22 January 2006

Don’t listen to the horror stories, Brough Scott knows how to enjoy marathons

So here we go again. Three years after the last “never again” stagger up the Mall, all it took was a call from the Sports Desk and I am signed up to lead a Telegraph team in the Marathon in three months’ time.

And the reason for this folly? It’s the sheer improbable, inspiring, humiliating, self-examining fun of it – three years ago Elvis overtook me at the Victoria Memorial and I was finishing in 4 hrs 4 minutes at the time.

“Fun” may not sound the likeliest word but after six (or is it seven?) four-hour trots around London, trust me it’s the right one. For the London Marathon is something that wants to be done – or at least started and finished – with a smile on your face. You are taking part in Britain’s biggest annual sporting celebration.

Forget Cup finals, the Grand National, Open Golf, or Wimbledon. They may also have millions of viewers but at best they have 100, at worst just two participants. At Greenwich on April 23 there will be some 40,000 of us jig-jogging nervously and smearing on the Vaseline. Even me. At 63.

That’s if I and the rest of our squad make it to the start line. The saddest thing that happens to would-be marathoners is getting injured and finding all their dedicated training has gone to waste. Almost invariably that is because they have trained too hard, too soon. So welcome to Brough Scott’s pain free, fun-packed guide to marathon training.

That doesn’t mean we are taking it lightly. It does mean that you have to accept the body and the condition you have got, see what shape you get into in three months of sensible living and gently increased jogging, calculate what is a realistic time to aim for and then try to pace yourself.

The key rules for the ordinary jogger are: run as slowly as possible to start with; wherever possible run on grass not Tarmac; make sure you take days off especially in the first month; find a route with hills in it and, most important, talk in time taken not distance run.

Don’t be terrified or brainwashed by talk of hundreds of miles a week. I did that for my first two marathons, made myself miserable and got so ill in the first one that I was overtaken by a walker – I was “running” at the time.

The truth is that your body, and most of all your legs, must be in condition to keep running for four hours non-stop on April 23. But that’s the only time you do it. If you can get into position to run regularly round the hills for an hour without stopping and then do it just at reasonable pace for two hours, the flat streets and adrenalin lift of London will get you through close to four hours on the day.

Writing this is a huge hostage, 40 minutes at snail’s pace around the sunlit panoramas of Dorking this morning was no great beginning, but the challenge is there.

There is something more important. A hundred yards up from Finsbury Park tube station is the headquarters of Sense, the charity for people with deaf-blindness and which the Sunday Telegraph is backing this year. An hour there with Steve Collins and his team of an evening reminds you that the real heroes of the Marathon are the people who work for all the wonderful institutions supported by what has also become the biggest annual fund-raising event in Britain.

One of the greatest privileges of my life was to become a friend of the late Chris Brasher, founder of the London Marathon. It was Chris who dubbed it the “Suburban Everest.” We are so lucky to have the chance to climb it. And maybe to think a little more about those who can’t.

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