Sunday, April 25, 2010

Memories of marathons

Marathon day in London. The TV coverage, with its relentless focus on the 'fun' and the 'heart-warming', makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that most marathon runners are data processors from Swindon, or website designers from Slough, the kind of people who would have had 'you don't have to be mad to work here but it helps' signs up in the 1980s and nowadays probably fill out Frankie Boyle gigs, because they're so fucking edgy. (A wild, rather stupid stereotype, but that is the kind I go for.) Obviously lots of different types of people run marathons, although perhaps they do they all have certain deficiency of intelligence in common. Still it's difficult to imagine cynical people running marathons - the kind of excitable positive mental attitude you need to think it a good idea to trash your joints for 26 miles seems to preclude dour miserables/realists like myself.

On watching the TV coverage, looking out for several idiots people I know who have apparently gone in for it, I couldn't help noticing that a lot of runners weren't really running it so much as, well, trotting. Of course when you're out for a 'fun' run (and how rarely does an oxymoron actually so obviously concern morons) actually running is not an essential item, as much just getting round by any means necessary and thereby raising loads of cash for wonderful causes. Raising the question of why people will only seem to donate to charity if someone is ripping their ligaments in half, but never mind, fun fun fun!

This year's event saw several world records broken. One man got the world record for fastest marathon dressed as a baby. He seems pleased, as does the man who won fastest leprechaun (I am not making this up), but jesus they let anybody in the Guinness Book of Records nowadays.

I have three major memories of the marathon. The first is from 1985 when my mum took me campaigning against the abolition of the GLC. We went around telling mostly unimpressed spectators that if the GLC was abolished the marathon probably wouldn't go ahead the next year. 'Don't be ridiculous,' one lady told me flatly, and the fact that she was proved right may have had some substantial impact on my subsequent political nihilism. Of course it is equally possible that years of trying to fire up an unwilling public for left-wing causes - for what was ostenibly their own good - left me bereft and unwilling myself.

When I worked at The Times staff there hated working marathon day probably more than Christmas Day - the roads around the Wapping plant are snarled up for miles with stupid people cheering on other stupid people, and most of the staff couldn't drive to work. As a cyclist it was not particularly difficult for me, although I did have to dodge the old Bill, leap a few barriers and sprint between runners across the Wapping Highway. The Highway has the rare accolade of the marathon running both up and down it, due to the torturous route it takes around docklands, and of all the vistas in London to have to pass twice, well it's an amusing choice.

When I worked at the tube, marathon day was an amusing tale of seeing fresh faced, excited joggers going out in the morning, and then watching them shuffling back in the afternoon, with carked ankles and twisted knees, helped along by some devoted family member, their happy finish line endorphin grin slowly peeling off as the weeks of agony ahead became apparent.

Other memories of marathon include the Marathon chip shop in Chalk Farm that somehow openly sold beer after hours in the 1980s, long before it was fashionable, where the chips were a strange shade of purple, and where marathon I guess referred to the drinking sessions. Every drunken tale rescued from that deviant establishment was always much more drunk than anywhere else. There was also the chocolate bar Marathon, which with a bag of crisps and can of coke was largely my school lunch for years. And let's not forget the parathons, when really strong acid trips go wrong.