29 October 2009 Edition
More than a game BY MATT TREACY
The finishing line
WATCHING the Dublin City Marathon always reminds me of how old I am getting. I did it in 1999, in just over three-and-a-half hours, but doubt that I would get as far as ten miles now.
The idea then that others can complete in around two hours and ten minutes puts one’s own paltry achievements into perspective. Finishing in that time means that a person is running an average of one mile every five minutes for 26 miles. Running one mile in five minutes, not to say three miles in 15 minutes, is something that a relatively small number of people who run are capable of.
The current world record is just under two hours and four minutes.
An illustration of the progress that has been made since the marathon became the centrepiece of the modern Olympics in 1896 is that the winning time back then set by Spiridon Louis was two hours, fifty-eight minutes and fifty seconds; 2:58:50. There are not an inconsiderable number of modern leisure runners who can match that time.
It took 13 years for the 2:50 barrier to be breached but the record was rapidly cut over the next while, including five times in 1909 alone, when it fell from 2:52:45 to 2:40:34. However, it was another four years before the 2:40 threshold was breached and not until 1925 before Albert Michelson posted the first sub-2:30 time in 2:29:01. Probably the disruption caused by World War One was a factor in this.
ALMOST 30 years passed before the 2:20 limit, one that some had claimed would never be attained, was surpassed by Keizo Yamada in the 1953 Boston Marathon, although the time was disputed on the basis that the course was claimed not to have been the full marathon distance.
In any event, Jim Peters posted 2:18:41 two months later and knocked another second off that time in June 1954. Two hours and ten seconds, around the winning time of the Dublin event, became the next big target and that did not fall until December 1967 when Derek Clayton of Australia won a marathon in Japan in a time of 2:09:37.
Since then, there have been a further 16 world records set, sometimes with only fractional amounts being knocked off and the current record was set over a year ago by the great Ethiopian, Haile Gebresellasie, at the Berlin Marathon in a time of 2:03:59.
The great target now, of course, is the sub-two-hour marathon but that is unlikely, one would have thought to be attained any time soon, given that fitness levels, running gear and so on are probably at their optimum. One thing is certain though: people will continue to strive to attain it.
THE women’s event is evidence of an even greater advance made over a short time. The first official world record was set in 1926 by Violet Piercy in 3:40:22, which by way of illustration was slower than my own time in the Dublin event.
It now stands at 2:15:25, set by Paula Radcliffe over six years ago, which makes it one of the longer-standing world records but one that will most likely be bettered before a similar time period has elapsed.
THE marathon remains the great athletic event because it represents the human striving to push one’s self to one’s limits, and that is as true of the person who starts to run for the first time in January and finishes in October in four and a half or five hours as it is of the elite. There is no easy way to complete 26 miles running.
I was inclined to be dismissive of those who warned me about the infamous ‘wall’ as I had run 19 or 20 miles already and couldn’t see what significant difference another six would make other than I would be more tired. Then again, I was never very good at listening to advice.
Suffice to say that, having comfortably gotten to 20 miles, the next six and the rest was a living hell for which nothing could have prepared me. Every part of my body seemed to cry out to me to get some fucking sense and just stop. From being on target to finish in around 3:10 or 3:15 my pace declined dramatically and to little more than a gentle trot, although it was not so gentle at some stages.
Egotism, I think, and the sight of the finish led to a brief spurt up O’Connell Street and I spent the next 14 hours lying on my back on the floor with half a dozen bottles of a well-known sports drink for which I don’t get paid for mentioning.
So, for those of you who ran on Monday, hats off. I can only envy you the suffering and the sense of achievement. Proof that, no matter how bad things look, sometimes we can generally pick ourselves up and get to the end (maybe not in as good a shape as we started off, but we get there anyway). The only sin is to give up.