Sweat and suffering: welcome to training for a marathon

Pushing myself beyond depths never passed, sessions will crash and burn; muscles will cramp, blisters will burst

My phone plucks strings from the bedside table. A harp melody weaves into my ears. Not the strongest alarm for 6am. But Classical is Clockwork Orange, American Psycho, Hannibal Lector. I need a bit of sociopath: to be brazen, intellectual, ruthless.

I'm getting up way before work because I'm training for The Eden Project Marathon.

Ten minutes later, I’m stirring coffee with a fork, buttering toast with a spoon. Not a great start. The morning harp hypothesis lies dormant in bed. Clutching a handful of last night’s organisation, I slip into running gear I’ve set out for a tempo commute to work.

Only out the door, and the inferno hits me.


With even our Emerald Isle melting into a Thai green curry, London is no exception. Muggy high 20s on the clock is not where I’d opt to have the thermostat, with sea air in absentia, unavailable to ferment my haematocrit.

Jogging down the street, my legs feel grotesque: I am Forrest Gump with wooden leg braces installed, but when chased by bullies in a pick-up (in this re-enactment, kindly played by demons in my head), the callipers stay where they are, and legs remain bolt upright.

In the park now, 10 minutes in – a session that doesn’t want to start.

Crossing the lights, I press the lap button. I don’t feel like it but I have to get to the office. Clenching teeth, I press my foot down on speed. Minute miles go down, as morning sun hikes the heat up. 7.30; 7: 6.45; 6.30.

Leg braces start bending as form gets hotter and hotter. Trundling into a rhythm, I am soon in full flight.

Nothing matters now, apart from putting one foot in front of the other.

Dense streams of perspiration trail behind, as I pounce towards the end of the workout.

Suddenly, a stagnant, stubborn red man appears. A main road: I can’t skip this one. The stopwatch stops. I patiently wait for him to go through a routine sulk, and later transform to his greener, more progressive self.

Ferocious, sticky heat

Not long after, my body goes through one of its own. The sweat tap is yanked from half to full. Ferocious, sticky heat scintillates up to microwave my brain, turning a morning mind into even mushier mincemeat. A traffic light for support, drums and guitars rattle my ears like fat, sizzling strips of bacon on each side of my perspiring, pink face.

The Arctic Monkeys whisper:
'Last night, what we talked about,
it made so much sense.
But now the haze has ascended,
and it don't make no sense anymore . . . '

Too bloody right.

Who will care about this workout when I reach the office? Only I can feel my heartbeat batter the collarbone I broke nine years ago.

What am I proving to myself? This posits a routine question of Why? – an enquiry I am more than happy to add a €1 trillion price-tag to.

This moment is no different.

I peer at the perplexed lady standing alongside, content with a podcast and a ponder. Why do I need a such visceral descent to a literal hell?!

Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not shuffles to its next track. Fake Tales of San Francisco builds up. The red man of Brixton Road stands off.

‘Get off the bandwagon and put down the handbook.’

Too bloody right.

I will not conform to idle threats of defeat, not listen to feeble cries of suffering. In three months, I aim to do a marathon in three hours. Pushing myself beyond depths never passed, sessions will crash and burn; muscles will cramp, blisters will burst.

I need to pick myself up after.

The green man appears. Start is pressed again and I run quickly towards another day at the office.

Welcome to training for a marathon.

Part 1: Three months for a three-hour marathon
Part 2: Sweat and suffering