And so we’ve arrived at the end of Lent Term, and last Sunday’s Boundary Run seemed a perfect way to (nearly) end it. In part because in many ways it’s a metaphor for the Cambridge term: an intense period of activity that seems never-ending and yet finishes in the blink of an eye, a course that evokes all of the joys and miseries of life in this town, from the muddy post-Cindies lethargy to the tailwind-accelerated, post-deadline euphoria.
Also because it’s a microcosm of distance running – though given all the work the organiser and the volunteer put in, perhaps “macrocosm” would be more appropriate (and classicists and sociologists, please don’t be offended by any misappropriation of these terms) – incorporating all of the elements of the sport that we’ve discussed in this space over the past few weeks.
The run drew from across the spectrum of distance runners, from those with seriously competitive ambitions to those just looking for a different Sunday long run route, via those happy to lend support and celebrate the achievements of the competitors, but it provoked the same response – at some stage – in everyone involved: a broad smile.
Perhaps the smile was simply a consequence of a clear and sunny Sunday lunchtime; perhaps it was an expression of relief at finishing the marathon, the half marathon or passing any other intermediate checkpoint; perhaps it was a demonstration of pride after setting a new personal best, overcoming a painful stitch, an agonising cramp or a debilitating strain, or proving that preparations for London are very much on track; or perhaps the effort of the run was such that facial muscles were tightened into a grimace that was mistaken for a smile.
Of course there were other emotions on displays as well. The queue for the toilets before the start suggested that some butterflies were trying to escape from some stomachs. And the mile markers drew one or two scowls – they might have been valuable in efforts to pace the race, but they were also an unwelcome reminder of how much remained.
As the proverbial “wall” grew larger and larger, physical pain and weariness threatened to spoil the experience, ably assisted by the psychological trauma caused by a wrong turn or a lonely and windswept path along the outskirts of Cambridge. Even the spectators were subjected to minor torture, chilled as they were by the biting wind while waiting, without information, for their champion to arrive.
And yet, to a person, everyone involved promised to return next year. That’s what it’s all about, this marathon business – keeping going and coming back for more. I suppose that’s the thread that links all of these blogs, really.
Throughout all of the personal best times and the afternoons of clarity along the river, we keep going and push on to even greater heights. Throughout the crises of confidence and motivation and the niggling aches and coughs, we punish ourselves and come back for more.
I find that reality very comforting as the time to the London Marathon closes to just six weeks. I confess to a certain, unconscious anxiety that murmurs continuously in the background. My preparation up to now has been encouraging and mercifully free from interruption, and it’s not long until I can start to think about tapering down the training, but there are any number of unforeseen and uncontrollable incidents, accidents and circumstances that could arise between now and 25 April and render my preparations worthless.
Happily, the drive to keep going and come back for more subjugates that anxiety and confines it to the deepest, darkest corners of the mind. The spirit of persistence is continually nourished by training partners, rivals and idols and fellow competitors alike, all of whom use it to navigate the ups and downs of marathon running. And it positively revels in the jubilation of all of those who crossed the finish line of flour in the Boundary Run.
Okay, the race might have lacked some of the glamour of the big city marathons, but it was bound(ary)less fun…