Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Marathon Effort

In past years I liked to follow the London Marathon live on TV, spending several hours of the morning watching the event as it unfolded. I really prefer to see such things as they happen but this time I did not want to spend hours sitting in front of the television and so instead I saw the hour-long recorded summary in the evening. Whenever I go back to Greenwich Park, near which I lived many years ago, it is always a sea of green grass and trees, with people scattered about enjoying the scenery. Even the crowds of tourists are mainly concentrated on a couple of areas, so the main park never feels crowded. On the marathon day, the park and Blackheath* are a sea of people and their brightly coloured clothing, as well as the organisers’ tents, vehicles, barriers and tethered hot air balloons.

* "Blackheath" Note that the Dot Hay goes outside the dot vowel. Dot Hay goes alongside a dash vowel, on the "before" side of it.

It always strikes me as a little disconcerting that the race starts off going in the opposite direction, and doubles back on itself several times along its route*. One’s normal inclination is to want to go straight towards one’s destination, as the quickest way to get there. But of course this is not about taking the shortest route, it is about running the 26.2 miles and it is completely irrelevant* whether the route is a straight line, a meandering one, or a few hundred times around a racetrack, although I would guess that the monotony of this last one would produce fatigue more quickly. The London Marathon is mainly on the flat, with varied surroundings and a never-ending supply of fresh onlookers*, all cheering, clapping and shouting out encouragement to the runners. Every runner is greeted in this way, regardless of who they are, how they are doing or which of the races they are in.

* "route" Helpful to put the vowels in this and in "road" as they are similar in outline and meaning

* "irrelevant" See for examples of words beginning "irr-"

* "onlookers" L after N is normally downwards, but has to be upwards here in order to be able to join the Kr stroke

As the runners go round the loops* of the route on the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf, the bystanders are a little more sparse in places, and the tall buildings are probably an advantage if the weather is hot and sunny, providing longer areas of shade* and a chance to cool down. A runner from a very hot country might disagree and find even our hot days much colder than their home conditions. It looks to me as if all the heat is being produced by their muscles, and the water supply stations are a good opportunity for them to soak themselves as well as drink.

* "loops" Keep well through the line, as "laps" would also make sense in this racing context

* "shade" Insert the vowel, and the second vowel in "shadow" to ensure clarity, as these would both make sense in most contexts

As we are sitting watching it all from the comfort of our soft armchairs, we always groan in unreserved sympathy when we see a runner whose legs are giving way, and we know that they must have been* suffering the warning signs for several miles before this happens. The elite runners never suffer from this, of course, but somewhere at the back of the crowd of mass runners there are those whose legs will happily do 25 or 26 miles, and then most unsportingly start to wobble and waver*, commonly known as jelly legs or hitting the wall, with the finish line so near, and yet so far away. It is heartening to see other runners helping them stand up again and supporting them to the finish line, as it is important to everyone that they complete the race. Even more kudos to the helper if they have given up their own timing and stopped to support their fellow runner instead.

* Omission phrase "mus(t have) been"

* "waver" This means to hesitate or falter. The verb "to waive" means to put aside or defer, and a "waiver" is the spoken or written statement of this intent. The pronunciation and outlines are identical.

Last of all are the fun runners and the cameras on the tethered balloons showed them streaming out of the park gates onto the heath at the start of their race, looking more like a multi-coloured liquid than people. It reminded me of flood waters flowing over fields, with all the floating debris jostling about on the surface, or the tide coming in over the sand, with a froth of bubbles riding on the front edge. Fortunately this colourful mass of bobbing heads and shirts was a flood of enthusiastic runners, flowing between the barriers and gradually spreading out as they progressed along the main road.

Spotting the costumes is my favourite part of the event. This year there were people dressed as a large mug, red telephone kiosk, toilet roll, tree, giant running shoe, pantomime camel, dinosaur, bottle of beer, glass of beer, Viking, rhino, a painting of the Mona Lisa, and various characters including Peppa Pig, Mr Potato Head, Power Ranger, Judge Dredd, Spiderman, Santa Claus and Elf, Batman and Robin in their Batmobile, and the ever-popular* Superman. There was a lady* whose costume included a red dragon riding piggyback, and a man carrying a tumble dryer on his back, and I sincerely hope that it was empty* inside. The man dressed as a gorilla is still crawling the route as I write and expects to finish on Friday, five days after starting. This is similar to the effort of the man who walked the 2002 marathon wearing a 130 pound (59 kilogram) diving suit from the nineteen forties, and took five days and eight and a half hours to finish. I wonder if any of those watching the man running as a barefooted Jesus, carrying his large chunky cross on his back, thought to compare this effort with the real historical event, extreme suffering and endurance, and ultimate victory of a different kind altogether.

* "ever-popular" Keep the V clearly on the line, so it is not misread as "over-popular"

* "lady" Helpful to insert the vowels, so it is not misread as "lad" or "laddie"

* "empty" Uses the M stroke, not Imp, thus omitting the lightly sounded P

The expressions on their faces also told a story. The elite runners showed no emotion, they were doing what they have trained for and their minds were occupied with carrying out their plan and strategy, and altering it depending on what their rivals were managing to do. The fun runners were either grimacing and contorting their faces, or smiling, laughing, joking and waving back at the crowds. Some had an expression of surprise that they have made it this far. Some were just carried away with emotion that the day has come and that they are actually taking part, after all the planning. Some were realising that you can’t rely on it being “all right on the night”* or get away with having less than the best running shoes. One comment that is made over and over again* is how the crowds cheering them on really helped them continue with their effort, and this seems to me to be the main ingredient and character of the race, and its most heart-warming and uplifting feature. (1060 words)

* "All right on the night" A theatrical phrase, a hope that any problems will resolve themselves on the night of the performance - a sentiment to be avoided by shorthand writers at all costs.

* Omission phrase "over (and) over again". The second "over" is reversed in order to gain a good join