running away from a mid-life crisis

In 2004 I suddenly decided to re-awake my long dormant running career and I ran the London marathon for the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow trust (ANBMT). I ran it in 4:10, raising £1500 – and I got a massage and rubdown from a beautiful young charity worker for the ANBMT when I crossed the finish line for my troubles.

I was invited to write about the experience (of the race – not the massage)  and the impact the decision to run had on my life afterwards. The article I wrote is below. I dedicate it to all men of a certain age…..

Running away from a midlife crisis

What is it about 42 anyway? According to Douglas Adams in ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, it is the answer to the ultimate question. To me it meant the wrinkly face of a tired overworked under-exercised middle management executive looking back at me from the mirror through my post-birthday hangover, and wondering where the last ten years suddenly went.

It wasn’t always like that of course. I used to run regularly up and down the lanes and hills of the Peak District National Park, which I am lucky enough to call home. In my time, I was a regular at all the local half marathons and hill races. Although the last ten years have seen a focus on work and home building, to provide for middle life and our three lovely children, and running petered out into virtual non-existence as career, nest building and raising children all fought for attention.

Then it happened. The male mid-life crisis self-destruct gene suddenly went off. We males do have a tendency to have to demonstrate beyond doubt that we are not getting too old… thereby proving conclusively that we are..! For some men this means chasing round after women half their age. For others it involves spending very large amounts of money on motorbikes with an engine the size of a battleship’s and the looks of a Klingon warbird uncloaking. Yet others still remortgage the house to buy a new open top car with more wheels than seats. I even knew one chap who swapped his lovely house, wife and daughter every weekend for 14 hour days running around the Brecon Beacons for 8 months to do a territorial army course with the Special Air Service.

So what did I do to vent off that sudden surge of testosterone? None of the above, much to my wife’s relief. I blew the dust off my old running shoes and announced valiantly to the world that there was ‘still one more marathon in the old dog yet’

Mixing marathon training with a very demanding job and three lovely children that expect constant attention is quite easy really – one just has to forgo sleep every night. Actually it did turn out to be easier than that, with a little willpower required.

It was more a case of making opportunity to train, rather than finding opportunity. However by hopping on the school bus with the kids and running back, only took 40 minutes out of my morning and was workable. Likewise my 2 hours ‘sanity time’ with the Sunday paper got gradually replaced with a 15 miler on a Sunday morning. The new regime was great. I felt fitter, I slept better, ate and drank more sensibly and felt more balanced.

I realised I needed a running goal. Following a particularly punishing Fartlek session, I had a rush of endorphins and in a moment of temporary insanity I applied for the 2004 Flora London Marathon.

The insanity had hold and on receipt of my rejection letter I immediately applied for a charity place. I ramped up the training as best I could and I managed to get about thirty three miles a week in, despite all my other commitments.

The great day came round all to soon. An April Sunday morning found me with the masses on Blackheath. The atmosphere was electric at the start, and just got better and better. A band under every bridge, a PA system blaring music at every pub, and the overwhelming sense of camaraderie as 32000 people ran 26 miles through the streets of London cheered on by half a million spectators. The costumes were awesome..! I ran with a Victorian undertaker pushing an old fashioned cast iron bed, four Mexican banditos, with sombreros, dodgy moustaches and a squeeze box, dancing round the whole course. My darkest hour was on tower bridge when I got overtaken by a seven foot Womble. My finest hour was turning up the mall, hanging a right at the palace, and running into the wall. The wall of sound that is..! If there were 500000 spectators on the course, then there must have been 30000 on the last five hundred meters. They were 10 deep on the pavement, and every one screamed their head off as I (and several hundred others finishing at the same time) came round the corner and saw the finish line teasing me 600 metres ahead. I even managed what the generous might call a sprint finish as I wobbled victoriously over the line, surfing the roar of the crowd, 26 miles and £1500 for the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow trust later.

A beautiful and very insistent young charity worker spotted my Anthony Nolan Trust running bib and dragged me away to their tent at the finishing line. I was given a very welcome massage and plied with energy bars and recovery drinks, until I was recovered enough to make my weary way to the tube and back to Kings Cross for the journey north.

Like a conquering general back from the fray, I got off the train at Chesterfield station. My two little daughters ran down the platform dramatically, with their arms outstretched like a scene from an old black and white weepie, and clung to clever daddy who’d just been on telly..!

The joyous ecstasy of having Daddy returned soon turned to bitter disappointment when during interrogation it became clear that Daddy hadn’t won… in fact he wasn’t even in the first 5. This became slightly more bearable as further interrogation revealed that clever Daddy did get a medal though.

My wife and baby son followed up the platform at a more regal pace, and soon the joyous reunion turned to squabbles as two little girls both tried to wear one medal at the same time. ‘Hmm’ declared my long suffering wife. ‘I suppose you had better do it again next year… to get another medal so they can have one each’. Now. There is a thought. I do need to hang on to this new found vitality. But, be nice to do something different. Something really different. How about New York, or Chicago? Or what about one of those desert marathons. But, why not? Hey… After all, there is ‘still one more marathon in the old dog yet’

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