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The last seven miles

Newsletter: August 2017

Dear web friend

Hello again and please, your worried look is quite unnecessary. I’m fine – no, really, I feel OK… and no, I’m not just saying that, I really am fine… no, really… but thank you for asking.

Yes, I finally got round to my marathon on Sunday and while I was fit for nothing for 15 minutes on my return, a short sit down with my legs in icy water worked wonders. The ice bath is now very familiar to rugby and football players, who seem to spend most of their lives in a freezer. It’s about muscle recovery apparently, and it works… even for low-grade writers’ muscles like my own.

(There’s no sight on earth quite as pathetic as writers’ muscle.)

It was a home-made marathon, which started with a 20 mile loop around Seaford. My partner ran the first few hundred yards with me, while my brother joined the party at 16 miles, cycling alongside me, behind and ahead, filming, photographing and at one key moment, refuelling me.

I then returned to my starting point, picked up my son (not literally – haven’t done that for a while) and we ran the final six miles together. This turned out to be good. I normally like to run alone, but I was hurting by this point. The first 19 miles had felt rather easy, and I was just beginning to imagine that things would continue in this vein, that I could happily run endlessly, when the hurting arrived. And now, of course, I just wanted to stop… but had seven hilly miles to go.

So when my son Harry joined me – and this was a step-up for him as well – we found talking helpful. Neither of us like to talk when running; we prefer listening to music. But as you know, the human relationship to pain is a strange one. Put simply, if our minds are elsewhere, and not focusing on the pain, then it is as if the pain is not there. Mind over matter… even when matter is screaming.

On reflection, we had the oddest conversation as we ran together. Harry, a teacher himself, told me he’s presently reading the Abbot Peter mystery, A Very Public School Murder, and he wanted to discuss Crispin, the head boy of the school and one of the suspects… without me giving anything away, obviously.

So we discussed Crispin for a while. And then, on a particularly difficult hill, he was wondering – for some unknown reason – why my Conversations with Meister Eckhart had sold so much better than others in my Conversations series, such as Tolstoy, Van Gogh and Jesus, who you might think have more commercial appeal.

It all feels pretty surreal at a distance – we probably should have been singing soldiers’ route march songs about Marmite. But book talk kept us going for a couple of miles, until silence descended upon aching limbs and we faced the long final hill, the final two miles, when it’s just about endurance, about going within, one foot in front of another, pushing, pushing, always pushing… must keep going.

In lovely running conditions – minimal wind, blue sky and sun – I did the 26 miles in 3 hours 40 minutes. And for the statisticians among you, the first 13 miles was eight minutes faster than the second 13 miles. That’s quite a slow-down, with my body saying ‘I will get you to the end, Simon, but for that to happen, I’m going to be easing up slightly. You won’t like me for saying it, but we’re not as young as we were.’

Afterwards, I went to the beach with my lovely ‘Welcome Home!’ party, and we all went for a swim in the sea, which was a full-immersion ice bath; but a delight after those difficult/freezing first 20 seconds.

My last marathon, the London Marathon, was almost 20 years ago now. They’re rather different experiences. It’s great to have all those people shouting you on in London, and there are no hills at all which makes life much easier… though not easy. And, of course, there are national monuments along the way, such as Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, which do their best to ennoble the soul.

On my Seaford marathon, in contrast, there were quite a few hills – and it’s the hills that hurt, the hills that can break the spirit in the end. But on the plus side, there are no marathon runners dressed as gorillas or teapots getting in my way, no offence… oh, and views across the South Downs and the sea, that knock the national monuments into a cocked hat.

Though the best view is the finishing line…

When I next write, I may mention Abbot Peter again. His new investigation, The Indecent Death of a Madam, is out on 21 September. It’s here if you want a look:

But for now, I just want to let you know that the Beautiful Life retreat – which I thought might be dead – is returning. Yes! We’ve found a new home in Wales. What, where and when? Details here, if you’re pondering this adventure:

I hope this hasn’t been too tiring a read. If it does feel like seven miles too far, I suggest you get up and put your feet and calves in large bucket of very chilly water.

I’ll get my coat…

With very best summer wishes


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