Bookmark and Share

Sunday 18th April 2004

I can't really think of anything I've done today that's worthy of writing about. Nothing that much happened and... oh no hold on, I did run a Marathon. Maybe I should write about that.
As predicted I hadn't slept very well at all last night. I would have said that I hadn't slept at all, but I was woken by my alarm clock at 6am and had a vague recollection of several unpleasant nightmares. I felt tired, but there was no way I was going to risk going back to sleep so I got up and got dressed.
I had laid all my stuff out the night before. I was wearing my Scope running vest with a Womble on it and underneath I wore a T-shirt of the Cerne Abbas Giant. Not only is he representative of my last show (gracing the cover of my book with his improbable erection), he will also feature in my next one, as some people argie that the figure is a representation of Hercules. Though no-one would see him, it felt appropriate to have him with me on this Herculanean quest. If nothing else he would remind me of what a cock I am being.
I had written my name on my vest with a black marker, so that strangers would be able to shout out encouragement to me.
I ate a big breakfast and then headed off. At the tube station I started spotting other runners immediately. It was a bit like that bit in the Great Escape, when everyone congregates on the train platform after having just got out, and tries to ignore each other. Occasionally I would share a meaningful look with one of the others. But not for too long. We didn't want the Nazis to notice.
The tubes were similarly packed, mainly with the same strange wiry men with staring eyes who I had noticed at the Excel thing last week. I think that the first thing that the police should look at when they've got a suspect for a serial killing is whether they regularly take part in Marathons. And if they do they should lock them up without trial.
At Charing Cross, the full train suddenly emptied and the platform was jam-packed with running nerds. It took ages to get up the stairs, but then I realised that this is what the rest of the day was going to be like, so I wasn't too bothered.
The train to Greenwich was similarly packed up. I was sitting opposite some Dutch runners, one of whom had a very sweaty fore-head. I wondered how much he was going to sweat when he was running, rather than just sitting on a train. The train was so full that when we stopped at stations along the way, the dozens of runners waiting to board could not get on. There was still plenty of time to the race, but it must have been frustrating.
The people standing in my carriage were rather spread out and in one station a person on the platform suggested they might like to move down. "Where would you like us to move to?" said one of them incredulously. I thought of replying, "Well if you moved a couple of feet towards the door and the others bunched up, there's room for about five more people." But I didn't.
However, some of the other runners did make a similar suggestion to the selfish people (possibly from out of town and not aware that it is normal to stand with your body pressing against other passengers). "We would move if you push down," said one lairy fellow, "But nobody's pushing, so we'll stay where we are."
It was an odd logic and he seemed unreasonably pleased with himself. This caused more protests, "Come on, we should be helping each other. We can get a few more on," said the more reasonable man, more within the spirit of the Marathon. But the fools stood smugly steadfast.
Then someone did push down the carriage and the man who said he wouldn't move unless he was pushed and his friend, stumbled. "All right, watch it," said the smug man, despite the fact that people had just done exactly what he suggested. For a moment it looked as if things were going to kick off, but the smug men were cowards as well as being selfish and just sheepishly moved, whilst still protesting that it was ridiculous for anyone to expect them to move to help others without putting up stupid resistance.
The wrong idiots.
Once at Maze Hill, I made my way up to the green start, which was inconveniently stationed at the top of the hill itself. It was quite a hard walk and I was getting a bit tired, which I didn't think was a great start. I was desperate for a wee (and worried about having to queue for the toilet) so went down a grass bank out of sight. However, it had been raining and the grass was wet and when I tried to get back up I slipped and slided around. Was I going to break my leg so close to the start? Or would I just be trapped down this bank and not be able to take part?
No. I managed to scramble up.
I met up with Tony at the start. He was looking quite nervous and wasn't sure about how things were going to go. I couldn't quite get my head round the fact that I was about to run 26.2 miles and so wasn't feeling all that bad.
Because we have both appeared on television, we were both entitled to go into a special "celebrity" enclosure. This felt a bit wanky and embarrassing (especially as the people on the gate had no idea who either of us were), but we realised that we would have easy access to some nice loos, so went in anyway.
This did mean we could check out the other "celebrity" runners and try and psyche them out. Also Nell McAndrew was doing stretches right in front of us, and when whe bent over I could see down her top. I saw part of her bra. So that made the whole experience worthwhile.
Even more embarrassingly, because we were "celebrities" (though I'm not sure that cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire makes you worthy of celebration and preferrential treatment) we got to go at the front of all the runners at the green start. I had anticipated having to wait ten or twenty minutes to get over the line, but it was going to take me about two seconds.
It felt wrong to put a gaggle of mostly useless runners at the front, just because they might have been on TV at some point. We had proper, good club runners directly behind us, and we were just going to serve as a buffer, getting in their way as they tried to set off at a decent speed. On the other hand, this was going to give me a chance to lead from the front and surprise everyone, so I couldn't turn my nose up at it.
