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  • Jacob Sweetman: The (mara)thon song


Jacob Sweetman: The (mara)thon song

The Sportsdesk can be a bitter one to sit behind at times, but Sunday's Berlin Half Marathon was a joyous celebration of human endeavour, and it even included some competition. Even my heart was warmed by the thousands of competitors.

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Photo by Jude Beadle

People seem to like running. They actually do it for fun. What Nick Lowe described as the beast in me (and he is buried in there somewhere, deep down beneath my love of humanity and infinite patience for my fellow man) sees joggers everywhere I look. They are there on the streets, wearing their figure hugging, fat enhancing, catastrophes of NASA designed (but child manufactured), bile coloured, branded plastic leggings. They buy apps for their Iphones to tell them how to do it as if people haven’t been running for millennia.

The human race first started running to get out of bad scenes fast, but it is now the status defining time killer of the 21st century – up there with giving your children Dickensian names and pretending that you have always been “a bit rockabilly”. I have seen people checking each other’s bottoms in the street and remarking about the miles put in without batting an eyelid.

This is almost certainly jealousy talking, of course. I couldn’t run out of a bad scene if I was cast opposite Mick Jagger in a remake of the Battleship Potemkin, and my bottom is seldom remarked upon.

Despite the bitterness, however, I am a sucker for a competition. Jumping, kicking, running, it’s all the same to me. There is a certain breed of person who knows that Haile Gebrselassie, the greatest long distance runner of them all, has his unique style (one arm cocked at an angle like a dilettante Soviet Cossack marching home from a long night out) from carrying his books as he ran the however many miles it was to school as a kid in Ethiopia. Some people could even tell you what was in Paula Radcliffe’s stool on that fateful morning in London 2005, though as it wasn’t part of the race itself I am not one of them.

This ramble is, of course, about the big event of the weekend: the 32. Berlin Half Marathon. It is an event that I had chalked off as irrelevant. After all, what is the point of a load of people just running, but only against themselves, against their aspirations and their own demons? Where is the fun in a joyous celebration of the human spirit, a Homo sapien recreation of the great migrations through a beautiful city on an otherwise unremarkably windy Sunday morning in spring?

I admit it. I was the one person there muttering about the guy in the chicken costume and I apologise. It was a great scene – one worth standing still for to admire. It is not often that one sees almost 30,000 people stretched out end to end along the Karl Marx Allee. Thirty thousand is a lot of people, but there they were, all shapes and sizes, and within minutes many of them had already started up their own little battles within the field. Despite the bubbling atmosphere, and exuberant (read, ghastly) music, there was competition, and it was glorious to see. Elbows jutted out and the balloons that were being held so gaily as they waited patiently to cross the starting line not so long before were jettisoned as things became a little bit more serious.

At the front the professionals were flying – 21.1 kilometres is a long way to go, but the remarkably skinny figures of Kenya’s Denis Koech and Wilson Kiprop came storming through the finish line in a shade under an hour. That Koech held off his compatriot by a second is all the more impressive as Kiprop is the world champion, and finished with his own personal best time. Koech is 18 years old, and his is a name worth remembering. The composure he showed was suited to that of a grizzled old pro, not a young buck.

A lot of folks took a lot longer than an hour to complete the course, though Berlin is renowned as being the fastest circuit of its kind in the world – the weather is always about right (not too hot) and the streets are as flat as yesterdays can of Lucozade sport. It didn’t matter in the end.

Even the cold, cold heart of your correspondent had been warmed by the courageous efforts of the many, and the only trace of bitterness that remained was in the face of one guy I saw who wrinkled his face at the free drink presented to him. It looked a lot like a long, cool lager, but he suddenly cottoned on.

“Twenty one kilometres, and they’ve only got alcohol free beer?”

All of a sudden they were all heroes.