Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict


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I had been convinced that I was going to run into my own record books that day. A PB, that personal best which constitutes the Holy Grail of runners everywhere, seemed within my grasp, and that was my mistake. I'd grown too confident, and so the heavens opened.

The energy drained out of me, and then came the final straw: the man with the boat on his head. You might strive for a PB, but any time you think you're bigger than the marathon you're running, the marathon will always have the last laugh. Perversely, though, in the warm light of the Amsterdam changing room afterwards, I realised that it was for moments like these that I run marathons — a moment so miserable at the time and yet so hilarious in hindsight that it went straight into the annals of my own running folklore. Within an hour, I found myself softening towards the man and his boat.

It was a low point, but looking back now, it was a low point every bit as precious as the high point that had sent me smiling over the finish in the London Marathon the year before. Marathons can crush, but so too can they send your spirits soaring with little moments that will equal anything else that life will ever throw at you.

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In London, I had been struggling, desperately needing help. I had turned into Parliament Square with just under a mile to go, but I was in a state of near collapse, succumbing to increasing confusion and feeble-minded despair. All that was keeping me going was thrusting my chest towards randomly selected spectators in the hope that they would read the name on my vest, shout it out and urge me on. The noise was intense, but in that moment all I could hear, loud and clear above the roar of the crowd, was the voice of a little boy standing at the corner.

You can still win this!

It was a sublime moment, so absurd and so true, so crazy and so perfect. Win it? I was heading for a finish nearly an hour and three-quarters after the actual winner had won. But that wasn't the point. The little lad was spot on. If I could summon the bloody-mindedness to get over the line, then I too would be a winner. The final minutes weren't pleasant; but I managed them. The finishing photos show my face a sickly shade of blue, but I was grinning as I crossed the line, new life in my exhausted legs, all thanks to the little boy.

The boat and the little boy, the two extremes that sum up that passionate, nonsensical, punishing world of marathon running. A world that I love — a world that is unlocked when you dress up in Lycra, put protective plasters on your nipples and run Even when I hate it, I love it still. I've been running marathons for 14 years now. I've clocked up 25, ranging from 4 hours 20 minutes down to 3 hours I've run in eight different countries and in five different capitals, and no one believes me when I announce that my next marathon will be my last.

They're right. It won't be. Life without a marathon looming on the horizon has become unimaginable. This book is an attempt to explain why — a look back over the pleasures and the pains my addiction has given me. Marathon runners will recognise them one and all; I hope non-marathon runners will want a bit of it too. If you've already run a marathon, I hope you'll be with me on every page; if you haven't, I hope you'll want to run one by the time we reach the finishing line. If you want to annoy a marathon runner, wait till he or she starts to tell you about their latest marathon and then ask, all innocently, 'So how far was that one then?

Or However you want to express it, it's a fixed distance the world over, and that is both the point and the pointlessness of it. History tells us that the first marathon runner — though he didn't know it at the time — was Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who was sent from the battlefield at Marathon to tell everyone in Athens about 26 miles away that the Persians had just been defeated. He'd just fought in the Battle of Marathon himself, poor chap, and a marathon straight afterwards was just too much for him.

Pheidippides ran the entire distance presumably with very little crowd support , shouted 'We have won! The world's first marathon runner had also set the standard for the world's worst post-marathon celebration. But it was Pheidippides who ultimately defined the event which featured in the first modern Olympic Games in In the London Olympics, the final yards were added to accommodate the Royals and to give them a better view — or, at least, that's the popular understanding.

In May , the International Amateur Athletic Federation set the distance in stone: 26 miles and yards — the distance which has been run around the world ever since. It was a vague distance in those early Olympic Games, hovering around 40 km, but for the past 90 years it has been immovable — and that's a big part of its charm.

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The distance is predetermined. It is also absurd. You can't beat 26 miles and yards as a clunky, arbitrary and deliciously random distance, and yet it has become the rigid standard by which long-distance runners measure their prowess. Generally, it takes a marathon runner to know that a marathon is 26 miles and yards — or even the rather more imprecise And we look at the rest of the world aghast when we discover that they don't share that knowledge.

My late grandfather, ex-RAF, was convinced that the wingspan of a Spitfire was the most rudimentary piece of general knowledge on the planet. We marathon runners are rather like that about the exact length of a marathon. But for all we tut, the true marathon runner feels a certain smugness when other people ask the question: 'How far is that marathon? They haven't joined the club — the best club in the world. Running a marathon doesn't make you clever, and it almost certainly doesn't make you interesting.

Keep on Running : The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict

In fact, probably quite the opposite is true. But anyone who has ever gone the distance will tell you that running a marathon is your admission ticket to something truly special, something that takes you to the next level of human experience and beyond. And therein lies the bond between marathon runners. As soon as you have run one, you belong to a brotherhood.

