I was at the Dublin City Marathon. My better half and some of our friends from Leitrim and Sligo were participating and I was giving them some support, both moral and practical.
I can say now that as I followed every step of the route on my bicycle and watched the thousands and thousands of people take part, every molecule of my body was screaming out “I’m glad it’s not me doing this’. North Leitrim Athletic Club athlete, Liam Feely, got a bit of a hop when he heard me roaring him on ‘come on Leitrim’ as he passed the half way mark in Dolphin’s Barn. Liam finished in 16th place overall. Good man Liam, ‘Keep her Lit’.
I will make no bones about it, that is not something I could do. I saw the expressions on the faces, the sweat and tears, the absolute commitment and I just know I couldn’t push myself to those limits.
Not a lot of people know but the modern sport of Marathon running actually commemorates the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C., bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians.
Legend has it that Pheidippides delivered the momentous message “Niki!” (“victory”), then collapsed and died.
I mean enough said. The guy died. Surely that should have been indication enough that this was not a pursuit that should be emulated.
In fact, I bet it was some really fit Greek fella, probably wearing lycra shorts and a dayglow vest that said, “poor old Pheidippides, let’s go and make a sport out of this running yourself to death lark.”
The legend of Pheidippides was honoured by a 24.85 mile (40,000 metres) run from Marathon Bridge to Olympic stadium in Athens.
The Athens Marathon is recognised as the original marathon course and it’s the same course used in the 2004 Olympics held in Athens.
That’s a long long way, but the Marathon these days is actually longer, 26 miles.
It’s another Marathon fact that you will just love. Its amazing the titbits of information you pick up while you are watching other people run.
At the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the marathon distance was changed to 26.2 miles to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium.
The 2.2 miles were added on so the race could finish in front of royal family’s viewing box. This added two miles to the course.
As a result of this Royal interference, English Marathon runners started a tradition of shouting “God save the Queen!” (or other words relating to the Queen) as mile post 24 is passed. Personally I know what words I’d be using about the Queen or anyone else that added 2.2 miles onto a 24 mile race, just so it ran conveniently by her viewing box.
There is no way you could add on distance to a race like that. God love them if you saw the expressions of pain on their faces.
There were certainly a few people I saw on the route of the Dublin City Marathon that looked like they were in extreme pain. They were all shapes and sizes, ages, colours and creeds, but they all had one thing in common, determination, absolute total and unwavering dedication.
And that was a very powerful thing. It was inspiring to see the people who had obviously trained up for this, they had never run a marathon before. They had a sense of sunny optimism at the start, which evolved into a ‘this isn’t so bad around mile five, which was quickly replaced by the ‘oh my God this is hell’ expression from around mile 10 to the end.
And that expression of hurt and pain was etched across the faces of many. I know they have this thing called ‘the wall’ where you just feel like you can’t go on any more. To me half of the runners hit that mark at around the 13th mile and just stayed there is a sense of suspended agony for the rest of the race.
I was mightily impressed, because it is a feat of endurance to run so far, but it’s a feat of heroism to overcome your personal fears and challenge yourself to overcome such adversity.
It got me thinking about why all these people were running. What was it that drove so many people onto the streets of the capital too partake in this gruelling pursuit.
There were some amazing charities supported by those running, there were others just trying to stay in shape and using this as their milestone to work towards, others had it on their bucket list and there were serious athletes for whom this was just one of many.
But the thought that struck me was that many, many of the people running were the ordinary men and women of Ireland.
People who have had it though in the last eight years. People who have been running and facing challenges since our economy came crashing down.
There were people on personal journeys but there was a commonality among so many a determined set of the jaw that made me think, ‘here is a nation of people who have been shat on by circumstances, but they have decided to get fit and get out and face adversity and give themselves goals to achieve.
If there is one lasting legacy of the recession, may it be that as a nation we have decided to get fit and healthy and put our best foot forward.
It made me very proud to be Irish, even if Kenyan Eliud Too won the actual thing.