When I was younger, fitter and had hips that worked, I entered a half-marathon.
It was jolly tough – all that stopping for a drink and sitting down every five minutes for a rest takes it out of you – and also embarrassing as by the time I finished there was just my mother and a steward at the finishing line.
I finished third-last and the steward, far from greeting me, as I had imagined, with a cheery smile, a warm cup of tea and some hearty congratulations, looked furious. He clearly had better things to do with his Sunday than stand on a street corner in Rochdale waiting for a sweaty young man to finish running.
A marathon, I’m assuming, would be even harder. Twice as hard in fact, and it is therefore a hell of a personal achievement.
The editor of this very newspaper you lovingly hold in your hands, Jon Rhodes, completed the New York marathon a few years back and to this day begins every answer to any question – even if it’s ‘where do we keep the paper for the printer?’ – with ‘It’s a little like when I completed the marathon…’
I mention this because a Kenyan athlete by the name of Dennis Kimetto broke the marathon world record this week in Berlin. As happens in these situations, essentially because I’ve no life, it made me wonder about the history of the marathon.
Turns out there are a couple of interesting tales, my favourite concerning Yon Bok Suh, a Korean athlete who became the first person to break the post-war world record.
It wasn’t exactly straightforward. Mr Bok Suh was about to begin a climb on a steep part of the Boston course when a fox terrier darted across the road and into his path. The startled athlete tripped over it and went sprawling. If that were me, it would have been a marvellous excuse to stop running and to get home and stick Match of the Day on (or, with it being 1947, to get home and wonder when the rationing of bananas was going to end).
Not Mr Bok Suh. Undaunted, he jumped up, ignored the sight of his badly gashed knee, and carried on. A few miles later his shoelace came undone, but fearing his time would be further harmed if he stopped to tie it, he instead adopted a slightly odd frog-like running style to ensure he didn’t trip and continued to the finishing line. Remarkably, he still set a new record.
In 1960 something quite heroic. Abebe Bikila became the first African runner not just to win the Olympic marathon but to do it barefoot. After victory in Rome, along the cobblestones of the Appian Way, Bikila declared: “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.” Maybe so but his blisters must have been enormous.
His victory was also notable for the fact that after finishing – instead of collapsing to the ground in exhaustion, as most do these days, then having a microphone shoved under their nose by Clare Balding - he astonished the crowd by starting a routine of vigorous stretching exercises. He later claimed he could have run another 10 miles.
There are lots more marathon tales – among them Lloyd Scott, once on Blackpool FC’s books, completing the London race in 2002 wearing a 110lb deep-sea diving suit (it took him five days and eight hours) and John Farnworth, in 2011, juggling a football for the entire distance without once dropping it.
But that’s for another day.
In the meantime, congratulations to the latest marathon world record holder, Dennis Kimetto. He did it in two hours, two minutes and 57 seconds, though he was aided by the fact there were no stray fox terriers around.
Ryder Cup mania is over
If you aren’t a golf fan, then God help you last weekend.
The Ryder Cup seemed to be everywhere, every TV channel, radio station, newspaper, and nowhere more so than Sky.
They were so obsessed with it that the chap presenting the news sounded genuinely annoyed when he had to break away from the golf for five minutes to announce the piddling little matter that our country was about to start dropping bombs in Iraq.
‘But don’t worry,’ I half expected him to add, ‘we’ll be back in no time to see if Westwood sank that 12 footer for birdie’.
I get that the Ryder Cup is a fantastic contest but what I will never understand – and the same goes for any golf tournament – is why people turn out in such huge numbers to watch it.
I went to the Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes golf club a few years back and spent the entire day trying, and failing, to crane my neck around hoardes of middle-aged men (wearing Pringle anoraks and awful trousers. and saying things like ‘too much topspin, he should have side-falloped it from that distance’) at a player in the distance hit a small white ball that I couldn’t see. As spectator experiences go, it wasn’t the best.
The worst thing is these players the crowds flock to watch rarely interact in any way with the public. Occasionally they’ll touch their cap.
Very occasionally they will wave in half-hearted manner.
But most of the time they just look grumpy and cheesed-off – which, considering they spend their lives travelling the world while earning shed-loads of money, really narks me.
That said I quite enjoy playing golf and I certainly enjoyed watching Europe send the Americans packing yet again – I just prefer it on the tele rather than in the flesh.