/life balance was off-kilter and it left me feeling sluggish and tired.
I needed to make a change and, even though I had never run before, I started because it was something I could do on my own schedule.
It was bloody difficult at first. The thought of just running and running was hard to comprehend. I was slow and couldn’t get any sort of consistent rhythm.
However, I stuck at it and, one day, I got what is known as ‘runner’s high’.
My body adapted and everything just clicked. I was able to push harder and longer.
A few months later, I did my first 10K race and I was hooked. I’ve never looked back.
Injuries, illness and fatigue are all inevitable, because the body is going through the stages of peak fitness (it’s not that your lifestyle is wrong).
There is a time, a couple of weeks before a marathon, when you hit the right level of training.
You’re not even running any more — you’re gliding — and you don’t have to think about it. It’s the most natural thing in the world and a hugely satisfying feeling.
You’ll know it when it happens and will thank yourself for the self-inflicted bodily harm.
- Next week, Robert writes about the mental battle before, and during, the race