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Fellow members won't ask you how far you ran. Far more pertinently, they will ask you how quickly you ran it. In their mind will be their own time. The point is that no time stands by itself. Every time needs a point of reference, a point of comparison. Every time, that is, except your first. And that's what makes your first marathon so very special. It's the only time you will run a marathon wondering simply whether you can finish it.

For all the rest, you will be wondering whether you can run faster than you've run before. Only in your very first marathon is it enough to run it for running's sake. Your debut is the marathon that gives you the marker by which all your future races will be judged; the marker you hope will recede as you start to set new standards. My good fortune was that my first marathon was the London Marathon, arguably the best in the world.

London offers one of the greatest marathon experiences imaginable. Many marathons are deadly serious, and so too is London, but London's great distinction is that it is also the biggest street party ever staged. The first year I did it, one of those interminable Saturday supplement colour pieces nailed it when the writer described the London Marathon as 'part race, part garden party'.


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A huge part of the charm is the great atmosphere, the hundreds of thousands of supporters, the almost constant roar of the crowd, the generosity of the man quite literally on the street as he urges you on as if it really matters to him. It's an event which brings out the best in us all, a terrific gathering of selfless spectators egging on tens of thousands of selfish runners.

For the runners, even as they raise millions for charity, it's all about their own personal goals on the day. For the spectators, it's all about helping the runners get there. And that's what makes marathon running unique. Nothing else summons people in quite such numbers for such a mass act of collective altruism, all directed at an endless stream of complete strangers toiling past, in amongst whom, somewhere, is the one person they are truly supporting.

Twenty-five marathons — six in London — have convinced me that it's at the London Marathon that this street-level philanthropy receives its greatest expression, every year, year in, year out. You run through sheer benevolence, and you can get quite drunk on it, the runners responding in kind, which is what makes up the garden-party element. Musicians of all kinds will set up stall along the route to will you on. You'll get everything from roadside discos to rock bands, from gospel choirs to kettledrums, from brass bands to samba.

Popular Features. New Releases. Description Marathons make you miserable, but they also give you the most unlikely and the most indescribable pleasures. It's a world that I love - a world unlocked when you dress up in lycra, put plasters on your nipples and run Phil Hewitt, who has completed over 25 marathons in conditions ranging from blistering heat to snow and ice, distils his personal experiences into a light-hearted account of his adventures along the way from Berlin to New York, and explores our growing fascination with marathon running.

Review quote 'A charismatic, charming, funny - and, above all, thoughtful - memoir about running, motivation, ambition. Perfect, not just for those who do run - or intend to run - a marathon, but for the hundreds and thousands of us who venture out from time to time to run just a mile or two A complete delight.

Phil shares the pitfalls and emotions that running a marathon for the first time evoke and how running can grab you and draw you back for more. A lovely reminder both of what seductive fun marathon running can be and why I gave it up. My swelling pride lasted just about a nanosecond before the awful, clanging impact sent me reeling backwards. It was like turning on a tap. But fortunately, help was at hand. The poor chap — known in the twittersphere as gearselected — was solicitousness itself as he persuaded the occupants of a parked car nearby to part with a wadge of tissues which I duly drenched.

It took me back to that moment five minutes into the New York City Marathon when a chap tripped and crashed down onto his knee. It was obvious he was out of the race, and you just knew what everyone else was thinking: that could have been me. I staggered on. At four miles, thinking of the miles stretching ahead, I was within a whisker of pulling out. The only person you run against is yourself. Everyone else you are running with. And what a superb bunch they were. I lost count of the number of people who checked I was OK. Their generosity of spirit kept me on track.

In my confused mind, I was Terry Butcher playing on in that vital World Cup qualifier in Sweden, blood dripping down his shirt. At about 20 miles, as we came back alongside the eastern road, I started to lose a sense of height and depth. It became difficult to judge differing levels, and the short drop to the beach to my left was giddying in a worrying way.

My only option was to walk. And so they did. Just before South Parade Pier, with barely half a mile to go, with a head that felt like every single Christmas carol that has ever been written was being played in it, I was inches away from the absurdity of packing it all in. I hope these words reach runner He told me he would get me over the line and he did, by which time someone else had warned the paramedics that I was coming. The upshot was five stitches to my forehead, lots of questions about what day it was, who was the prime minister, lights shining in my eyes, high-blood pressure, slow pupils, concussion and very likely a broken nose.

The writer is the arts editor of several Sussex newspapers who freely admits that he has never troubled the likes of Gebrselassie and never will; indeed, his best time in some twenty-five marathons is Loader This is the way the common man smashes Shane Warne back over his head to bring up a triple century at Lords: this is the way we mortals smash home that FA Cup-winning penalty. This is the way we become heroes — if only to ourselves. As a writer, Phil Hewitt never stumbles.

After all, this is a book about repeatedly flogging oneself for Each chapter is a fresh discovery, an inspiring insight into what it means to be dedicated to this exacting event. It is intimate, honest, entertaining and superbly written. I always knew that runners were great people.

