Blog Selwyn Marathon 2023: Marathon # 100

Selwyn Marathon 2023:
Marathon # 100

June 04, 2023

100 marathons – A reflection

If someone told you that you’d run a hundred marathons one day, would you believe them? Of course not! Yet somehow, I’ve reached this milestone. I ran my first marathon just before my 21st birthday in 2003. Back then I was a 3rd year medical student who played rugby but never ran long distances. No one in my family were distance runners and the only running I did was to keep fit for rugby. My flat mate at the time, Carl, suggested that we should run a marathon “for a laugh”. So (whilst laughing) we both entered and then subsequently trained for the Dunedin Marathon. Although I respected the marathon challenge, I didn’t fear it. I was young, cocky, and knew everything. I figured like most things in life, if you worked hard enough, you’d get the reward. This philosophy got me into med school and so a marathon seemed no different. Yet despite following and adhering to a good training program, the Dunedin Marathon DESTROYED me that day. I was shattered by 30km and suffered every ensuing kilometre to the finish line. I was limping for two weeks post-race. The sight of any runner afterwards made me sick and I threw my Avia running shoes into the bin. Life had given me my first major reality check. You’re better than you think you are, but not by much. I had finally met my match. And I was hooked! I wanted more of this! My mate Carl and I continued to run marathons after this. Initially we ran them “for our kids” (yet to be born) and then “for our grandkids” (which was an even greater pipe dream as we were still single) but never for a laugh again! Eventually work, family life, and kids caught up with Carl so he stopped running but I kept going. Training partners came and went but I persevered. I never thought of myself as a very good runner. But I was bloody stubborn and very good at ignoring excuses. For whatever reason, I just committed to running a marathon for each year I lived. I ran on average 5 marathons a year such that by 2007 (4 years since starting), I had run 25 marathons and matched my age. I then decided to ‘bank marathons’ as surely this type of thing won’t get any easier with age. By 2013 (10 years since my first marathon), I had run 50 marathons. As the average male life expectancy at the time was just under 80 years, I thought I’d add some buffer so a hundred marathons ought to do it. Initially it was all about chasing times. And then I was chasing numbers. Somewhere along the lines, I became addicted to the effort. I just love how running rewards effort. I love how you get out what you put in. There’s no bull shitting. No degree, status, or amount of money will get you over the finish line. Running was a great leveller and was all about your effort. And if you remained true to your effort, you’d invariably be rewarded. So after years of effort, running has become so engrained in my life that I don’t know anything different. I’m too far deep and don’t know if I can ever turn back. I just run now.

Running my first marathon with Carl (left) early on in the race whilst being laughed at by our support crew (Otago Harbour in the background)

When I first started writing these blogs in 2017, the purpose was to share and illustrate how you can make running (and exercise in general) a lifestyle. I’ve always been one to practise what I preach. When I was in the military, I was more of a lead by example type rather than lead by words. I believe actions speak louder than words. I had also just qualified as a Sport & Exercise Physician. I bemoaned how our ability to practise medicine was confined to a 4 walled office and was largely treatment orientated rather than preventative medicine. If you even knew a fraction of the benefits exercise can provide you, I guarantee you’d put on your running shoes right now! Put simply, if our society was more active, I’d have bugger all work! So as part of my commitment to the above, I’ve made an effort to write a blog after most events I’ve participated in. I’ve kept my expectations low throughout. However, if I could influence just one person to be more active, then I’d be a happy man. Writing these blogs has never been about drawing attention to myself (quite the contrary – I hate the attention). Though I’m grateful for the positive comments I receive, it always makes me cringe a bit. Nor is it about fame or popularity. That kind of stuff has never appealed to me. But if I can help someone to find it within themselves to be a bit more physically active and realise the benefits of exercise, then I’m overjoyed with their success. That’s what spins my wheels. And effort. I love effort.

Around the back end of the Dunedin Marathon and the long suffer towards the finish line. Meanwhile Carl (right) appears to be cruising and my other flat mate Steve (left) continues to find this whole experience amusing.

As I lined up at the Selwyn Marathon start line, I was calm but contemplative. Wow, I’ve finally got here. I entered at the last minute so none of my friends knew I was here. My wife Courtney had to take the kids to a friend’s birthday party this morning so my family weren’t present also. I remember (vividly) during my 48th marathon seeing another competitor dressed in a pink tutu and balloons to celebrate running their 100th marathon. I never understood why and I certainly wasn’t going to do the same. I’m now 40 years of age and it’s taken me 20 years to get here. Running a hundred marathons hasn’t been on a whim or part of a midlife crisis. Why would I want to run in a pink tutu like some clown when it’s taken me 20 years of devotion, discipline, and dedication to get to this point? And so I dressed like I did in all my other 99 marathons – in my running shorts and t shirt. I had no intention to draw any attention to myself. Only my wife knew this was my 100th marathon. “Pick a big city marathon” she told me. But I was happy with the Selwyn Marathon. It was small, local, and fit for purpose. It was 30 minutes drive from home and I’d be back by 1pm and still have the whole afternoon to work with. When some people run, they like to be ‘someone’. That is fine. But when I run, I love to be ‘no one’. It’s such a liberating feeling. I’m not Dr John. I’m not a husband or father. I’m just another runner like everyone else. This is my time to myself. My time where the only thing I’m accountable for is my effort. It’s an examination of my internal character. And one that I’m willing to keep repeating. The experience keeps me grounded. I believe it makes me a better person. And so I ran content and it felt like 20 years was only yesterday. I finished my first marathon in 4 hours and 18 minutes a broken man. I crossed the Selwyn Marathon for my 100th marathon in 3 hours and 57 minutes a fulfilled man. There were no special announcements at the finish line. I received a finisher’s medal like everyone else. As I walked back to my car, I became contemplative again. After a hundred marathons, what do I do now? If I stop running now, then what the f*** am I going to do? Hmmm. What if I live until I’m 200 years old? This was too much for a simple man to comprehend post run. I hopped back into my car and drove home. When I arrived home, the kids weren’t back from their friend’s birthday party yet so I cleaned up the leaves in the yard. I then mowed the lawns and walked the dogs. After that, I spent the rest of the afternoon with my family by the fire. I was happy. Whether you’ve run one or a hundred marathons, a marathon still hurts! I’m not going to sugar coat it. It takes a huge amount of effort. Every finish line is earned. There’s this great quote in medicine “He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all”. Don’t just read these blogs! At some point you must experience a marathon for yourself. Be brave and set sail for the sea! Enjoy it, endure it, suffer it, live it! Running is medicine.

Twenty years later at the Selwyn Marathon and holding the effort around the 24km mark

He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.

William Osler