Sunday, April 22, 2007

Watching Not Running

I sat out this year's London Marathon. Or, at least, didn't run it but did spend several hours on my feet watching it. I missed out mostly because I tore the meniscus in my left knee a couple of months ago and I'm still unable to run. Watching right at the finish line, for the first time ever, I wanted very much to be running it. I watched the mini-marathon finishers, the wheelchair racers (1:30:49 - I couldn't cycle the course that quickly), the first ladies (impressive time, boding very well for Beijing, of 2:20:38) and then the men. What stunned me was the huge gaps between runners. Once the first 3 or 4 were past, the gaps before the next were far longer than I'd expected. I always knew it was a big deal to do sub 2:30, even sub 3:00, but when you see the finishers come home, you really see how rare an achievement it is. The gap from first place to 20th place is 18 minutes; from first place to 100th, it's 30 minutes. I hadn't realised just how rare sub 2 1/2 hours is - when you run from the back of the pack with everyone ahead of you, you don't get to see anybody that fast after all. By 2:45, there were barely 250 runners home and 34,000 still to come. By 3 hours, there were still only 847 home. The hot weather probably had something to do with it, slowing some folks down and causing more than a few to drop out - last year, a rainy, cold day, 1234 made it home in under 3 hours. I watched as several runners, even those finishing well under 3 hours, collapsed with just yards to go - many were carried over by the race marshalls, many more by their fellow runners. One, completely overcome and looking very, very ill, was stretchered off with 25 yards to go - no medal despite being so close. The crowd at the finish line went wild every time someone arrived who looked like they wouldn't make it. You see the faces of the runners as they get near the finish line. Most are showing the signs of pain and suffering - rictus grins, awkward running motions, heads bouncing around. Some are rock steady and look like they're waiting for the bell telling them to go round again. But, most suffer. In some ways that's reassuring; even the folks running 2h 30m feel the pain of a marathon run. By the time the clock's on 4 hours, the fancy dress runners are coming home, their are bigger smiles, waves to the crowd and then huge signs of relief as they cross the line. Awesome day. Well done to everyone who made it home; special well dones to all those who hit their target time on a day when I saw many people I know miss their best by 45 minutes or more. And congratulations to all those who raised money for charity. Something like £50 million was raised this year.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:39 pm

    What I find most amazing about marathons is the way the physiology of the runners has seemed to change with technology, and correct me if I'm wrong, I'm sure you will.

    Take the ridiculously gifted and hard working Paula Radcliffe for instance, (since I've seen her run, and she's a stick insect - no offence intended, but she is.)

    It seems to me, that thirty years ago, marathon runners used to have to rely on fat reserves to get them round the last few miles, and so they had to train their bodies to metabolise it on the fly.

    It seems these days that with these modern gels you no longer burn fat, and as such, marathon runners no longer need to carry any. Thus Marathon Runners are thinner framed than once they were.

    This means that times have come down. Paula's therefore scored some great times, but, would she have been the great she is, had there been no gels? I just don't know.

    Of course it's academic for a fat lump such as myself, she was finished the Great North Run before I'd done six or seven miles. About the only competition I could beat her in is a carrying competition. I bet I could carry her further than she could carry me.


    Of course I don't really run anywhere because I too had my meniscus chopped out, and a bit of cartilege, so I don't know.

    Ian.

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