There are some things that made it onto my list of thirty things to do before I was thirty that were pure filler. Up there I would include Play Cluedo and Make a Baked Alaska, both of which I managed to do in a single, very successful, evening. There are others that have genuinely been something I thought I wanted to do. You know how sometimes, when you’re drunk, you’ll start randomly getting off with someone, and then you’ll have a moment of clarity where you wonder what the hell you are doing and who this person even is and whether their parents are rich and elderly. Imagine that for twenty-six miles. Congratulations, you’ve just imagined running a marathon.
I have entered the ballot for the London Marathon every year for at least the last five years. I always said that if I got a place then I would commit to it with my everything, that I would dig deep. That I would quit drinking and drunkenly casual smoking and that I would eat nothing but spinach and pasta and kale milkshakes. In October 2016 I found out that I had a place in the London Marathon 2017. With six months before the event I did what any sane person would do, I buried the congratulations letter under the pile of stuff I inexplicably keep on top of my microwave and developed a hernia the size of a hamster.
I put the deal-breaker that I had to get in on the ballot for a reason. Any old shmuck can get in on a charity place, you just have to be willing to raise £3k+ for said charity. That’s an awful lot of pressure. Imagine having to run twenty-six miles while wondering whether your overdraft is going to stretch to cover little Timmy’s dialysis machine because you didn’t bother to host a charity curry night. That’s too much pressure. I’ll stick to regular old pressure, like a car tyre or an aneurysm.
Once I was over the hernia (which was in no way linked to my wanton love of casual sex) I started to actually train. I ran. I ran a lot. I ran at weekends with hangovers the size of Swansea. I ran in the mornings when the South Bank was a fucking Home Alone death trap of ice and bitter child stars. I ran for trains and for buses and from my responsibilities. I even joined a gym and considered getting a FitBit.
I was spending all week at work and every weekend at Hide & Shriek writing Delectably Dead. We would stay up late working and goofing around on ChatRoulette and then I would get up the next morning and run fifteen miles before working on our next project. It was pretty full on but I was still drinking and still casually drunkenly smoking. I grew tired of running in the gym because it felt like I was getting absolutely nowhere (ha!). I now haven’t stepped foot in that gym in three months. The Direct Debit continues to come out. I am shamed.
I had a countdown on my calendar at work. I injured my ankle and I bought a new pair of running shoes. I started to notice that my thighs were physically pained when pushed into a pair of skinny jeans. I was getting stronger. My self-control however was getting weaker. Three days before the marathon I discovered the two pint glasses at a Kasabian gig and was hungover for the next two days. Then, I discovered it was marathon race day and I had to get my ass to Blackheath.
It is a weird and wonderful thing to take part in the marathon. The first thing I feel I should comment on is how serious people take it. I was taking it very seriously. I ate pasta for breakfast, that’s how serious I was about this marathon. The other thing that people take very seriously is a strategic poo. The queues for the loos were horrific and everyone smelt like Deep Heat and Lucozade tablets. There was someone attempting to brighten the mood by talking loudly over a tannoy and playing Let Me Entertain You. I wanted him dead. I had tried to read up on marathon etiquette. The key things seemed to be:
Cover your entire body in Vaseline. You will die otherwise
Don’t you dare eat fruit or vegetables. You will die otherwise.
Blackheath is very cold at eight in the morning. Bring clothes.
Be prepared to throw those clothes away because when you run you get hot
Actually, forget the coat, wear a bin bag. You can rip out of it like a trashy lithe Hulk when you start jogging.
Don’t listen to music when you’re running. You will die otherwise.
Run with music because listening to people is awful.
Don’t talk to anyone.
Don’t take sweets from strangers.
Don’t drink water. It contains invisible eels that are poisonous.
Pain is just your toenails leaving your body.
I only made some of these up.
I was really nervous about running the marathon. I knew I hadn’t done anywhere near the distance in training. The most I had clocked up in a single sesh was fifteen miles. I know that’s a lot but it still left eleven glorious miles of undiscovered torture ahead of me. I was once told that running longer than ten miles is just causing damage to your body. That’s sixteen lovely miles of damage per marathon.
