This time a fortnight ago I was reeling; after eight Central London gigs in three nights I was aglow with the wonderfulness of all those audiences. On stage the response had been great, off stage the contributions to my charity bucket – I told them all I was running the marathon for Parkinson’s UK – had been astounding, totalling nearly a thousand pounds. Heavy. Literally – I could barely carry the bucket by the end of Saturday night, but hey, good problem to have.
I was all set. What could go wrong?
Abruptly, I came down with a horrible cold. Then, just when I was feeling really sorry for myself, Boston happened. That weekend’s glow was all gone. I mourned not just those poor, happy, innocent people in America, but the happy-go-lucky marathon I’d been all ready for. It’s hard not to be selfish with your sadness; from my point of view, all I could think about was that eight year-old boy who was killed – you remember, his poster for peace and his smiling face were in all the papers. My little boy is eight, and he’d be waiting at the finish line for me. Hating, hurting that? Incomprehensible.
But everything went on.
People kept sponsoring me on line. I went to the Marathon expo, got my all-important number, checked in with assorted running compadres, shook off my cold; it was happening. Not the imagined, golden marathon of the weekend before – a post-Boston marathon. London 2013 version 2.0.
This time a week ago I was running – and it was beautiful; the weather, the city, the people. I trotted the best part of thirty miles with an actual, physical grin on face – not an unusual look for my face, I grant you, but surprising in the circumstances. I normally run alone, headphones on; I’d been worrying about all the people, the social nature of the thing, giving the crowd the respect it deserved, but in the event I found a nice balance between the two. No balance at all, really – that’s what community is; individuals, but together. During a marathon, when a stranger on the sidelines reads a runner’s name off their vest, catches their eye and cheers them on, only those two people are involved – but in that momentary interaction the whole spirit of the thing is encapsulated.
Oh yeah, I get pretty philosophical when I run.
Of course, no one had forgotten Boston; black ribbons were worn, a thirty-second silence was observed (except by a brass band playing the theme from the A-Team somewhere in the distance – oops!) Out on the course runners and supporters bore messages inspiring and poignant – I saw runners who had been running in Boston less than a week before – and I got to thinking; that’s what a marathon is all about; turning negativity into positivity. The individual runner turns physical hardship into euphoria – they and their supporters are often turning grief and other death-and-illness-related sadnesses into charitable fundraising and just plain joy – a city famous for being an inhospitable place where no-one says hello or catches your eye becomes a veritable cauldron of love and support for a few hours.
That’s the alchemy of the marathon at its best – even something as hate-riddled as a terrorist attack on happy, blameless people gets turned into love and joy. It’s magic.
And now it’s done. This Sunday morning I’m driving along the M4. I should be deep in a comedown, but I think I’ve learnt my marathon lesson; to miss it would not be to respect it. Any sadness or loss I feel now needs to be turned into the good stuff, any new hardships are there to be surmounted…
So bear with me. I may be hippying-on about love and joy for some time to come.