23 April 2006

Brough Scott is braced for a ‘pointless but wonderful victory over mental doubt and bodily frailty’

Welcome to the day of dread, wonder, suffering and delight. The day of the Flora London Marathon.

Let’s start with the dread. For this is it. For all our 20-strong Sunday Telegraph team and for the 35,000 other runners, joggers, plodders, reptiles and seriously mis-clothed stunt merchants, it all now closes into the big countdown at Greenwich and then our frailties will be laid bare all the way to Buckingham Palace. The weeks and months of talk and worry, of targets missed and injuries were just the preamble. This is the event where there is absolutely no escape.

Some three months back I essayed the notion that compared to my racing background the marathon runner is the owner, trainer, horse and jockey all rolled into one. The trouble is that as race day comes the principals are all falling out. The owner is concerned he has made a fool of himself by entering. The trainer is grumbling that it has been impossible to get this old hack back even to the shape it was three years ago. The horse is sour and off its feed with worry. And the jockey is wondering how to make the best of a bad job and not take all the blame.

True, we have got here and the theory of slowly increasing to a couple of two-hour jogs has at least delivered me in one piece to the start line. The first was up on to the Downs past Brighton racecourse and a sweep back to Rottingdean and along the sea front. The second was a two-hour loop encircling Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park. In the past that has been enough to hit close to four hours on the day. But like Prufrock “I grow old, I grow old”. It is unlikely to be getting easier.

This feeling has not been helped by the chipperness of our fellow runners. “I am looking forward to it,” said Sharleen Lind happily as she pattered easily around the Serpentine 10 days ago, “I usually do ultra-marathons, Durban to Pietermaritzburg was best.” Down in Sussex, chemistry teacher Simon Norris at least admits to a slightly sore foot but the training over those downs above Lancing College has been “almost completely stress free”. A last call to American Leisa Robinson up in the Wirral is even more discouraging. “It’s going to be great,” she says breezily, “I shall be shooting for four and a half.” And this from a lady who donated her kidney six years ago. This team’s confidence makes me sick.

But there will be wonder. No other event in the world can fill you up like this one. The streets of London cheering out their welcome, 35,000 of us going through our own stumbling Calvarys at different levels of inadequacy. There is no escape but these streets still offer the most supportive of embraces.

And it will be needed. What sort of silly bravado to the editor got me into this? What’s going to happen when we get to Canary Wharf and there are still seven long miles to go? It’s only Friday as I write and already the mind is having to lock down into that capsule which separates it from the aching body.

But finally, for all of us somehow, sometime, there can be delight. The face of Buckingham Palace swinging behind us, the last receding yards towards the flashing numbers of the clock, the ghastly smile for the cameras, the helping hands of those saintly volunteers, the medal round the neck, the literally staggering realisation that it is over.

At that moment there is something extraordinarily collective about the achievement. Somehow you have done it but that’s for nothing compared to the thousands around you and to the millions and millions more for whom the charity money is raised. All the joy and all the sadness in your life washes over you. The late Chris Brasher called it “a pointless but wonderful victory over mental doubt and bodily frailty”. Yes Chris, but look down, we have got to get there first.

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