This year I did something I never thought I’d ever do; I walked an entire marathon by myself … oh alright, if you discount the other 16,000 people who walked it as well. I’m being facetious, of course (something I’m guilty of more often than I’d care to admit), but I’ve always done every walk before now with a friend of mine.
However, Di moved and retired from marathon walking at the same time, so I had a choice; do I give it up as well or carry on? In time honoured fashion, I found a third path; I wanted to set myself a goal of walking at least one marathon solo before I slipped into semi-retirement.
I approached the marathon with some trepidation; would I keep myself in check as much as I would do with a walking buddy? Would my pace be as good? Would I get a fit of the vapours and give up half way round?
But the marathon itself was a brilliant experience, as it always is. I walked a short way with one lady before we lost each other in a melee; I looked her up on the tracking system and was delighted to see she only finished a little way behind me.
As I was crossing Tower Bridge a couple of miles in, I fell into conversation with another walker, and we found ourselves walking together on and off for parts of the walk.
I never set out to achieve a particular order in a marathon; as long as I’m walking at the best speed I can achieve, then I’m not even considering my place – be that number 1,001 or 9,734. But when I discovered I was at the front, I had a daydream of what that would feel like; crossing the finish line as the first marathon walker of the evening. Then I laughed at myself and continued focusing on the pleasure of the actual walk itself.
The route itself was lively and full of things to look at, so I was able to distract myself by looking at the scenery. The Pacer Bike Guy (PBG) came by occasionally to check on me, and I was very grateful – there weren’t any other walkers around (except for one phenomenally faster guy who zoomed past me and left me eating his dust), and some stretches went without volunteers.
Ah yes, the volunteers. A very few were very quiet and didn’t seem that confident directing us as we went round, but the overwhelming majority (99.9999999999%) were brilliant – I was mightily cheered by the “well done’s”, high fives, cheers, and onward encouragement I got from them all. The pit stops were noisy, cheery affairs where I was treated as something of a minor celebrity (as every walker naturally will have been – I’m only a celebrity inside my own head); all the volunteers deserve so much praise.
I saw Pacer Bike Guy (PBG) near Borough Market and heard him shout, “You’re second!” I laughed at the joke and carried on. Before long, I saw the finish – at Old Billingsgate Market. That building never looks as good as when you know you’re about to stop walking, get a medal, and have a hot drink. I nearly flagged, right there in front of the building, when three marshals appeared, shook my hand, and cheered me in – that meant so much – to a wall of noise from the small army of volunteers.
Pacer Bike Guy (PBG) saw me walk in, and cheerfully greeted me like an old friend, which I willingly returned
I was amazed at the personal best I achieved; 5 hours, 36 minutes. I then found out that I had come in second. That was a great discovery, but the personal best would have been enough for me – and even if I hadn’t got a personal best, I still wouldn’t have been upset. The fact that I achieved those two things on this marathon was a pleasure and a joy.
Why this marathon? Because it’ll be the last one I tackle for a while – for a few years at least – and it surprisingly chokes me up to consider that. I wondered if I would get a little choked at the end of the marathon, but no; because being with people is what I’ll miss more than the adrenaline kick of the marathon itself. Maybe I would do a solo marathon again, but I’d rather do it in company, and share the moments of agony and pleasure together. But that’s for the future; now, I have other challenges looming and I can’t wait!
Read here: Matthew Munson: It’s time to (marathon) walk alone