The book was a gift from an old school friend in the Netherlands. He’s a runner. He said I should read it. I can’t remember why. Anyway, I ignored the book for a long time. It lay unloved in my office.
I’m hazy on why I eventually picked it up. But I’m very clear that it was a tipping point in my life.
I’d run before, but it was never part of me. I ran because of the company of a wonderful friend in England. On Sunday mornings, we would run around Richmond Park and talk about food, travel and Frasier. On Wednesdays, we would run at Twickenham Rowing Club. That was a hard run, let me tell you. Those rowers really went for it. The reward was good, though. They stocked Gambrinus and Staropramen at the club bar. Sitting out on the balcony in the summer evening light after the run, drinking and chatting about this and that, is among my fondest memories.
I wouldn’t say I was a runner then, despite the regular running. I even ran a marathon, but it was bucket list stuff, rather than part of my soul.
I moved to Ireland on Halloween 2003 and stopped running for over a decade. Without my running partner, I lacked the motivation and discipline.
I grew fat.
I became middle aged.
In early 2014, aged 46, I started running again. I can’t remember why. I ran a kilometre while walking the dog and didn’t die. We were both surprised. The dog may even have been disappointed. We have a complicated relationship, DunderDog and I.
I started swimming too.
The next bit is all jumbled up in my memory. But as far as I can tell, my friend Paul O’Mahony is at the root of what happened next. Which is no doubt a surprise to him because he isn’t the least interested in running. Nor is Chris Brogan, whom Paul introduced me to. Through Chris’s podcast, I learned about James Altucher. James isn’t a runner either. Rich Roll is, though. He appeared on James’s podcast. (I listen to a lot of podcasts.) Rich is an ultra-endurance athlete. His story was very attractive, so I started listening to his podcast. That was the thin end of the wedge. James Lawrence appeared on Rich’s show to talk about his attempt at 50 Ironman-distance triathlons in 50 different US states in 50 days. So did Luke Tyburski (swim from Morocco to Spain, cycle through Spain to France, run along the French coast to Monaco—2,000km, in 12 days).
I started thinking I could do a triathlon. The swimming was going well. So was the running. And with Dutch and British genes, how hard could the cycling be?
Round about that time, I uncovered that forgotten book in my office. The one my Dutch friend had given me. It’s a very famous book: the one about ultra-running, sandals and that race in Mexico. That book.
By the time I had finished it, I knew that after I completed an Ironman-distance triathlon, I would run an ultra-marathon. Wouldn’t that would be magnificent combination ticked off from the bucket list? Lookee me.
Since then, something has changed. I don’t want the bucket list anymore. I don’t want to dip in, claim a solitary boast and then leave.
I want to stay.
Watching the films by Billy Yang, Ethan Newberry and Jamil Coury opened my eyes to a global community. One that is, as far as I can tell, positive and supportive. One full of people who are challenging themselves in some of the most breath-taking locations in the world. Why would I ever want to leave?
I’ve become an ultra-marathon junkie.
Although, there is one minor, weeny, teeny detail that needs my attention. I haven’t actually run an ultra-marathon.
And at almost 50 years old …
This is where the excuses come.
Yet, I have none. I’m healthy—as far as I know. I’ve been running for two years now and I’m getting stronger. My health isn’t stopping me. I’m very fortunate.
But an ultra-marathon (50km-plus) is still beyond my grasp—for now. Even a regular marathon (42.2km) is outside my abilities. A half-marathon, though? That I can do. Like I say. I’m fortunate.
So, almost by stealth, I’ve become a runner. It is part of who I am now. It’s not in service of a short-term ambition. Rather, it’s one of the pillars I’m building my life on.
Running brings me peace. Each run is a pocket of tranquility in an otherwise quite anxious life. Running also offers the certainty of accomplishment. If I do the work, I will achieve my goal. Running gives me a sense of control in a world that seems to have gone rogue.
Spierkater combines running with another aspect of who I am. The creative.
Spierkater is a Dutch word. Its literal translation into English is “muscle hangover”.
My name is Roger Overall.