Running into an early grave? So what? I run to feel smug - not healthy

I can safely say that during the entire time I trained for either of my marathons, there wasn’t a single second when I felt anything other than pain

 

Share

Phew – I’m glad I’m not an endurance athlete. All that suffering and what do you get? A pacemaker, that’s what. A British Heart Foundation study has revealed that exercise causes mice to undergo molecular changes in the section of the heart that regulates the pump – implying that athletes have a greater risk of suffering cardiac arrhythmias as they get older.

Crowing couch potatoes, beware, however: Professor Mark Boyett, who led the study, advised that “although endurance exercise training can have harmful effects on the heart, it is more than outweighed by the beneficial effects.” In fact whether exercise is beneficial or harmful, or just plain mad, or a bit of all three, is largely irrelevant: very few of us actually undertake serious exercise for the good of our health. It’s all about feeling good about ourselves, which isn’t the same thing at all.

I ran a couple of marathons back in the 1980s, and a desire for fitness wasn’t on my list of priorities. When my best friend rang me up one day and told me he’d put his name down for the Newcastle Marathon in six weeks’ time – and, oh yes, forgot to mention, he’d put my name down, too – I was appalled. But the challenge was irresistible. I was young enough not to have to worry about how fit I was, but I was ready to discover if I could actually do this insane thing, to go from 0-26 miles in a month and a half.

It certainly wasn’t about enjoyment. I can safely say that during the entire time I trained for either of my marathons, there wasn’t a single second when I felt anything other than pain. If my endorphins ever kicked in, they kept damned quiet about it. It was only ever about getting to the end. I only got through it by making a pact with myself: barring injury, at no point, in training or during the event itself, was I going to stop. It was one foot in front of the other, again and again, until the challenge had been met and I could call it a day.

The pleasure came from completion, nothing else. The novelist Haruki Murakami is a veteran long-distance runner who in an interview to publicise his jogging memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, remarked about the marathon, “It is an inevitable torment which I deliberately take on myself.”

In later life the friend who put me down for the Newcastle Marathon took up cycling, and not in a good way (at least not in a good way as viewed from my sofa). He engages in bouts of utter madness like L’Etape, whose participants negotiate one of the stages of that year’s Tour de France, usually a nasty one in the mountains. For him, he says, it’s about doing something which at his time of life he shouldn’t be capable of. It’s the buzz of achievement, the buzz of having done it.

The former Chumbawumba guitarist Boff Whalley – in his terrific 2012 book Run Wild - declares that we shouldn’t be running marathons at all – at least not in urban surroundings, where we damage our knee ligaments by tramping for miles on unforgiving asphalt. For him it’s not about rising to any particular challenge, but about running as living in the world more fully, running as an activity to send the soul soaring.

Whalley is the Thoreau of running. City marathons, he says, demonstrate “our willingness to collaborate in our own confinement”. He craves instead “the utterly human quest for the wild, natural, joyful rub of life’s friction.”

Yet, wild or city-bound, it is Murakami who best pins down precisely why we put ourselves through torment: “Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest... Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life.”

Cash for challenging times

You may not have heard of Laila Indira Alva, but she is proof that not all rich people are scum. When Raghuram Rajan took over at the Reserve Bank of India during a currency crisis last year, the 10-year-old, who lives in a wealthy suburb of Delhi, sent him a $20 bill she’d saved from a family holiday, writing, “The country needs it more than I do.” She added, in a letter that’s just been published in her school magazine, “please bring in some new ideas that will improve our country. I want people to come to India and not to think that it’s corrupt and a dump!”

Dr Rajan politely returned it, despite the “challenging time” the country was facing, “with the assurance that we have adequate foreign reserves to manage the situation.” It’s a great idea, though – could Take That fans perhaps be persuaded to do something similar to tide the lads over during their challenging time?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk