The email landed stealthily on December 21st last, and I thought initially it might be an elaborate and oddly specific attempt to part me from my banking details. No such luck. My registration for the postponed 2020 Cork City Marathon, which had seen me included in the running for the similarly deferred 2021 race, had now rolled over to 2022. Five and a half months’ time, to be precise. Ages. And Christmas to get through first. Sure wasn’t my New Year’s resolution ready-made for me?
Two years ago, I jogged ten kilometres to the office four days a week and usually spent a good portion of my Saturday mornings running laps of the Phoenix Park. By March 2020 I was covering twenty-five kilometres in an outing and well on course to put manners on twenty-six and a bit miles of Rebel County road come the following June. Then there was that global pandemic. On the scale of miserable consequences wrought by Covid-19, rendering me a sedentary, exercise-shy glutton isn’t particularly remarkable, but those two housebound years subsisting on takeaways probably weren’t the best preparation for a marathon.
Christmas gave way to January, as it usually does, and I started to dip my toe in the running again. I had always found exercise a fantastic aid in enabling me to keep some control over my anxieties, but the prospect of this marathon was causing me nothing but panic. I decided to consult the internet for reassurance, but my initial searches served only to remind me of the story of Pheidippides, the first ever marathon runner. I was surprised to read that he was roughly my age when he undertook that fateful trot back to Athens to relay the news of victory in the Battle of Marathon. If he waited until he was in his forties to do it, then there might be hope for me yet. Though he probably hadn’t spent thirty-seven and a half hours a week for the previous two years lying on his couch with a laptop on his knee, slaving away at the day job. Or had every pizza place in the Peloponnese on speed dial.
Alas, poor old Pheidippides never got the chance to improve on the world record time he set on his run to Athens. On arrival, he passed on his message and promptly collapsed dead. At least he didn’t have to go around bothering friends, family and colleagues for charity donations they’d pledged on the condition he went the distance. In fairness, he’d been following an unorthodox training programme. He’d run two hundred and forty kilometres each way to Sparta in the days before the battle and conversed with a deity, Pan, on the way back. Pan’s great gift to the modern world has been to lend his name to ‘panic’, the state of mind into which one is thrown when one reminds oneself that one has signed up for a marathon.
Anyway, I managed a run of fifteen kilometres this week. My right foot cramped up to the point where the toes were spread out like a waving hand emoji, but I got around. I’ll aim to get a bit closer to my target next week, and closer again the week after that. I’ll let you know how I’m getting on. If anybody has any suggestions about a charitable cause I could emotionally blackmail people into donating towards by finishing this thing, please let me know in the comments below.