Cyclists take themselves far too seriously to enjoy events like the London Marathon, says the Doc
I ran in the Virgin Money London Marathon in April. I did so because since I gave up riding 100-mile time trials I found that I was simply enjoying life too much.
Since we are cyclists, and the nobility of all our endeavours is subservient to the exact time they took, I shall cut to the chase and admit I missed my target of three hours by 82 seconds.
The shortfall matters little, because there was probably no incentive on earth that could have made me run the last few miles any faster than I did.
“Pain is temporary,” they say. To which I reply, “Yes, but it still hurts.”
For all that, I enjoyed the experience. The London Marathon is, in practice, quite a lot like cycling in a big bunch.
No one points out the traffic islands and kerbs until too late. There are drinks bottles all over the road, like landmines for the luckless.
Strangers’ identities come to depend on their back view. ‘The guy with the asymmetrical calves’ has his running equivalent in ‘the guy with the sweaty neck’ or ‘the guy dressed as a Viking who keeps stopping to drink spectators’ beer and who is nevertheless, 24 miles in, still ahead of me’.
Just like a bike race, every so often someone comes roaring past at a speed that is clearly unsustainable, and you nod your wise old head and know that it will only be a matter of time before you see them again, spent and broken, and you’ll be able to cruise right back past them like the pacing master that you are.
And, just like a bike race, you are wrong. They’re just better than you.
But there is a big difference with cycling, which is that outside the elite race, the main purpose of the London Marathon is to celebrate mediocre running, bad running, or even perfectly competent running done while unsuitably dressed, probably as a giant Womble.
Most Marathoners (including me) have no business trying to run 26 miles at all, but we went and did it anyway.
Cycling, on the other hand, is very bad at celebrating anything other than the good. We take ourselves awfully, awfully seriously.
It would matter less were it not for how effectively events like the London Marathon drive interest and enthusiasm for their sport. Because it manages to present itself as both very difficult but just about accessible, people line up to do it despite starting out with almost no real interest in running.
When I crossed the line I asked who had won. “Who won what?” came the reply.
It’s not a coincidence that the London Marathon organisation also runs the Prudential RideLondon event — I assume it’s because they already have phone numbers for all those portaloo companies.
Watch now: Stepping up to riding 100 miles
RideLondon is the closest thing to a mass participation marathon that cycling in the UK has, but it often gets dismissed by fully tooled-up riders as a bit too easy because even the long route is ‘only’ 100 miles.
In fact, I even got an email from a column reader just this morning suggesting that a marathon-style challenge for cyclists needs to be at least 200 miles with several thousand metres of climbing — something that would take many ‘fun-riders’ well over 16 hours.
If things like RideLondon are going to do for cycling what marathons did for running, which has been an awful lot, they need to hit that sweet spot of accessible misery for the masses.
Hard, but not impossible. And most of all they need to be celebrated by all of us. And if you really think 100 miles is so straightforward as to be not worth doing, I can put you in touch with a man who has a Womble suit you can borrow.