My boyfriend may be running the marathon, but I deserve the medal
Liz Kearney on the exhausting role of 'Support Crew' when living with a marathoner
Published 25/10/2010 | 05:00
Today, thousands of runners will sweat 26.2 miles around the capital's streets in the annual festival of self-torture known officially as the Dublin Marathon.
At the finish line in Merrion Square, there will be much euphoria as the runners collapse in an exhausted, delighted heap, before picking up their medals.
But maybe this year the organisers could think of a suitable reward for the people who've really put in the hard work. Not the runners themselves, but the long-suffering teams of husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, flatmates, partners, children, siblings, aunties -- in short, anyone who's ever had to live with a marathon participant. Because while they may have run the race, it's you who really deserves a medal.
The husband of one runner I know likes to reply, when people ask if his wife is doing the marathon this year, no, we're doing the marathon. Because while running might appear to be a solitary pursuit, training for the marathon is undoubtedly a team sport.
Even if the only time you run anywhere is to the bar at closing team, when someone you love decides to take part in the marathon you'll automatically be recruited as Support Crew, a job made all the more taxing by the fact that no one ever asks if you want it.
Your duties, you learn along the way, are many and varied. First of all, you must learn the military-like precision involved in organising the training schedule. While your marathoner is out pounding the pavements for hour upon long hour, you'll be frantically rearranging holidays, family celebrations, playdates, weekends away and dinners, all while washing endless piles of running gear and wondering how it would go down if you suddenly announced you were going to spend 10 hours a week in pursuit of your own hobbies, watching Mad Men boxsets, say, or getting your nails done.
Then there are the budgetary implications. People like to say that running is great because it's free, but this is rubbish, something you'll only realise when you find yourself clocking up endless hours -- and astronomical bills -- at the nearest supermarket in a desperate bid to keep up with your marathoner's enormous appetite.
You should be warned: this is an almost impossible task. No sooner will you have emptied out the contents of your shopping bags into the cupboards when your runner will arrive back from the weekly long training run, stampede through the house like a starving grizzly and will have downed three boxes of Buitoni pasta before you can say 'Would you like pesto on that?'.
Is it just carbs you really need? you'll ask, trying desperately to keep up on the latest dietary requirements of the long-distance athletes. They'll nod, their mouths too full of spaghetti to speak. And protein, they'll splutter, as you ponder adding an extra shelf to your fridge to accommodate the latest tower of chicken breasts. And sweet things, they'll add, as you open the biscuit tin to find it empty again. And fruit. And nuts. And cereal. You get the picture.
Once you've reorganised your entire timetable and got used to being on first-name terms with the supermarket check-out girls, you'll be ready for the endless running chats.
The Japanese novelist and keen runner Haruki Murakami wrote a book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which provides a helpful clue for the uninitiated who thought -- ha! -- that running was simply a basic form of aerobic exercise. No, as Murakami explains, there is a whole lot more to it than that.
You'll soon learn that while your marathoner looks like they're just running, actually, they're doing something else entirely. They're pushing their physical boundaries. They're testing their psychological toughness. They're breaking down barriers. They're finding themselves. They're releasing their inner elite athlete. They're driving the rest of us quietly mad by talking about it all the time.
Your biggest test will come when marathon day itself finally rolls around. Today you are obliged to position yourself at some remote part of the route, strategically located to provide a much-needed mental boost at a time when spirits may be flagging and legs may be seizing up.
So you'll stand there, freezing in the chilly October morning, wine gums in hand, awaiting the appearance of your beloved, all the while politely averting your eyes as athletes stop to relieve themselves in surrounding bushes. You must clap and cheer loudly as runner after runner sails by, no matter how cold and bored you may be.
You must not be at all offended when at last your own marathon hero appears and, with barely a grunt in your direction, whips the wine gums out of your hands and runs straight past you with a strange, faraway look in their eye.
At this point, you must beat your way to the finish line, where you must not fret when they reappear, by now bearing no resemblance to your loved one but looking instead like a sweating, crimson jelly baby.
You must keep your cool throughout a post-marathon routine which may or may not include vomiting, shaking, being wrapped up in tin foil, passing out or even being removed by ambulance.
You must not even look horrified if, as happened to a friend of mine, your boyfriend appears at the finish line with his white T-shirt stained by the twin rivulets of blood streaming from his nipples, scarlet evidence of the all-too-common novice's mistake of applying insufficient Vaseline to chafe-prone areas.
But through all of this, you must not look concerned -- you must be stoic, and offer hearty congratulations, even if they are vomiting on your shoes, and say well done, that was brilliant, I'm so proud, what a performance.
For the next few days, you must endure endless comparison of times and smile encouragingly when your marathoner convinces themselves they have finally scaled Olympian sporting heights, even though the fact they have temporarily lost the ability to climb the stairs might suggest otherwise.
And then, just when you think you can breathe a sigh of relief that it's all over, you must brace yourself. Because it isn't over, it's only just begun. Marathons are wildly addictive, you'll find, right up there with Galaxy chocolate and heroin. One little nibble and you're hooked.
After this one, there will be another, then another, and then another. So the best advice is: get used to it. As we like to say on the Marathon Support Crew circuit: we're in it for the long haul.