I started and there was this incredible roar from the crowd. I ripped through the binbag like a T-Rex on acid and realised I had nothing to be nervous about. It was just running. I knew how to do running. I had been running for years. Running is easy. It’s paying bills and toeing the line that’s difficult. I put my music on. I had put together a brilliant playlist called I Just Started Running. It was Biffy Clyro and Black Keys exclusively. I was sure that I could listen to Biffy Clyro and Black Keys exclusively for four hours. They had been my go to bands when training. I could do this. I could bloody run the marathon.
After a couple of miles I realised how incredibly dull that bit of London is. The crowds were small and a bit boring looking. I did like high-fiving the kids who reached over the barriers with their tiny outstretched hands. I stopped for a bottle of water. I had been denying myself a proper drink because I didn’t want to get too much liquid in me. This would make me heavy and need to wee all the time. Also, don’t people die from drinking too much water? Is that a thing? I feel like it’s something people on Ecstasy do. Now that sounds like a VICE article – I Ran The Marathon On Pills.
I finished a bottle of water and picked up another at the next station. Then I really needed a wee.
There are toilets every two miles. That’s a lot of toilets I guess. It isn’t when you’re bursting and running and have to keep up your pace and trying to calculate how fast you need to run before the next marker to make up the weeing time. It’s a long way when you’re trying to calculate how long a wee really takes including untucking and retucking. I got to the toilets and they were all in use. I relieved myself against a fence. A million other men ran up and did the same.
At six miles we got to the Cutty Sark. Here there were huge crowds and I looked at every little face trying to recognise someone I knew but they were all smiling strangers. I had made the bold decision not to put my name on my shirt. I’m sure it’s fun at first but considering the state I was in by the end it would have really fucked me off for some condescending twat swigging a pint of London Pride to be going “come on Paul”. He can hypothetically fuck right off. The crowds thinned and then I did another wee, this time against a wall. I soon discovered that my Strava app, which I was using to map the distance I covered, was about two hundred metres short of the actual distance per mile. By eight miles it was making me want to cut my ears off.
I have never had an issue with my nipples when running. I know it’s a common complaint for runners and it was a subject of considerable mirth for my little brother to tell me to mind my nipples but it’s just never bothered me. At thirteen miles, the Vaseline I had smeared all over my body was sweating loose and my nipples were full of the joyous pain of rubbing. I cursed my brother, sure it was all his fault, and carried on.
Then, a miracle in the form of St John’s Ambulance. They were stood at the side of the path with their hands outstretched in latex gloves. Their hands were piled with Vaseline. We could help ourselves. I whipped up a glob and rubbed my sweet little nips down with a ferocity that really gave the crowd something to think about. I did not give a fuck.
At thirteen miles I ran across Tower Bridge and I was so full of joy and pith that I got my phone out and took a sweaty picture of myself. I was sure I could do this. I felt fantastic. There were so many people and so much noise and I was full of life and joy and bottles of Buxton water.
Around the bend I picked up some energy gels and realised that I don’t like energy gels. One revelation followed the other.
There was a “shower” just along Shadwell, where you could run through a series of spray machines that had been set up. The cold water took my breath away and I wasn’t sure if the moisture bouncing down my body was sweat or shower spray as I continued on my way towards greatness (and a stitch).
It was at around this point that people started to offer out sweets. Some of them had convenience store-sized tubs which they would dangle temptingly over the barriers for us to pick at as we ran past. I discovered that hoovering up pick ‘n’ mix at around six miles an hour is harder than it sounds. Other people had dishes and plates of sweets. Some people had wrapped up little packages of jelly beans and jelly babies in foil or paper so you could pick at them as you ran around. It was very much like what I imagine picking up heroin to be like. It was only as I finished my third scoop of confectionery that I remembered that I was vegetarian and that a lot of it probably contained beef gelatin. I’m sorry Paul McCartney. I’m sorry Morrissey!
Running in itself started to get tougher. I realised I was in a realm beyond the unknown. At mile sixteen I figured I was going to be able to do another ten miles with only a little bit of pain. I was starting to ache and the ankle I had injured while training was in good company as everything else in and around my body pulsed with the effort of what I was doing. I was on my third Biffy Clyro album. The sweet sound of Simon Neil’s voice was making me want to vomit. Everything was making me want to vomit. It didn’t matter how many bottles of water I had, how many Lucozade gels I sucked on or how many fresh dabs of Vaseline I was able to load up onto my tits, I was struggling.