As the man at the start told us that there was only a minute to go to the start, I thought about the countdown clock on this website and thought how cool that must look to be at just one minute to go. I still wasn't really thinking about the reality of what I was about to attempt.
And then we were off. The good runners started streaming by me and they were going very quickly, which of course encouraged me to go faster than I might have done. I didn't feel like I was bombing it, but I did the first mile in about 8.15, which was much faster than my intended 9 to 9 and a half. I tried to slow down, but I was feeling fine, and full of adrenaline and my pace hadn't dropped much by the second mile mark. Whenever I've raced with Tony before he's disappeared into the distance at the start, but now I was in the unusual position of running alongside him. Even he felt he was going too fast and kept warning me to slow down. It was a big fear for me that I might blow my wad at this early stage and get into big trouble later. But I was also keen to at least attempt to get a time of around four hours and I figured that if I did the first few miles quickly then this would give me some leeway later on.
The name on the T-shirt was working: "Come on Rich!" was being shouted at me at regular intervals, and it was really helpful. But then I had my first bottle of water and spilled half of it down me and suddenly the letters were all blurred and unreadable. The drizzling rain didn't help and very soon all I had was a womble with a dirty face (and within an hour or so, the ink had completely gone). This was a shame as it meant I didn't get as many encouraging cries and when I did get them, they would usually be something like "Go, Womble Man".
Tony had got ahead of me, but around the third mile, still feeling full of beans, I overtook him. I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep this up, but it felt quite good to be ahead of him, even for a mile or so. But I was definitely slowing down. My miles were now taking around 9 minutes (which is what I was really aiming for), but for now it felt like this pace was sustainable.
At seven and a quarter miles I looked out for the band of loyal supporters who had come down from this website. They almost missed me going by and I had to shout at them, "Oi! C'mon then. Support me!" They responded with a cheer, which spurred me on.
I was loving the first half, although wondering if I'd need to stop for a wee. I didn't want to (as with the Half Marathon because it would affect my time and my legs might seize up), but I felt like I probably needed to. I tried to ignore it and carry on. At this pace I was still on for sub-four hours, though I think even then I knew this was unrealistic.
The crowds were phenomenal. Although they didn't have to run a stupidly long way, they did have to stand still in the cold and the rain; it must have been horrible. But the cheering really helped us along, especially around the Cutty Sark, where the noise was incredible.
I noticed a lot of people dressed in uniform, holding out vaseline in their hands to us and looking expectant. They were all over the place, and dressed the same, so they were obviously organised. The perverts. I thought this was inappropriate behaviour. Maybe they liked to have anal sex with exhausted sweaty people, but I think this was rather too blunt a way to go about picking up a date. They could have romanced us a little, rather than just cutting to the chase in such a crass way. I gave them all quite an unpleasant look, I can tell you. But I don't think it would have stopped their insatiable desires and I predict they'll be back next year. Wearing their uniforms as if what they do is something to be proud of.
Getting to Tower Bridge was a fantastic spur on. I knew that this was nearly half way, but it is also one of the things you associate with the Marathon from the telly. Also it was quite cool just to be running over Tower Bridge. But my pace was clearly getting slower and I wasn't sure I had the energy to pick it up again.
I got to the half way point about 15 seconds under two hours. Which meant if I ran the second half at the same speed I would have finished in under four hours.
I knew this was going to be impossible; I was already flagging quite badly and had the psychological nightmare of Docklands to overcome. On the other side of the road, we could see some of the elite runners on the home leg. People had warned me of how low this can make you feel - not so much that there are people who can do this thing twice as fast as you, but the knowledge that you've run so far and yet still have so far to go.
Between 14 and 17 miles I started to feel very tired, and at points I felt like I was shuffling rather than running. I was terrified of hitting the wall, or having to stop. I wasn't convinced I was going to be able to make it. Having twelves miles to go and starting to feel like crap is a horrible place to be. It just didn't seem possible that I could carry on running for all that time. I was sure that by setting off fast I'd blown my chances and was still constantly thinking about my bladder and whether I needed to empty it. I employed my old technique of just concentrating on the next mile or so and not on the two hours of running I still had to do. This proved very effective, though my pace was really suffering and I'm guessing I was doing 11 minute miles and feeling like this was a grim and dark thing to be doing.
My supporters had regrouped at Mudshute, which I hadn't ben expecting and it was a nice lift to see their nerdish faces again. It was less welcome to pass the pubs that had put on barbecues (I was hungry, but the smell nevertheless made you feel sick) or the people outside the pubs with lovely looking pints of Guinness. Maybe I could just stop for a beer and a little rest...
It was around this point that I had to finally accept that I probably wasn't going to win the race after all, though I did find myself hoping that some kind of virus would attack all the other runners, but I would be immune. Though I concluded that if I was going to win I wanted to do it honestly, so I kept the vial of ebola (and the antidote) secure in my pocket throughout.
