Yesterday I ran my first half marathon in one hour and forty-six minutes. The first sixteen kilometres were tough but fun. There were people cheering. There were kids with water, juice and raisins. There was pathetic thrill of overtaking people.
The last five kilometres were hard. I had a stitch. My shoulder ached. The shuffle function on my phone kept offering acoustic ballads, which, it turns out, are the worst possible music for endurance exersize. Still, I dragged myself around the course, muttering swear words, and managed to finish a lot sooner than I had expected.
This morning, I feel good (apart from my toes, which are swollen and red, like overripe strawberries).
A half marathon is a trifling achievement compared with marathons, triathlons or Ironman triathlons. There are thousands of people across the world who could have strolled around the course as a warm-up for their exersize. But to some extent achievement should be measured by potential and at least by that standard I feel rather proud.
Proud, but also fortunate, because my physical abilities, such as they are, exist largely in spite and not because of choices I have made. I have subjected my body to malnutrition, alcohol intoxication, cigarette smoking, extended periods of underuse and every chemical the food industry has invented. I have walked a lot, and eaten the occasional salad, but given all the punishment I have inflicted on myself it is astonishing that I am at all athletic.
The human body is an impressive thing. A computer, however modern and expensive, must be treated carefully, and nursed through bouts of ill health, before dying in, at most, five or six years. Some people are unlucky enough to have genetic or environmental accidents that leave them ailing or impaired but most of us can live into our sixth, seventh or eighth decades without enduring a traumatic level of physical pain – even when we treat our health with indifference or folly.
I have no wish to understate the suffering of people who are not as fortunate as myself, but, still, I think it is humbling to appreciate the strange power and genius of the human body – especially if we have not treated ours too well.