Sunday, 22 May 2011

Copenhagen Marathon: the agony and the humility

This weekend one event dominated our neighbourhood - the 2011 Copenhagen Marathon. On Saturday the children ran a 'mini marathon' and were seen all around Fælledparken with their sporting medals dazzling in the spring sunshine. This morning the road blocks were put in place, the politi stood at the junctions re-directing the traffic and when I took my toddler out for our Sunday morning pastry 'run' (perhaps, given the day, I exaggerate slightly), there was an air of excitement and anticipation as spectators began to gather.

We decided to stop and watch the first of the athletes as they crossed from Strandboulevarden along to Østerbrogade. I completely misread the route map that had been handed to me and thought that the runners looked a little worse for wear after only having run 8 km. Didn't want to sound too judgmental but many of them didn't look like they were going to make it. Then I realised, we were actually standing at the 33 km mark. Oops - looking good...

I recently read a blog of a girl who ran the London marathon and she talked about how she enjoyed the cheers of people in the crowd who called out her name, which she must have had on her race number or her t-shirt. With this in mind and because the anticipation and the race atmosphere before a big run is so infectious, I decided to stay at the sidelines and do some cheering on. But first, I stood by in awe as some of the elite runners sprinted past. I'm not exaggerating when I say that at 33 km, they looked like they were out for a walk in the park - it was humbling indeed.

Maybe because they made it look so easy, it didn't look like they needed our cheers. They were clearly 'in the zone' and simply clocking up the miles. I'm ashamed to say that my son's hunger and the fact that the weather turned, it started to rain and we were totally unprepared for a downpour meant that we headed back indoors for lunch. I clearly wasn't committed to the cause and the pangs of guilt gave me indigestion. These runners had trained hard for months, were pushing their bodies to physical limits and I had bailed at the first drops of a spring rain shower. An hour later, I headed back out (without toddler) to cheer on the runners that I anticipated would need it most - the masses...

I started to reflect on what this day of running might mean to them. What was it that had driven these people to spend months in training, putting miles and miles on their legs preparing them for a day of yet more mileage pounding the streets. When you watch a marathon on the TV you see the highlights; the enthusiastic start line, interviews with spirited and determined individuals and then the raised arms and collapsed bodies at the finish. Watching the highlights doesn't give a clue as to what the reality must be like - the agonising mile after mile of hard slog.

Is the challenge of a marathon keeping going for 40 km when, quite frankly, although its race day and there's a buzz in the air, no-one is really looking? Is it about taking your body to the edge and waiting to see what will 'break down' first; the hips, the knees, the shins or the feet? Or is the challenge of a marathon more about what it takes to have the self belief and discipline to make it to the start line? As I watched, I was humbled and to all the runners who are soaking in baths (hot or cold!) tonight, I salute you.

 From the old...

... to the young (yes, that is a pregnant lady with 'løb baby' written on her belly!)

...those 'running' together and the guy who thought running shoes are for wimps (!)...

... well done! And by the way, nobody did have their name on their t-shirt or race number - that must be a London marathon thing.

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