Am I a runner? Hardly. I mean, I would never call myself that. But not that long ago I found myself bounding over the finish line of a 10k in Austin, dressed in a Scooby Doo costume. At which point I turned, ready to greet and embrace Shaggy as he crossed the line, only to instead watch him stumble towards the barrier, double over, and vomit on the edge of the street.
I had the sudden thought then that this was a part of who I am. Running for the sake of it, and loving it. Especially considering my friend had trained for a month prior to this race, and I’d been for a jog with my sister the day before.
It all started five years ago. Watching the 2008 London Marathon. I was with my grandparents in the Cotswolds and my grandfather had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. Call it a powerful moment. And it put the idea in my head, an idea that, sure, had flickered there before, but never with any clarity. But after that I was set on it. I missed out on the lottery to run the following marathon, so started blitzing charities with applications to join their teams. And was eventually accepted by the charity Children with Leukemia. They denied me though with my application to run in a Mr Happy costume. But I was in. So I started training. At the beginning of January. For a marathon in April. I think a 5k had been my longest distance up to that point.
Here’s the kicker though. I loved it. I was living in Oxford at the time, waking up early and running in the dark, through sleet more often than not, and enjoying every minute of it. I found that runner’s high very early on in the game. It’s quite magical really. To be pushing, with your lungs burning as you breathe the frigid air, steam rising from you, muscles burning… and to then find yourself suddenly free. Suddenly on a different plane to all those mortals wearily putting one foot in front of the other.
That’s what the marathon was like. Feet hardly touching the ground, floating through the crowds, savoring every minute. Except for a tough point at about mile 24, when the sadists who design the course have all the runners go through a long tunnel, silent except for the breathing and footfalls of those around you, cut off suddenly from the world outside. But after emerging once more into sunlight, and hearing the shouts and cheers of the crowd lining the street again, that feeling of having conquered the world reappeared.
I crossed the finish line, wearing my grandad’s flatcap and a smile on my face, graciously accepted my medal for completion, and then had my legs seize up to the point of barely being able to walk. Some friends found me sprawled out on a blanket at the Children with Leukemia way station and helped me stumble to the Tube for the journey home.
But the flying had happened. And forever now, when I want to find that feeling, I know where it resides. Somewhere around mile 22.