I realised something had gone terribly wrong when I turned a corner onto Canary Wharf and started to cry. The only reason anyone has good cause to cry at the sight of Canary Wharf is if they work there. I knew I was being irrational but I couldn’t help it. I felt like I needed someone to slap me in the face, hard. I needed a good old Dynasty open hand to the chops. My running was still automatic but it must have looked like I was a clockwork dinosaur on the last couple of ticks.
I stopped running at twenty-one miles. I knew I was going to finish. I knew I had to finish but it didn’t mean that I was going to run the whole thing. I was in serious trouble. Everything hurt. I couldn’t get up the energy to start running again. I was pretty sure that the end was coming. I took a moment to remember that I had failed to write my emergency contact details on the reverse of my race number. If I went down then they weren’t going to find anything on me that would help identify who I was and what I needed (answers: Paul Schiernecker, not to run anymore). I was only able to start running again when I heard my actual name being called from the crowd. I looked up and my friends Adam and Tom were there. They grabbed at me and ushered me along and I started up again and realised it had been a mistake to stop. Along the side of the road were pale looking bodies in shorts and foil. They had blown up. They weren’t going to make it. I was. It was just a matter of grit.
Further down the same stretch I saw Clarissa. We quickly hugged and it was only afterwards that she was able to tell me how awful I looked. I had lost any kind of dignity. I just needed to make it to the end. The crowds were growing and there were people everywhere. I couldn’t show any sign of weakness. They preyed on that.
The final three miles were the best of the marathon. Not because I found some kind of inner strength but because I knew it was nearly over. I was running from Tower Hill to Westminster and I knew the area well enough to find it cool that the roads were shut off from the usual traffic and that there were so many people lining the banks. Music boomed at me through the tunnel and I tried not to look at the Walkabout by Temple. Someone had a full twelve-inch pizza balanced on the railings as I ran past them. I hated them, the selfish little cunt. I hated every single person in London. I hated myself and I hated the Queen and I wanted to give up my body and be reincarnated as a discarded Lucozade gel. Why would anybody ever do this to themselves? Why is this even a thing? What kind of monster decided that it had to be 26.2 miles and not just a nice round 26. Some sick and twisted son of a bitch that’s for sure.
By the time I hit 26 miles, and Strava was telling me that I was at twenty-five I was ready to kill and I was ready to die. I had been broken down and rebuilt so many times that I wasn’t entirely sure of who I was. It was a great feeling. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I ran past Liz’s gaff and then realised that I was at the finish line and that I had just run a marathon.
I hobbled along the return stretch beside St James’s Park and tried to work out where I could collapse and die. I collected a medal and for some reason they took note of what shoes I was wearing. I posed for a photo where I looked like a skeleton wearing a Paul mask and then I got my bag and struggled through the park and fell down beside a tree. I had another cry. Running a marathon is tough and emotional, like an Adele album.
I stayed down as though getting up again would involve more punishment, like getting knocked on your fanny in a boxing match. I waited for someone to come and get me. I winced and sobbed when I stretched out. I started to get cold. I texted my mummy. Clarissa came to meet me and we slowly made our way to get food. I decided that I was vegetarian again.
Along the way people congratulated me and kids wanted to high five me and it was the nicest version of London I have ever been a part of. I felt excited and tired and giddy and sick and sleepy and hungry and ready to drop all at the same time. I was all of the fucking seven dwarves. Nothing compares to it. Nothing can beat it. I still didn’t know why I had done it. I didn’t know why anyone would ever do it.
The train home was so full that I took to the First Class carriage just so I could stretch out. As it was a Sunday the train stopped at every possible station and it was over an hour before I was hobbling back through town and up the two flights of stairs to my flat. When I bought the flat I never considered the fact I would one day take part in a marathon and then have to get home. I struggled inside and didn’t leave for two days.
There are many things I could say about running a marathon. I could tell you never to do it. I could tell you that I decided straight after that I had now done a marathon and didn’t need to ever take part in one again. Or I could tell you that it really irked me that it took me four hours and sixteen minutes to complete it. It irked me so much in fact that when the applications for the ballot for the London Marathon 2018 opened I entered again. Pain fades. Glory doesn’t.
Note: Despite how tough this whole experience was for me, I will always remember 2017 as the year I struggle my way through the marathon of Thirteen Reasons Why. What a terrible pile of dross. It took me three times as long to finish that as it did the London Marathon and I didn’t even get a medal at the end of it. Clay is a whining little piss baby, and I say that as someone who just spent three thousand words complaining about running.