24 April 2023

The Monday Briefing: Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

The Monday Briefing: Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

I had the privilege yesterday of being in attendance for one of the most remarkable London Marathons in recent memory. 

It will go down in history for the exploits of its male and female winners, first and foremost. 

Mens winner Kelvim Kiptum broke the men’s record for the London event in an incredible showing of power running to finish just outside the two hour mark. He was just 16 seconds outside the global marathon record, and completed the last half of the race in under an hour. Given that he is just 23, it can’t be long before he fulfils his goal of holding the world record for a 26.2 mile race.

This, in itself, would make for a memorable year for the event. However, the women’s race was even more compelling. Thirty-year-old Sifan Hassan is a two-time Olympic champion on the track but someone who had never raced a marathon until yesterday. Early on Hassan looked like she was going to have to drop out. She was limping, struggling with a hip injury she’d forgotten to tape up that morning, and at one stage pulled to the side of the road to stretch out the issue whilst losing valuable ground on her rivals. She continued, reeled in both the Olympic marathon champion and last year's winner in London before sprinting for glory on The Mall, overcoming significant psychological doubts about her capability to complete the race, having never run as far. Hassan's build-up was also impacted by the holy month of Ramadan which, as with others who follow the religion of Islam, meant abstaining from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Many of our students will quickly tell you that is not ideal preparation for a PE lesson at College, let alone a marathon.

Of course, there was also the tearful farewell of Sir Mo Farah, the four-time Olympic track gold medallist, who is Britain’s most decorated long-distance runner. I take great pleasure in the fact that I was able to see him close-up at mile three in Woolwich on his final London appearance.

There were around 49,000 runners who competed yesterday, with each having their own reasons for covering the gruelling distance, whether crucially raising money for charity in the largest annual fundraising event on earth, seeking personal bests, or simply challenging themselves to complete the distance.

I had a personal connection to two particular stories yesterday, one family based - and one work related.

My brother-in-law has become essentially an elite runner over the last few years. Blessed with an incredibly high level of natural talent, his dedication to consistent hard work and putting the miles in was rewarded with a personal best time of 2 hours, 40 minutes and 30 seconds, agonisingly just half a minute outside his personal target. 

Averaging around 70 miles per week, and getting better with each marathon he does, Adam’s achievements are quite incredible - in fact, they are an inspiration - particularly when one considers that he has had rather a lot going on in his life, with the birth of his third son happening only around three weeks ago. He’d be the first to say that he can only push himself to these levels due to the support of his family, but his achievements give someone like me the vision of what can be possible where one applies oneself. I’m sure his eldest son is also starting to take note too.

My other connection to the race yesterday was through work colleague Rick, a first timer at the marathon, and one who won’t mind me saying that he has been going through a very challenging time in his life of late. In the latter half of last year, the opportunity came for him to take part in the race, raising money for Oxfam by taking part, and he took the challenge up with little reluctance. Around six weeks ago, he developed some issues with his hamstring, and I advised him to defer until next year just before the Easter holidays. Perhaps through sheer bloody-mindedness, he persisted, and completed the race in 4:28:55, a great achievement given the fact that he was in almost constant pain from 9km onwards.

From the outset, he maintained that completing the marathon was a personal mission which he felt he simply could not back down from, and his having done so really is commendable. I hope that he can use the achievement to help propel himself forward from what has been a really challenging year.

Personally, watching such achievements could make me feel quite envious. I’m a keen runner myself and have completed a couple of half marathons: one I’m still really proud of in Berlin in April last year which I ran in just outside one hour 40 minutes, having planned really well for it; and one I’m going to really learn from in Valencia in October in just inside one hour 55 minutes, where I was completely ill prepared due to a lack of training.

I’m keen to push my own limits, and would love to extend my longest distance to a marathon, but I’m also realistic about the amount of space and time in my life to ensure that I can pursue such a goal: I’m mindful of the over ten hours commuting time I have on a weekly basis to ensure that I get to work and back in one piece; I’m also very keen to spend as much time as I can with my daughter at such a crucial stage in her development, as well as with my wife, who also spends a huge amount of her week travelling back and forth to London for work; I also can’t get away from the level of personal pride I take in ensuring that the job I do at Ealing Independent College is of the very highest standard it can be - for my fellow staff, for the parents who support us, and for the students whose lives are being shaped on a daily basis under my leadership. All of that takes time, and there are only 24 hours in a day, and seven days in a week.

I’m sure that there will come a time when I can start to get miles in my legs again, and will start to build towards goals and ambitions which push me to overcome greater challenges, one of which, I truly hope, will see me completing 26.2 miles myself, but that time is not yet - and I don’t feel bad about that fact. 

One must be realistic in terms of what is possible in life at any given time, and be able to manage expectations of oneself. Without such a mindset, it can be easy to self-destruct.

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