The Melbourne Marathon: Funless and Harshful

The first person to run a marathon was a Greek lad by the name of Philippides in 490BC. The battle-worn boy ran the forty or so kilometres through the Greek countryside to deliver a message to the good people of Athens about a home side victory against the pernicious Persians. He then promptly carked it. As far as I’m concerned this is the correct response to running a marathon.

But, as is often the case, I’m wrong. I watched a number of the good citizens of Melbourne (among them my son Matt and his friend Ben) run the forty two km Melbourne Marathon. They leapt, lunged, limped and lumbered to the finishing line. I didn’t witness anyone imitate the time-honoured heroics of Philippides when they crossed the line by clutching their breast and crashing to the ground in a paroxysm of exhaustion. So I can only assume that Philippides or ‘Unlucky Phil’ to his friends, was underdone.

It is a gruelling event and to be perfectly truthful, I can’t believe people do it. Bloody good show. Some of the effects of the race on your body are; suffering a loss of up to two centimetres from your height (temporary), due to deficiency of fluid between intervertebral discs of the spine, loss of toe nails from the pounding of small blood vessels in the foot and lack of oxygen rich blood cells, sniffles from increased air flow, cramps, blisters, abrasions and chaffing. Oh and in Philippides case there’s the death thing.

The good news is that your hearing will improve with increased circulation to the ear. And you will be about two to five kilograms lighter. (Although given most marathoners are miniscule this may be moved to the bad news category.)

But on the plus side (not plus size) it is a definite advantage to be a skinny type (so back into the good news list.) The amazing Kenyans of the Rift Valley dominate long distance running. A new study has revealed that of the young, active Kenyans who are marked as potential long distance runners, the skinny ones are the ones who have the highest ability to maximise the amount of oxygen during intense exercise or VO 2 max.  (And I was convinced VO 2 max was a new line from Valvoline.)

Even if you are not a stick figure there are marathon training programs that will guide you through the whole horrendous process and enable you to compete. They provide information like working up to the distance, keeping up the work rate and watching what you eat and drink (I do watch what I eat – it’s great to see the whole jelly cupcake go under my nose.)

However some runners dismiss these conventional wisdoms and do just fine. A method, let’s call it the Ben McKenna Method would have you visiting the Oktoberfest in Munich shortly before boarding an international flight to Melbourne and having a ‘light’ run in preparation for the ‘big one.’ It worked for him last year. He got to the finish line and came back for more this year. But kids, I wouldn’t try it at home.

Matt’s first marathon preparation two years ago similarly flouted long distance running protocols, given that he undertook the journey with a dodgy hip. Exhibiting his proud working class credentials by sporting his threadbare Yakka work shorts was handicap enough. But the major hindrance was definitely the dicky, clicky hip.  I know a crook hip can be tiresome when you are lounging on the sofa like a life size Paddington Bear, but pounding on it for forty two thousand metres sounds like the most awful excruciazating. (I know that’s not a word, but it works for me.)

It says a lot about human endurance and it told me a lot about Matt’s. There is a difference between endurance and living. Some of us may live a little, and at some time in our lives most of us will be made to endure. We will battle to keep going. The pounding on the hard road of life will dominate our wellbeing. And it will be enough that we survive. We don’t have to revel in it or like it. But the ability of humans to tolerate and possibly conquer suffering is a testament to the human spirit.

It is uniquely human to choose to test your endurance or take on a challenge for no other reason than, “Because it’s there” as the great climber George Mallory claimed. I don’t see Jack practising to be a faster or stronger dog out in the backyard, just to be his better dog self. (Although he is perfect as he is.)

Of his endeavours on the running track Matt said that you “Just get out there and hurt.” Ernest Hemingway may have sat at the typewriter and bled, but all those runners who ran the marathon, or the half marathon, or the ten kilometres or the five point seven kilometres risked real blood.

Congrats to the winners Thomas Do Canto and Virginia Moloney but more importantly congrats to all whose those who slogged it out for the sake of it. Mallory asked the question “Have we vanquished an enemy?” and answered “None but ourselves.” So to all you runners, you rose to the occasion, conquered your doubts and bettered yourselves. And now you can all do it all again next year. That’s something that poor old Philippides didn’t get to do.

Jess, Matt, Ben and Chris. Champs
Melbourne Marathon spectator.

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