The age old question — Is it possible to run a marathon and not tell everyone about it?

Ben Dillon
Runner's Life
Published in
6 min readMay 7, 2022
Photo by Miguel A. Amutio on Unsplash

While scrolling through Twitter, I stumbled upon an interesting question; ‘How do you end a conversation you’ve no interest in?’ The tweeter provided some additional context to really set the scene:

You are in a social situation where leaving isn’t an option. The reason you want out is partly because the topic is boring but you also want to escape the person. So it’s not just a matter of changing the subject.

Budding agony aunts were quick to offer solutions.

Many suggested excusing yourself to go to the bathroom. Others said to slug your drink and say you need a top-up. One social predator recommended looping an innocent bystander into the conversation and then making a silent getaway. For me, the first two felt like pushing the nuclear button, while the third was downright evil.

Personally, I find that the best approach is to hand the reins to the other person by being so insufferably boring that they’ll do everything in their power to get away. This is an area I’ve gained significant experience in of late as, a few months ago, I decided to run a marathon.

I first noticed it at home. I’d tell my wife about my running plans and the importance of gradually increasing my long run every weekend. It’s a matter of building endurance over time, you see. She would suddenly get restless, she’d start shifting her feet and darting her eyes around the room, presumably looking for some sort of shield to defend herself against the verbal onslaught.

Then it happened on Zoom. Someone would inquire about my weekend and I’d mention that I was training for a marathon. The first few innocent souls responded enthusiastically, leaving themselves open and vulnerable. But people quickly caught on.

Soon I noticed a shift whenever the conversation veered towards you know what. When the m-word was broached, I’d sense their inner scrambling. Their eyes would flick to the little clock at the corner of the screen. In real-time I could feel their neural cogs turning; “Is it plausible to say that I’m late for another call?”, “Could I discreetly yank at a cable and turn off my laptop?”, “Would faking an epileptic fit be too extreme?”

My slow decline into full-blown running bore happened in stages, unknowingly creeping up on me, the warning signs and gradual descension too subtle to catch with the naked eye.

It started in October when six of us signed up for the Rome Marathon. Upon signing up, we had just over twenty-two weeks before we’d take to the starting line in March. The training started almost immediately, though the running bug and conversation hogging didn’t take over until much later.

My journey started with a few casual five-kilometre jaunts, building up to a carefree and non-obligatory four runs per week. This is what you’re meant to do, you see. You build your fitness up over time. You can’t just go from zero to Mo Farah. That’s a sure-fire way of getting hamstring tendinopathy, a common injury amongst us joggers.

I stepped up my professionalism by downloading an official plan. The meticulous process involved Googling the words ‘twenty-two week marathon plan’ and choosing the first one I saw. In later retelling, I’d make this sound a lot more analytical.

As the weeks passed, I became eager to increase my knowledge base. I first started consulting Google with some simple training queries but the longer it went on, the more questions I had. One Saturday afternoon I posed the question, “What happens if you need to go to the toilet during a marathon?” This came after my own near miss.

It had been a traumatic experience. At the most excruciating point, I stopped running and adopted a birthing position. Though in physical and emotional distress, I made it back to the car, breathing sharply in and out, as if having my final contractions.

Grabbing the door handle, I decided that I would empty my bowels in the front seat and endure the consequences. Thankfully, for both the sake of the car and my ego, the need subsided as suddenly and mysteriously as it first appeared. I had mixed feelings about this outcome. It felt like I missed out on a runner’s rite of passage.

Google’s take on the matter was to simply avoid needing to go in the first place. This advice didn’t strike me as particularly Scout-friendly.

After a while, I started bypassing Google in favour of specialist sites like Runner’s World, Runner’s Life, or Verywell Fit. At first, I couldn’t believe that these sites could get so much material out of such a rudimentary subject. But it wasn’t long until I was slightly outraged that these vital resources weren’t government-funded.

By month two, I started to gather all the running accoutrements. With each product I used, I became either an unpaid advocate or violent detractor. On my runs today I have a choice of bum bags, a hydration belt, a running vest, Air Pods, an Apple Watch, a selection of compression pants, and a pair of Brooks. Brooks really is an exemplary brand of runners. When buying runners it’s important to consider the arch of your foot, you see. An unsupported arch can cave in while running, causing pain and reducing performance. Brooks offers amazing arch support. Everyone knows that.

I’ve also acquired a new yoga mat for post-run cooldowns. Stretching and hydration are absolutely key. And while I haven’t yet made the move over to the dark side, I have spent an inordinate amount of time browsing bandanas, running sunglasses, and those shoes that look like gloves for toes.

In the beginning, marathon talk was kept within the confines of our little running group. But it wasn’t long before little progress reports and unsolicited running advice started to slip out. One of my running partners was all but banned from discussing the topic with his wife and in-laws. I feared that I’d meet a similar fate.

Then came a tipping point. I can’t remember when it happened but it happened all the same.

I would start telling people about my marathon journey and sharing my newfound running knowledge. I’d then see a look on their faces. The look suggested that they didn’t want to hear about Brooks or arches or increasing training loads. They wanted out.

I’d notice their boredom and their complete indifference to the subject and I’d continue all the same. I didn’t care. They weren’t people anymore. They were just a set of ear canals; a vessel through which I could unload my innermost thoughts on running. I didn’t care if they were interested or not. Something had changed within me and there was no going back.

My marathon talking has taken over to such an extent that I can envision a not-too-distant future when I’ll arrive at social events with my reputation preceding me. Guests will have been warned not to mention any form of physical activity or risk severe aural punishment.

When that time comes, I’ll walk into parties and phones will start buzzing; last-minute texts will fly between friends and partners, reminding each other not to use the dreaded ‘m’ word. The room will part as attendees run for cover, leaving some poor, uninformed attendees standing helplessly in the open plains.

With the sure instinct of a predator stalking its prey, I’ll lurk towards them, glancing at their defenceless ears, so innocent and ripe for verbal attack. I’ll salivate as I consider the endless list of topics to discuss; the mental health benefits of running, the importance of using energy gels, the ins and outs of my 22-week training plan, or my deep-seated fear of hitting the wall and running out of glycogen.

Of course, I doubt it will ever come to that. I’ll never get that bad.

My marathon training will soon be over and things will start to change. Soon I’ll have completed my forty-two kilometre jaunt through the streets of Rome. When that happens, friends, family, and innocent bystanders can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Upon crossing the finish line, I will no longer be a marathon trainer. Tedious talk of training plans, running shoes, and stretching routines will be no more.

But then, something else will happen. I will evolve into something much greater.

I won’t be someone who is training for a marathon. I’ll be someone who has completed a marathon.

And, oh my, think of the mileage I’ll get out of that.

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Ben Dillon
Runner's Life

Everything I write is half nonsense. The other half is pure gold. Not on InstaTwitBook but please connect on LinkedIn — /dillon-ben