Friday, September 17, 2010

Run, Forrest! Run!

Back in February I told you about this. This Sunday it finally takes place. Seven months of training, of early morning runs in all kinds of weather with all kinds of strange chafing, aching joints and weary bones comes to a head and I will run 13 miles  - or aim to run, let's not count chickens - around the northern town which serves as my ancestral home, or one of them at least, along with 54,000 other people.

I don't get too nervous about many things these days. In a few hours time I am due to give a talk at the Reading Festival of Crime Fiction (Reading being a town approximately 20 miles out of London, pronounced to rhyme with bedding, rather than the pastime that brings us all here) about crime fiction and genealogy, and I'm not the slightest bit apprehensive. Yet whenever I think about lining up on Sunday morning, my stomach starts to do the fandango.

Guy Clark - makes great running music
I suppose it's the entry into the unknown. The last time I ran a race was at primary school in 1983. While I have attended various gyms, and then let my membership lapse, I've never really been fit since I was a teenager. Save three runs, all my training has been done on my own, with only my Ipod and its music for company (Guy Clark makes great running music - who would have thought that?) The majority of it has been done by the Thames or in the parks of London, whereas the race is run around Newcastle, a place I haven't visited for more than a decade. Sometimes on my training runs I have felt exceptional strong; then there have been times when only a mile or so in I've felt like my running shoes have been fitted with lead weights and the roads are made of treacle. The furthest I have run in training is a little over 12 miles. I simply have no idea what to expect, from the race, the lie of the land, the weather, or my body. A bad night's sleep, the onset of a cold, or some unseasonally warm weather and the race could become very hard going indeed.

It's quite a familiar feeling, akin to the one I get when I've finished the draft of a book, which I know I've worked hard on. You hand in the manuscript, reasonably happy (or email it in, as is the norm these days) and then start thinking and worrying and doubting. Should I have given it another read through? Was that really the best choice of first sentence? Was that really the best choice of first word? And that ending, does it really work? There follows a tortuous silence until your editor gets in touch. There used to be a TV Advert in the UK for Del Monte, who made fruit juice. An Italian farmer lovingly tends his oranges. A helicopter lands, out of which steps a tall, dignified man in a white suit and panama hat. The farmer and his wife look on nervously as the suited man tastes the orange. A horrible pause follows. Then the man nods his head. The farmer runs, arms outstretched, and shouts: 'The Man from Del Monte...He. Say. Yes!' In celebration the oranges behind leapt from the tree with a great shout of joy.

Each time I hand in the draft of a book, I think of the Man from Del Monte. And, with the Great North Run approaching, I've been thinking about it more and more, the difference being this time that the Man from Del Monte isn't another person, like an editor or reviewer, it's my own body. I'm hoping for a resounding yes.

One last point before go and load up on carbs (beer is a carb, right?). I keep referring to the Great North Run as a race. The fact is, I won't be racing anyone. My aim is to finish, enjoy the sense of personal achievement, and ensure all the money we've raised  - I'm running with two of my sisters and one brother-in-law - goes to our chosen charity, Breast Cancer Care. However, I did learn the other day that Sting is running the race. There are few people in the world I find more po-faced and dull than old Sting - plus his music truly sucks  - so if I encounter him on the final straight I might choose, as one British athletics commentator said of Cuban runner Alberot Juanterena as he sped away on the last bend, to 'open my legs and show my class.' I doubt I'll catch him though. Sting is famously capable of six hour tantric sex sessions. Er, I'm not (He's right. He's not - Dan's wife.)


Dan - Friday


  1. I'll be running with you in spirit, Dan, although probably far behind you. A great experience, and I'd take it any day over a six-hour tantric sex session with Sting. But then I'd take a migraine over a six-hour tantric sex session with Sting.

    And I also have to say that it tells me something about Sting that he's "famously" capable of, etc. etc. And that it confirms a conclusion I'd actually already formed.

  2. Dan, congratulations for taking on the challenge. As someone who can barely walk around the block, I admire your determination and your commitment.

    On the Monday nearest to April 19th, Boston holds the oldest marathon race in the United States. Thousands of people come into the city to run. The average race has 20,000 registered participants, those who have qualifying times from other marathons. That number can be doubled by all those runners who take off after the registered runners.

    In the strictest sense, the race ends a little over two hours after its start when one of the elite runners, usually someone from Kenya or Ethiopia, steps gracefully over the finish line 26 miles later. They usually aren't breathing hard. Some of the non-registered runners crawl, literally, over the finish line after midnight.

    Approximately, 500,000 people stand along the course to watch the race. Half a million people plus all those who watch it on TV get to see what happens to the human body as it is running 26.22 miles. It is not pretty. But runners do it for the sake of doing it, to be able to say they crossed the finish line in Copley Square.

    There are two home town heroes who get applauded all along the route. Dick and Rick Hoyt are a father ans son team who have run the Marathon for 27 years. I don't know if they ran last year, but they did run in 2009. Dick, the father, is 68; Rick is 47. Rick has cerebral palsy; Dick pushes Rick's wheelchair along the course. They have posted times better than 90% of the runners.

    The elite runners do it for money in different sense than you do, Dan. First place finishers in the male and female divisions win $150,000.00.

    If the race isn't too early in Newcastle, I'll be cheering you on from across the pond.

    (There is a town in Massachusetts called Reading and we know it rhymes with bedding).

    Yrsa, the field of runners was much smaller for the April 2010 race because the volcano had grounded the planes in Europe. The Africans made it and they won.


  3. Thanks everyone. The Man from del Monte he said Yes. I managed to finish with too many problems. Or chafing. It was actually pretty good fun. I may even do it again...