Kings of the Sofa
The smartest move that the London Marathon organisers have made in recent times was to make the application process available online shortly after the race.
As recently as 2006, it was a bit like performing a secret handshake. For a start, you had wait until August for the application forms to become available. To get hold of one, you had to visit an approved running shop, sidle up to the assistant, and ask for a special magazine called 'Marathon News', and they'd meet you round the back by the bins. The form contained within was more like a passport application than a race entry, interrogating you for information on your career choices and preferred newspaper, with boxes for writing in that you did not dare stray beyond. If you managed to complete it, you then had to construct an origami envelope from the materials supplied, and pray for its sturdy passage through the postal system.
Nowadays, with the warm glow of the TV coverage still spurring you on, you can enter in a matter of minutes without actually leaving your sofa. In 2008 they opened the ballot before some of us had even finished running, and the instantaneous opportunity to follow a dream meant that the amount of would-be entrants spiralled. The fact that they've since pushed it back by a week illustrates how dangerously inspiring it can be, and just how much of an emotional impact it has on its audience.
I worked in a small office at the time and I remember hearing at least a few people arriving on Monday morning and declaring their intentions to become marathon runners. As a regular runner, it's tempting to raise a smile at this new-found enthusiasm, particularly when the majority of those people never mention it again. But this is the gift that the London Marathon gives us every year, just as surely as Wimbledon will pack your local tennis courts, and the FA Cup final will increase sales of lager and portable barbecues. It is up to us as runners to help nurture it, and to do what we can to help liberate these inspired minds from their sofas and into a decent pair of running shoes.
Today is your chance to reach out to friends, colleagues and inmates inspired by the London Marathon. It's your chance to spread the word - that not only are there other marathons, but that they're all the same distance. Forward this message to them, and help them understand not to go too fast, and what to wear, and how to train sensibly. Explain what the phrase "gut the pig" means, and don't let them do too much too soon. Tell them about rest days, and discourage them from taking a two litre bottle of Evian with them when they try their first 5k. Warn them never to express strong views about running technique on an internet forum, and about just how much you can spend on kit if you're not careful. Show them your medal from your local race, and your training log, and how you can sign your name or draw a willy with a GPS trace. See if your running club offers sessions for beginners, or whether there's an informal group at the leisure centre. Start one if not, or just take them out for a run.
Above all, support them, and show them just how amazing running can make you feel - not just on one day of the year, but every day. Because when we sit on the sofa, knowing that we've been for a run, we feel like kings - and that's something worth sharing with the people you care about.
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