So, it’s that time of the year again when would-be Mo Farah’s don their new trainers, possibly dress up as a giant rabbit or Elvis and prepare to run a marathon.
It’s often for a good cause and, as the months of training finally come to a head, the nascent athletes issue last-minute pleas to friends, family and work colleagues to give just a little more.
Freshly carb-loaded, they head-off with a spring in their step to the race meeting point, hoping the hard yards have been done and sub four-hour glory awaits, followed by the inevitable beers and curry – once they’ve shed the post-run space blanket.
However, I would argue that, short of carrying a message to proclaim a great battlefield victory like Philippides reputedly did when he ran from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC, the whole thing is a bit pointless – especially now we can send text messages. And running a marathon is dangerous, as bold Philippides discovered when he collapsed and died after his run. That should have been warning enough, but no, we’re still persisiting with this trivial pursuit some 2,500 years later.
The painful sight of Scottish distance runner Callum Hawkins collapsing twice at the Commonwealth Games event highlighted the risks of pushing yourself too hard in excessive heat. Granted, he was pursuing his dream of Commonwealth gold, but what are the rest of us doing and is it really that impressive when Bill from IT tells you this will be his fourth marathon having ran the New York one last year?
I remember back to the great Edinburgh Marathon of 2009 when the race organisers ran out of water (they had one job) as temperatures on the way down to Musselburgh racecourse hit the 22C mark. On that occassion 10 people had to be taken to hospital after collapsing due to heat-related problems and 160 others were treated by medical staff.
Rather like the Grand National, the true toll a major marathon takes on the participants only comes to light after the event.
Tragically, this weekend’s London Marathon marks the second anniversary of the death of Scottish army captain David Seath, 31, who suffered a cardiac arrest three miles short of the finish, near the 23-mile mark, close to Southwark Bridge.
The physically fit Afghanistan veteran received medical attention and was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital but died later. Often running a marathon can bring to light a previously undiagnosed health problem.
Men over the age of 40 have died from heart-related problems with furred arteries – a sign of coronary artery disease – only discovered during the post-mortem.
There have been deaths from drinking too much water – a condition doctors call ‘exercise-associated hyponatremia’ and brain haemorrhages have also claimed lives.
Factor in the permanent scarring of the heart muscle, weakening of the thyroid and adrenal glands, tendonitis and other repetitive strain injuries and you are left with a long list of things that could go wrong.
No, I’m not against running per se – just the marathon version.
I can fully see the point in a trying for a sub-50-minute 10K or a fast 5K and I see the health and social benefits of something like Parkrun which brings people of all abilities together. These distances are reasonable and fun to run. But some people will always take things to extremes and, with that in mind, it’s maybe time to knock the whole marathon malarkey on the head.