Marathon brings together hardy and foolhardy

Mike Rowbottom

"Excuse me," the lady asked. "Would you be interested in running the New York Marathon?" Thinking about it - rapidly - I decided that if the words "interested in" could be replaced with "appalled at the very idea of" then the answer was "Yes".

"Excuse me," the lady asked. "Would you be interested in running the New York Marathon?" Thinking about it - rapidly - I decided that if the words "interested in" could be replaced with "appalled at the very idea of" then the answer was "Yes".

"To be honest, no," I replied. And felt less of a man for doing so...

It's that time of the year again. As around 30,000 souls ready themselves for tomorrow's annual reproach to the sedentary, the Flora London Marathon, a familiar question re-emerges to trouble those who only stand (or sit) and watch: Could you do it? After watching one of the early London races on television, I remember encountering two of my friends out running in the streets. "We're doing London next year," one of them shouted before disappearing up the road in impressive style.

Neither did, as I recall. But oh, how they wanted to on that bright and sunny afternoon...

To walk around the London Marathon Exhibition site in Docklands earlier this week was to surround oneself with those who had made that same resolve and actually gone through with it. They had trained, they had suffered, and now they had registered their entry and obtained their official kit bag - a bag of honour.

Perhaps the lady in the New York Marathon stall mistook the trainers I was wearing as a statement of intent. In the interests of clarity, I should really have worn a badge saying "No, I am not running the London Marathon this year".

As it was, I faked my way round the shops and sideshows, nibbling energy-bar samples, imbibing test beakers of isotonic drink and falling into conversation at one point with a man who promised that his photographic team would get a picture of me mid-race and send the result on a sale-or-return basis. He sounded so enthusiastic about the process I didn't have the heart to tell him I would be watching the whole affair on a live television feed inside the Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Perhaps the finest feature of the annual exhibition is that it offers those who are about to submit themselves to trial by ordeal the opportunity of an 11th-hour diversion.

Some of the longest queues formed around a machine that resembled a body scanner, but was in fact a giant clamp that massaged volunteers with jets of water so powerful that their heads juddered in sympathy. What was effectively a giant condom ensured that no hint of moisture transferred itself to the recipients of all this aquatic attention. They emerged shaken, but not stirred. And presumably not tempted by a price tag of £25,000.

It was all good fun. But behind the general jocularity there was an almost tangible sense of readiness for the fray.

How had these bagmen and bagwomen gotten themselves into all this in the first place? Every person provided a different answer.

"It's one of those things you want to do once in your life," said Tracy Williams, from Colchester, who will run her first marathon tomorrow. "I watched last year's race on television and just decided to enter. It was a moment of madness." Martin Crosby, from Morpeth, in Northumberland, was also contemplating a first experience of 26.2 miles. He too had been prompted to apply after watching the event on television, although his pleasure in gaining entry at the fifth time of asking was tempered by an injury that had prevented him running for the previous three weeks.

Jane Seas, a 34-year-old from Northampton, was another first-timer who had prepared for the race with the help of her partner, Peter Moore, a veteran of four marathons. "I want to do this for the sense of personal achievement," she said. "Age creeping up is another reason." At 50, Les Thurston, from Bishop's Stortford, is preparing for his 11th London Marathon, and his 28th in all. His moment of marathon truth came after watching the inaugural London race of 1981. "I was getting too old and unfit to carry on playing Sunday football and I wanted something else to do," he said. "I suppose I was caught up in the running boom of the early 80s and I've just stayed there."

Derek Maher, of Chingford, has stuck as well after following his son into the local running club. "Drink from the first station," he advised. "Once you realise you are thirsty it's too late." For Helen Cook, a mother-of-three from Woodbridge in Suffolk, tomorrow's race will be her second after a five-year gap. "I ran a half marathon before my first race," she said, "and as I finished I thought to myself: 'There's no way I will ever do a marathon'." Now that is a sentiment I can identify with.

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice