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Chapter 1 – In the Beginning

 

My calf muscles felt like they’d just been pounded with a hammer, there was an angry nano-alien moving around unpredictably in my left knee, and someone was playing the cello with my Achilles tendon. The lungs once filled with air seemed to have simply given up. A strained contorted smile appeared on my face, indicating that an acupuncturist had put 82 pins inside my mouth. I couldn’t go any further. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I’d started training. 

 

‘Training’ is a bit of a stretch. But there I was. An image that still sends shivers through the bone fragments in my left knee. A beach in New Zealand. February, 2006. The sun streaming down, because there no other way for it to go. Waves crashing upon the shore as the cool pacific breeze, well, alright, gale actually, was doing everything to knock me down. People walking their dogs, smiling at me with a touch of pity in their eyes. Their owners were doing the same.

 

Had they realized I’d just run the entire length of the country? That would’ve been nice. Truth was I’d just taken an extremely long and painful time to run a very short distance.

 

My first fifteen minute run in years. ‘My God’, I thought. Has it come to this?

 

Apparently it had. For someone so active in his early life it was a hard message to receive, but one I’d known for some time. It was going to take a while for the various body parts and the composite, pathetic body, to get moving and still have enough air to breathe like a real person would.

 

At least I wasn’t seriously injured. Physically that is. Mentally I was a train wreck. I’d told myself before the run to take it easy, the world record would have to wait. Taking it ‘easy’ was really the best I could do. 

 

That was the beginning of a thought process that eventually led to this book. I’d inadvertently set off on a journey of discovery. Along the way I’ve had the privilege of learning a lot about people, places, history, running marathons, bonking, and myself.

 As my running became less of a circus act and I sensed my body actually liked it, I started looking at the remotely possible. A marathon. Like most people, I felt that running marathons is what other people do. But I wanted a goal. I needed a goal. A marathon seemed on the outer fringe of the possible. 

Excerpts from A Marathon Odyssey

 

“While flying is not a major concern for me, Karen has moved beyond white knuckle status, even though she’s flown thousands of miles in the past few years. You don’t realise how much turbulence there actually is until you’ve sat beside Karen on a flight. She has instant religious epiphanies, seizures, paralysis, bouts of hysteria, vice-like gripping moments on other passenger’s legs and arms and moments of trying to sell her children if it will influence the flight in any way.

 

It’s worse when the plane takes off. To compensate I say useless things like ‘it will be over soon’, or ‘its blue sky now’, and, what must rank as the most pathetic, ‘can I do anything?’ All of which do nothing to make Karen feel good. I suppose my yammering at least takes her mind of the marathons. I’m still going through my own torment with the loss of my Vaseline, but I don’t think Karen cares.

 

It’s a rough flight, no doubt about it. We toss and turn while Will Ferrell does the same on Talladega Nights, showing above us. Lucky for us, and the airline, the plane lands, and right where we were hoping it would. Once in Orlando’s airport we search for Disney World. There’s a shuttle waiting to take us away on our magical experience. It’s not hard to find, especially when we can see the white of the Disney staff teeth from several hundred metres away.”

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 Life is an Odyssey; some have marathons in them Excerpt: “A Marathon Odyssey”

 

“I don’t remember too much about the operation to take my cartilage out. Unlike today when you can pretty much work on it alongside the surgeons or with the cleaning staff on rotation at the outpatient clinic, in those days I was ‘put under’ and knew nothing. I woke up pleased to see all my limbs were where I’d left them. For three nights I was given a shot of morphine as my bedtime snack. While visiting Nirvana each night my eyes would shut down completely until 5am the next morning when I resumed counting all the tiles and screws in the ceiling. These days once you’ve finished helping out with the arthroscopic surgery you’d be advised to maybe not run a marathon that evening.”

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Life is an Odyssey; some have marathons in them Excerpt: “A Marathon Odyssey” Cayman Island marathon

 

The music is brilliant. I’m forgetting I have to run a marathon in a few hours. It’s close to 11pm when Natalie Cole finally comes on. Her music blasts me into the back fence. Her voice makes sure I stay there. It’s an explosion of sound that sets car alarms off in Cuba. I’m increasingly conscious of the fact that I have to get up around 3:30am. It’s almost midnight now and I still have to walk back to the Hotel. If I stay too long I’ll also go deaf, which may mean I’ll miss my 3:30am alarm when it goes off.

 

I wave good-bye to Natalie but I guess she’s busy. And unlikely to be running tomorrow. Better chance of seeing her at the Ritz Carlton buffet. It’s been quite the day. Quite the experience. I listen to the concert all the way back to the Hotel. I’m pleased to finally be in bed, but realise as I turn the light off at 1am, that in four hours I will start running 42.2km.

 

Hmmm.

 Finish at Breezes #1

Life is an Odyssey; some have marathons in them Excerpt: “A Marathon Odyssey” The Long Run

 

Throughout the run I think long and defensive. Yet at the same time I want to test myself – specifically with the distance, but to also include as many hills as I can find. I know where they are of course; I just have to run to them. I quite like hills, perhaps because I grew up with them around me in Dunedin, New Zealand, which has the steepest street in the world as well as several others for which you need climbing equipment and oxygen masks.

 

Growing up on these hills as a kid, a close rival to the life-changing seconds of a bungee jump was hurtling down the street uncontrollably on a trolley with dubious brakes. Or none at all. Especially if your friend promises he’s fixed the problems from the previous crash. If the speed wobbles or our faulty mechanical work hadn’t already thrown us off into Mrs Birtles hedge, or into a passing car at the bottom of the street, we’d emerge as heroes. It was a badge of honour, worthy of a medal, to fall off and carry your badly beaten body back up the hill. Even if you had soiled your pants in the process. Running 30kms seems tame in comparison.

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Life is an Odyssey; some have marathons in them Excerpt: “A Marathon Odyssey” Athens marathon

 

Also, on my ‘things-to-do’ list are: pack as if I’m going to Greece for a week, make sure someone can feed the horses, cats, hamster, fish and chickens, remember to drop Fred off at the kennel, clean the fridge, finish up my work as best I can, don’t worry about the several hours difference in time zones, and remember, for the 100th time, my passport and running shoes. And make sure I get plenty of sleep. Daylight saving kicked in today as well; we’ve fallen back an hour. Thank God I don’t have much on my mind otherwise I wouldn’t be able to focus on the race.

 

It’s getting exciting. In one week I will be running the marathon from Marathon. The Marathon. Just being there will be a thrill in itself. Actually running it will be incredible. I hope the Kenyans are ready for me.

 

I think one of the riskiest things I’m doing is the red-eye flight to Europe from Canada. As a precaution I call Air Canada today to see if I can get an aisle seat. I could’ve walked to Athens in the time it takes to reach a real person. I cry pathetically about running the marathon and needing to be able to stretch out my legs. It works. An aisle seat. Buoyed by this success I ask about First Class. We both have a good laugh and wish each other luck in life.

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Life is an Odyssey; some have marathons in them Excerpt: “A Marathon Odyssey” Athens marathon

 

About 200 complete strangers disembark from buses and head for the boat. I make an immediate impression by smashing my head on the door frame as I step onto the boat to enter the lower level indoor dining area. In fairness to myself the height of the doorway was about five feet – most tourists are smaller I suppose – and I wasn’t expecting to do the limbo at 8am. I’m in a daze from the collision but within seconds I’m ushered over to pose for a photo with a girl in traditional Greek costume. I’ll be able to purchase this photo later in the day for 5 Euros. It could be a good one, but at this point I’m not sure whether my forehead is bleeding or not.

 

I take my concussion over to the nearest seat I can find. It turns out I’m not bleeding, but my head is throbbing. In part that’s also because the saxophone and synthesizer ensemble has seen the audience and started playing North American and British music from the 1950s. It’s a very surreal moment right now, made even more surreal when people get up and start dancing. It’s not even 8:30am. We haven’t left the port yet. An accordion makes an appearance. It’s all on.

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