Landmark after landmark will greet the tens of thousands of runners, their feet eating up the miles as they make their way through the heavily lined streets of the capital. From the starting line in Greenwich, past the Cutty Sark, over Tower Bridge, through Canary Wharf and eventually down the Embankment, passing the Houses of Parliament and on to the home straight, down the Mall. There really is no atmosphere quite like it. From the world class athletes leading the way, to the pacey club runners not far behind, to the keen amateurs looking to post personal bests, to the many weird and wonderful costumes, which get more creative every year; and that’s before mentioning the millions of pounds raised for charity. It seems to have everything.
And there’s more. Just a few short months before the Olympic Games come to London, what better place, and what better year to take the challenge on? Everyone’s commitment and motivation for running is deeply personal. For many, a marathon is the most stretching feat of endurance they will ever undertake. It challenges the mind, body, and perhaps even soul. And it is no small challenge. The training schedule is tough with lots of sacrifices to be made along the way. There are few better ways to find out what you’re really made of.
So why am I doing it? When I approached my 30th birthday last year, I wrote a list of things I wanted to do in my 31st year. Running a marathon was at the top. I’ve always admired marathon runners, but never quite had the motivation to emulate them. Apart from a passing interest, I was never much of a runner, or indeed much of an exercise fanatic. But something changed early last year and with some encouraging words from loved ones, I picked up the bug and haven’t been able to shake it off. Having a busy and largely sedentary job, running has proved the best stress reliever I’ve ever encountered.
Just over a year later, as well as becoming a dreadful bore, I’ve trained in the sun, the rain, the sleet and the snow. With one half-marathon under my belt, it’s with no small sense of trepidation that I look ahead to race day. It was always important to me that if I did secure a place that I used the opportunity to raise money for a good cause. I think I’ve chosen an excellent one in the MS Society. My late grandma suffered from MS for many years and it has always been a charity close to my heart. It makes training that little bit easier knowing that I’m not just doing it for myself.
And so as I find myself well into what for me has become a fairly demanding training schedule, two things in particular have struck me (as well as the obvious question of ‘why on earth am I doing this...? Why would anyone do this?’ which seemed a fair question on returning home from a long run in sub-zero temperatures and finding my hands were too numb to take off my gloves!). The first, which I’ve touched on, is the size of the commitment. The other is what a popular pursuit running is for barristers. I could never quite understand growing up how my dad managed to combine a busy practice at the Bar with regularly running 50-60 miles a week.
The Bar line up
With that in mind, I set out to find a few members of the Bar who will also be lining up on 22 April to tackle this year’s race, hoping they could help me to solve that puzzle and pass on some top tips. Tooks Chambers’ Hugh Southey QC will be lining up for his for second London Marathon and sixth in total, which make my efforts seem even more amateur. Doughty Street’s Francis Fitzgibbon QC will be taking on an impressive fifth London Marathon and Michelle Christie of Northampton Chambers, like me, is going to be taking part in her first.
Their reasons for loving running were remarkably similar to mine.
“The number of times I’ve come out of court, quite stressed and then been able to go for a run and clear my mind and gone back to work feeling much fresher is a feature of my running” said Hugh, adding that “the freshness after a run means you work far more effectively”. Francis agreed: “Going for long runs is incredibly relaxing. They defeat stress and even if I’m not particularly concentrating, when I come back, things that will have been bugging me seem to be clarified, whether issues in a case or something else”.
The challenge to fit runs into a busy schedule was something they each tackled differently. Michelle is a fan of early runs - “I’m ‘annoyingly chipper’ in the morning and tend to go for my run at 5.30 or 6am before it interferes with the rest of the day”. Francis tends to take a more flexible approach, revealing part of the attraction of the sport to the profession, “It’s a very convenient form of exercise for the rather disorganised life barristers lead. All you need is a pair of shoes and you can go anytime day or night”.
As fairly seasoned runners, it was intriguing to hear Hugh and Francis’ perspectives on the race. For Hugh, having something to aim for makes all the difference to his motivation, “Racing gives you discipline in your training. I still haven’t quite got refuelling right and need to find some way of getting something on board during the race. I use jelly babies”. And he is already looking on to the next race, having signed up for the Chicago marathon in October, with a friend from Australia. I think I’ll just tackle one at a time...
From his four previous Londons, I asked Francis what had changed, he observed that “almost the whole route has people along it. One of the great things is the extra 5 -10% of energy you get from other runners and the crowds. But the Isle of Dogs doesn’t get any prettier and I find miles 18 to 24 is the tough bit; the dark night of the soul. You have to think you’re not doing 26 miles,” he advised. “Take it in manageable chunks”.
It remains an unknown for Michelle and me. I can only share her view, “I’m looking forward to it, even if every now and again I wonder if I’m mad”. Either way, we’ll all be there, cheered on by family and friends and trying to raise money for excellent charities. Francis will be raising funds for Redress, which supports victims of torture, “a small NGO without a huge amount of money”(www.justgiving.com/francisf) and Michelle will be running for MIND, “there’s a stigma around mental health which there shouldn’t be” (www.virginmoneygiving.com/MichelleChristie-Poole). Hugh was forced to pull out of last year’s event with an injury, but any support for Reprieve or the Prisoners’ Advice Service would be gratefully received. And what about the all important finishing times? I haven’t met many barristers without a competitive streak and Hugh, Michelle and Francis are no exception. Hoping for times of under four and a half hours, four hours and twenty and four hours respectively, I’ll be looking out for all of them on the big day and hoping they can hit their targets. And me..? Well, I have a time in mind, but mostly I just want to get round in one piece.
So come Sunday 22 April, if you’re relaxing at home, spare a thought for those of us pounding the pavements in the capital. And for those of you who are planning on coming along to watch, I’ll be easy to spot – just look for the guy being overtaken by an octogenarian in a giant banana costume...