- Exercise & Fitness
A Marathon Running Man's Ramblings-It Was Jim Fixx's Fault
My London Marathon medals
This hubpage is inspired by a recent find. I'm not referring to some trinket of gold or cache of treasure unexpectedly being spotted lying on the ground. To be fair though, while these items have no real monetary value they represent an exciting but long forgotten part of my life and are valuable to me.
Dying to know what it is that I found lurking in a cardboard box gathering dust? A bunch of running medals and vest numbers. To be slightly more precise several medals from my days of running marathons including a couple of London marathon finisher's medals and a bunch of the paper numbers; Printed numbers akin to a vehicle registration pinned to front of your running vest to prove you really were mad enough to run this insane distance of 26 and a bit miles. These mementos are proof that I did indeed enter and complete a few running races and somehow survived. That is despite worried glances from hovering first aid personnel who were convinced a dreadfully unfit person such as myself had wandered to the start line for a bet and wasn't seriously intending run.
Any sane person would wonder what possessed a fairly rational person such as I to take on a monumental and frankly barmy notion of throwing one blister covered foot in front of the other for more than two dozen miles. This madness all took root in the 1970's. I was a groovy twenty something then. Having moved on from the swinging sixties and having mislaid the age of Aquarius somewhere along the way, here we were now in the fab seventies. With our trousers flared big enough to park a VW Beetle in we also wore shirts so hideously garish they'd force innocent eyes to water. Along with the fab clothes and fab music there was also a fab new craze, running.
It was all Jim Fixx's fault. While we in the UK even then still mourned to loss of the Empire and the breakup of the Beatles we contented ourselves with inflicting the New Romantic Movement and Princess Diana on the rest of the world. In return we imported new fangled ideas from this strange concept known as the rest of the civilised world. For some bizarre reason one bandwagon we jumped on in dear old Blighty was jogging. US citizens may well have been happily trotting daily around their parks for years but exercise was a fairly alien idea to many British folk. Sitting watching the telly and smoking your way though a packet of twenty of an evening was much preferred to anything more active than making an occasional cuppa. Our parks naturally existed only for mugging tourists daft enough to venture out after dark, for teenagers to have illicit liaisons in the bushes and to provide dog owners with an alternative place to foul than their own gardens. So, what has Jim Fixx got to do with it?
About 1977 New Yorker Mr Fixx had turned his life around from an overweight, two packs of cigarettes a day man to a slim super fit running guru who found fame and a decent fortune by writing about how great pounding the pavement was in his book The Complete Book of Running. The Brits who had already embraced this form of exercise knew it as jogging. Until Jim Fixx's book our version translated mainly as shuffling along pathways in any clothing or footwear that did not necessarily have a vague connection to sport. A fine example is those who eschewed footwear designed for the purpose which seemed positively extravagant when you already possessed studded football boots. Did tend to be a bit of a grind on the old ankles though. The Complete Book of Running changed everything and loads of us hit the streets in proper shorts, vests and running shoes.
In 1981 former Olympic gold medallist Chris Brasher co-created the London Marathon. My own running ambitions were modest just then. However, they were rudely awoken by some complete numpty called Dave at the factory where I worked at the time. Dave was a security guard and former Royal Navy sailor and it now being 1982 we in Britain had just flexed the muscle we still had then by having a small but costly to both sides war with Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Some of Dave's former navy pals had been in the thick of the fighting and he wanted to raise money for the injured forces lads. With that idea in mind he recruited a number of colleagues including yours truly to run the second London Marathon for charity. I guess we all felt a bit patriotic then, so readily agreed not realising what we were signing up to. I had already conquered plodding ungainly to the corner shop and back before being overcome with an attack of the vapours, a mean distance of several hundred yards, so, how hard could it be?
I have to point out that I apologise unreservedly for calling Dave a numpty, that was done for dramatic effect. Dave turned out to be a driving force for our team and a genuinely really nice bloke.
Well, for months I dedicatedly climbed out of a warm bed, donned running gear and lumbered along the local streets to attempt to build stamina and leg muscle for the trials ahead. Was I a great runner? I have to confess I wasn't. When I state I was ahead of my time that doesn't indicate how fast I achieved covering a distance. Sadly in my case I was ahead of my time because middle-aged men, guys of the fifty plus age group of which I am now a member gain weight and broad girth around the waistline known to all as middle-aged spread. I was ahead of my time because at twenty something I already had fat tum and never managed to shrug it off despite all the mileage.
Physical exercise as we all should realise burns calories. Tough exercise like running burns lots of calories. Sadly not enough in my case because I usually replaced anything I burned off faster than someone who could run a damn sight faster than me. To my delight I had read of a trick called carbohydrate loading. You eat lots of protein only for a few days then switch to only carbs. This tricks your body into storing tons of sugars and carbs due to being starved. This storage is used as extra fuel. However my own adaptation of the method meant that I leaned a little too heavily on the carb loading side and I tended to stuff my face at every given opportunity. The net result was that although I wasn't particularly overweight I wasn't exactly a streamline running machine due my own personal spare tyre.
I did somehow jog, trot and stumble my way along the entire 26 miles 385 yards of historic London to the finish line and we raised some cash for charity out of it too. Clearly mad as a hatter I even went and did it again the following year and added a few other marathons, half marathons, 10K events into the mix as well and often for charity.
Those days are a long way behind me now. Due to years of work as a carpet layer, karate, running, cycling and age my poor old knee bones are plumb worn out and in need of new ones. And running? These days running a bath is the best I could do. Looking at my old medals and race numbers also reminds me of when my youngest son was a toddler. We'd pin a race number to the front of his jumper and he scoot the length of the room to his mum and I and hoist his arms triumphantly. He would then have one of my race marathon medals placed around his neck. My little lad is a now broody long haired youth who only drags himself away from his xbox and emerges from his dark bedroom at mealtimes.
Was it all worth it? All those hundreds of miles of training and running along the streets of our capital with thousands of people lining the route screaming your name or race number giving you your fifteen minutes of fame? Yes. It was a hell of an experience.
I can't in all honesty say that running is for everybody. Exercise is definitely a good idea and there are endless ways from swimming to lifting weights to simply getting out in the fresh air and just walking. If you desire to take up running, here is my advice:
Take it easy, it takes time to build fitness and stamina.
Wear good quality, proper shoes to protect your feet and joints, they may be a tad expensive but can save you from lots of injuries.
Ideally join a club and learn from a mentor.
And finally, enjoy it, it really can be fun you know!
One day, if you are fit enough, or to be honest completely barking mad enough, you might fancy running a marathon.
The book that started it all.