Oh, did you hear I’m running a marathon?

In March, Corkman BEN DILLON ran the Rome Marathon and, ahead of it, he wrote this article, which will strike a chord with anyone currently training for the Cork City event in June!
Oh, did you hear I’m running a marathon?

Participantsin the Cork CityMarathon on the south link road in 2018.

HOW do you end a conversation you’ve no interest in? Solutions include excusing yourself to go to the bathroom, slugging your drink and going for a top-up, or looping an innocent bystander into the conversation, then making a silent getaway.

Personally, I find the best approach is to hand the reins to the other person by being so insufferably boring, they’ll do everything in their power to get away. This is an area I’ve gained significant experience in of late as, a few months ago, I decided to run a marathon.

I first noticed it at home. I’d tell my wife my running plans and the importance of gradually increasing my long run every weekend. It’s a matter of building endurance over time, you see. She would get restless, start shifting her feet, and darting her eyes around the room, presumably looking for some sort of shield to defend herself against the verbal onslaught.

Ben Dillon.
Ben Dillon.

Then it happened on Zoom. Someone would inquire about my weekend and I’d mention I was training for a marathon. Innocent souls responded enthusiastically, leaving themselves open. But people soon caught on. I noticed a shift when the conversation veered towards you know what. 

If the ‘m-word’ was broached, their eyes would flick to the little clock at the corner of the screen. I could feel their neural cogs turning; ‘Is it plausible to say I’m late for another call?’ ‘Could I discreetly yank at a cable and turn off my laptop?’ ‘Would faking a fit be too extreme?’

My slow decline into full-blown running bore happened in stages, unknowingly creeping up on me, the warning signs and gradual descension too subtle to catch with the naked eye.

It started in October when six of us signed up for the Rome Marathon. We had just over 22 weeks before we’d take to the starting line so the training started almost immediately, though the running bug and conversation- hogging didn’t take over until much later.

My journey started with a few casual 5km jaunts, building up to a carefree,non-obligatory four runs per week. 

This is what you’re meant to do, you see, build your fitness up over time. You can’t just go from zero to Mo Farah. That’s a sure-fire way of risking hamstring tendinopathy, a common injury amongst us joggers.

I stepped up my professionalism by downloading an official plan. The meticulous process involved Googling the words ‘22-week marathon plan’ and choosing the first one I saw. In later retelling, I’d make this sound a lot more analytical.

As weeks passed, I became eager to increase my knowledge base. 

I began consulting Google with simple training queries but the longer it went on, the more questions I had. One day, I asked ‘What happens if you need to go to the toilet during a marathon?’ This came after my own traumatic near miss. At the most excruciating point, I stopped running and adopted a birthing position. Though in physical and emotional distress, I made it back to the car, as if having my final contractions.

Google’s take on the matter was to simply avoid needing to go in the first place... Hmmm.

After a while, I bypassed Google in favour of specialist sites like Runner’s World, Runner’s Life, or Verywell Fit.

By month two, I was gathering all the running accoutrements. With each product, I became either an unpaid advocate or violent detractor. On my runs now, I have a choice of bum bags, a hydration belt, a running vest, Air Pods, an Apple Watch, a selection of compression pants, and a pair of Brooks, an exemplary brand of runners. When buying these, it’s vital to consider the arch of your foot, an unsupported one can cave in, causing pain and reducing performance.

I’ve also acquired a yoga mat for post-run cooldowns. Stretching and hydration are key.

And while I haven’t yet made the move over to the dark side, I have spent an inordinate amount of time browsing bandanas, running sunglasses, and those shoes that look like gloves for toes.

In the beginning, marathon talk was kept within the confines of our little running group. But it wasn’t long before little progress reports and unsolicited running advice started to slip out. One running partner was all but banned from discussing the topic with his wife and in-laws. I feared I’d meet a similar fate.

Then came a tipping point. I can’t remember when it happened, but I would start telling people my marathon journey and sharing my newfound running knowledge and see a look on their faces. It suggested they didn’t want to hear about Brooks or arches or increasing training loads. They wanted out.

I’d notice their boredom and complete indifference to the subject and I’d continue all the same. 

I didn’t care. They weren’t people anymore. They were just a set of ear canals; a vessel through which I could unload my innermost thoughts on running. I didn’t care if they were interested or not. Something had changed within me and there was no going back.

My marathon talking has taken over to such an extent, I can envision a not-too-distant future when I’ll arrive at social events with my reputation preceding me. Guests will have been warned not to mention any form of physical activity or risk severe aural punishment.

When that time comes, I’ll walk into parties and phones will start buzzing; last-minute texts will fly between friends and partners, reminding each other not to use the dreaded ‘m’ word. The room will part as attendees run for cover, leaving some poor, uninformed people standing helplessly in the open plains.

With the sure instinct of a predator stalking its prey, I’ll lurk towards them, glancing at their defenceless ears, so innocent and ripe for verbal attack. I’ll salivate as I consider the endless list of topics to discuss; the mental health benefits of running, the importance of using energy gels, the ins and outs of my 22-week training plan, or my deep-seated fear of hitting the wall and running out of glycogen.

Of course, I doubt it will ever come to that. I’ll never get that bad. 

My marathon training will soon be over and things will start to change. Soon I’ll have completed my 42km jaunt through the streets of Rome. When that happens, friends, family, and innocent bystanders can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Upon crossing the finish line, I will no longer be a marathon trainer. Tedious talk of training plans, running shoes, and stretching routines will be no more.

But then, something else will happen. I will evolve into something much greater. I won’t be someone who is training for a marathon. I’ll be someone who has completed a marathon.

And, oh my, think of the mileage I’ll get out of that.

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