And as such, I must admit I was a bit nervous when it first came out. Well, I would. A fantastic journey because the response has been so overwhelmingly positive. The great news is that his snarliness has been the exception. The lovely thing is that people seem to have tapped into what I was hoping to get across — namely that running, however much it hurts, however much it occasionally disappoints, is simply the most gobsmackingly, joyously liberating thing open to man.

What matters far more is the pleasure that we get out of going for a run — the pleasure that keeps us coming back. Well, yes. But addicted to something which brings happiness; something which relieves stress far more than it ever creates it; something which makes us all much more balanced, rounded people. Do you spend your day fighting off hundreds of emails?

Trying to fight back the tidal wave of work which seems forever on the point of washing you away? And I hope — and I believe — that these are some of the things people are finding in my book. I want to fire up the non-runners; I want to over-excite the excited runners; and I want to reinvigorate the jaded runners like me, just a bit, just recently, alas! Compiling a list of marathons, even more gutted to have missed out in the NYC ballot. Great read.

With my first marathon coming up in 2 weeks time the London Marathon I had this book on pre-order when I saw it was coming out, hoping it would bring me inspiration! He talks frankly about his awful marathons and inspirationally about his great ones. He really gives an insight into what can be experienced over Highly recommended! This book is brilliant.

I have never reviewed anything on Amazon before but felt this book was worth it. It will make you want to enter a marathon today. If you have one on the horizon, as I do VLM , then it will raise your excitement levels sky high. The little package was waiting for me when I got back from work on Friday; I knew what it was from the postmark; I opened it with a little trepidation, just wondering what that crucial first impression by which we judge everything these days was going to be.

Out the book tumbled — and what a relief. I loved it. A relief indeed because I had never been totally convinced by the cover. But I am now. Leaving aside the words inside, it looks terrific — a complete vindication of the design that Summersdale came up with. The cover — and I love the colour scheme — sums up precisely the kind of semi-serious, funny and upbeat book I was intending.

Or rather, a suggestion which needed to take root first. It lodged in the back of my mind, and it was a couple of years later that I was ready to do the deed. The flight passed in a flash. By the time we touched down, the book was written in my mind. A couple of weeks later, it was ready on the computer. I approached Summersdale Publishers in Chichester the city where I work , and they were instantly encouraging and quickly agreed to take on the project.

I had written five ways to lash up a marathon, followed by five ways to get it right. It was funny, she said, but the disasters would see the readers dropping by the roadside before they ever reached the successes. Abbie then took on the editing — and proved a godsend.

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Between them, Jennifer and Abbie urged me to tone down the endless stats. I hope the final product now feels more much human. And then it was over to copy-editor Ray, to whom my debt runs deep. Ray does. Each and every one. After that it was back to Abbie for the joint process of picking the photographs which now grace the inside of the front and back cover — again, an important element. This book is about marathon-running, but my hope is that it is marathon-running viewed from a very much wider perspective. And in the preparation of Keep On Running, I have been blessed with the very best team possible.

The A team. There are no mid-packers here. We are front-runners one and all, and I hope you will join us when the book comes out. April sees the launch of the marathon season, with big days coming up in London and Brighton, plus further afield in Paris Milan, Vienna and Madrid. From April onwards, there are dozens of marathons across Europe to enjoy. For those contemplating their first-ever attack on those fabled Phil, arts editor for Sussex Newspapers, has completed 26 marathons in conditions ranging from blistering heat to snow and ice, in locations from Berlin to New York, sets a cracking pace in a light-hearted account of his adventures on the road.

Marathons need to offer you stimulation; they also need to offer you great support if you are going to last the course. Tokyo offered both in abundance last Sunday — a day which saw Tokyo take every single runner to its incredibly-generous heart. Tokyo was my 26 th time running a The Japanese love number games like that, and it certainly felt like the stars were aligning in my favour.

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Within moments of arriving in the city, I knew that it was going to be right up there among the very best experiences a marathon can give you, rivalling Paris and New York for the sheer thrill of it all. But, as the dust settles, my abiding memory is going to be the sheer kindness of the people who lined the route and welcomed us home at the end of it all. Consider the fact that the finishers were finishing across a four-hour time span.

Their smiles never wavered. But nor were those smiles fixed. Those volunteers — and how lovely to see their faces — were enjoying our moment of triumph every bit as much as we were. And the great thing was that it was a moment typical of the entire day. The Japanese people really are extraordinarily giving. They smile all the time, and a smile counts for so much when you feel you are on your last legs. I lapped up that generosity over a last three miles in which I happily admit I seriously struggled.

As I stood at that start line, my body was telling me that it was ten past midnight. And I stood there shivering. Just three days later, Tokyo was blanketed in snow. On marathon morning, it was already perishingly cold. Thank heavens for all the warmth that was to follow. Warmth from the crowd, that is.

Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict
Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict
Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict
Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict
Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict
Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict

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