Suddenly as I reached the twenty mile mark I had a surge of energy. It proved just how psychological a journey the Marathon is. Knowing that I wasn't all that far from Tower Bridge gave me such a lift, and my I realised that it had been my mind, rather than my body that had been putting up the resistance in that Hellish middle section.
I had worked out that a time of under 4.15 was still a possibility and picked things up accordingly - though was still conscious of the fact that I didn't want to run our of fuel and that in the end, it was finishing that was the important thing. I also realised that barring a disaster I was going to be comfortably under four and a half hours. This had always been my realistic target, so to beat it was going to be good enough, despite my dreams of sub-four hour glory.
I was now no longer enjoying the experience and felt like I was in a dream. I was still mainly wondering about whether I could spare the time to urinate and whether I actually needed to go. I figured that since I'd held out for three hours, I could manage another one.
But evenso I don't remember all that much about what was happening. It's like something in your brain turns off and you just get on with it. After you've finished it feels like time has gone by so quickly, but whilst you're running you feel that it might never actually end. It certainly felt like the miles were getting longer and I wondered if we were all the victim of an hilarious practical joke or a serious error on behalf of the bloke who'd set up the mile points.
There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to finish it now. I didn't even feel all that bad and was still able to joke a little with the crowd and other runners. Going by familiar landmarks helped, although also gave a false impression that the end was closer that it actually was to be. Going by the Houses of Parliament was a good feeling. I thought about all the hours of training (and drinking) that had gone into this and felt a little bit emotional. I wondered if I would cry at the end of it all.
But it was a strangely anti-climatic finish. Just outside Buckingham Palace, probably a hundred metres from the finish, I saw an old fella being led away by the St John's Army. I couldn't envisage how it must feel to have got this far only to be stopped and hoped that he would be able to complete the race once he'd been checked over (or maybe the temptation of the Vaseline had finally got too much for him).
I had been considering getting near to the line and then saying, "No, I don't think I can do it. I'm turning back." But, you know, no joke in the world would be funny enough to make that kind of sacrifice. Instead I clenched my fists and said "Yes!"
It had taken me four hours, seventeen minutes and fifty seconds. I was disappointed not to have got under 4:15, but it was still my personal best for the Marathon distance.
I didn't cry and I felt a bit detached from the experience once it was all over, though I think it was the same at the end of the Boat Race, so maybe you need a day for the magnitude of it all to sink in.
But it's an amazingly personal and lonely experience. It's all about you battling yourself (and this time I did not try to pace myself by other runners or attempt to race them at the end. I was only racing myself) and so when it's over there is no-one to really celebrate the essence of it with. I was glad to have done it, but didn't feel as elated or emotional as I thought I might have done. But maybe I was disappointed because I'd only seen one pair of 118 runners in the whole day (and then only from behind, so I don't know if they had the moustaches and all that).
I collected my medal and goodie bag and put on my silver foil cape thing (because I thought I should, just because that's what happens at the end of Marathons). I was actually feeling surprisingly physically all right.
I stumbled around in a daze for a bit trying to remember where the SCOPE post race hospitality was, and luckily found a woman with a SCOPE flad in her hat who pointed me in the right direction.
I sat a bit shell-shocked and had a sandwich, before doing some photos and having a leg massage.
Then I went off to find Tony and some friends to have a drink.
They were some way away and I had to walk with ever-stiffening legs in the rain.
And yet it was great to see them all and talking things over with them, I did begin to realise what an amazing thing I had just achieved. Even though it already felt like something I had dreamt rather than actually done. I know that it will take until tomorrow before I can get my head round it.
And when I got home, drunk and tired and checked my fundraising page, I was delighted to see how much extra money had been pledged as I ran and it was great to realise that this stupid urge to try and deny the passing years has not only led to me running a Marathon (I mean, who would have believed that? Really, I still can't quite), but more importantly raised a fantastic amount of cash for charity.
But not so much that I wouldn't welcome some more, so for the last time of asking, please sponsor me now, to make up for my aching legs. The total is so close to £7500 now, so let's see if we can break that and push it on further.
Two Herculanean tasks down - only ten to go.

Bookmark and Share



My new stand up show, Lord of the Dance Settee will be touring from October 2014 to May 2015 All details here.
Buy a season pass to Meaning of Life, or make a donation for a badge, either one off or monthly at gofasterstripe.com/rhmol
You can watch most of the RHMOL shows for free on my vimeo channel
Buy tickets to Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast from the LST website
You can download the audio for free from the British Comedy Guide or iTunes
You can subscribe to this blog on Kindle. Now only 99p a month here. Or just carry on reading it on here for free.

Also on your kindle (or any smart phone or tablet with the kindle app) catch up on the early years of Warming Up (with extra retrospective additions) with Bye Bye Balham and The Box Lady and Other Pesticles (only £3.53 each)