"The London Marathon - an Exercise in Schadenfreude"
IF YOU ARE looking for a different way to rest those weary legs and relax those aching muscles, I can strongly recommend the London Marathon. Approached the right way, there's nothing like it to ease stress, plus the views are pretty good.
The wrong way, of course, is to actually go out there and do something silly like run. All forms of exercise should bear a "Danger to Health" label, and pounding the asphalt and, in London's case, the cobblestones for hours on end is a surefire way to do your bodily bits and pieces a heap of bad.
So the first rule of marathon running is, don't. The second rule is, stay as far away as possible. A trip to Ulan Bator would be ideal, or perhaps Base Camp 2 at Mount Everest. And on no account don a pair of running shoes. The almighty gave us nude feet for just such a purpose.
As it happened when 30,000-odd - or perhaps that's 30,000 odd - fools of assorted ages and sexes lined up for the 21st London Marathon a few days ago, I was fully 71 miles removed from the scene, and ready for all 26 miles 385 yards of it.
To fully appreciate the marathon, it is necessary to view the occasion from the standpoint of schadenfreude. That's German for "rejoicing in the misery of others," something they should know well enough about.
The next important point is the proper venue. Mine is my bed. Which is why the London Marathon is the No. 1 sports event of the year in my calendar - a chance to lie in bed, hours on end, watching on television as thousands of poor souls plod their miserable way around the streets and lanes of London.
As an Olympic gold medal rower named Steve Redgrave counted down "5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...1 ..." my hand was poised over the night table. At "GO!" I grabbed a bite of toast and my first sip of pleasantly warm coffee, then snuggled into the pillows.
As thousands of folk stripped down to their unmentionables (and one of them even further, leaving himself clad only in a baseball cap and running shoes, with acres of nothing in between) pounded past the docked ship Cuddy Sark, I fine-tuned to get a bit more green and blue in the picture.
I missed the mob as it trudged over Tower Bridge, having dozed off after the exertions of TV tuning. But my wife Elizabeth kindly revived me with a fresh cup of coffee in time to catch the runners, their faces twisted in agony, trundling toward the cobblestones outside the Tower of London.
The Tower is home to some of mankind's more interesting instruments of torture, including the rack, the thumbscrew and the stretching machine. Any of them might have been an acceptable alternative to the misery that was afoot outside the portcullis gates.
I have been following the London Marathon thusly for the past 18 years or so, but this year was exceptionally successful. By the time an emaciated-looking Moroccan named Abdelkader El Mouaziz won the thing, I'd set a personal best of least muscles moved during the shade over 2 minutes 7 seconds it took him to break the tape.
Admittedly, my performance was marred slightly by having to go to the bathroom to get rid of all the coffee, but my tactics had worked to a tee, and I was never better prepared for what followed - a long, leisurely lunch of fish and chips at The Whyte Hart pub in Preston Bissett.
>From the standpoint of personal schadenfreude, it was an unparalleled success in the annals of London Marathons. But over the waffle with maple syrup and vanilla ice cream, I did ponder the human idiosyncrasies that were afoot in faraway London (the electronic timer was still ticking and 30,071 assorted athletes and would-bes had crossed the finish line by the time it was turned off after 10 hours).
If you have to run a marathon, I'd think the distance factor alone would be enough to concentrate one's attention. But some few whom I suspect of single-digit IQs managed to augment the agony by dressing as chickens and cows and sumo wrestlers.
There were the dozen or so coppers decked out in full police regalia, and the eight or so who ran the whole 26-plus miles dressed as a caterpillar. Boggles the mind, as Time magazine once remarked.
This sort of exercise, in my personal view, ranks right up there in entertainment value with shoving toothpicks under my fingernails, piercing my navel with a railway spike or attending a Celine Dion concert in an echo chamber. But I did, once upon a time, think rather differently.
At the age of 33, I was in probably the best physical shape of my life, due largely to months of hauling 65 pounds or so worth of turkey roll, ham and lima beans and other C-rations, ketchup, Tabasco sauce and water canteens on my back to stay alive in the jungles and swamps of Vietnam.
Full of confidence and not a few drinks at the Melody Bar in Saigon, I wagered a pal that I could run the Boston Marathon and finish among the top 100. I reneged on the bet on grounds that wagers are not valid if they are made under the influence of Vietnam's formaldehyde-aged bamuiba beer.
I still think I could have done it. But the question is, why?
I note that an American chap, one Abraham Weintraub, age 91, did this year's London Marathon in a smidgen over 7 hours 37 minutes. In that time, I could have three gourmet lunches at The Whyte Hart and still get back in time to watch, from my couch, the TV shots of his staggering across the finish line.
It's a matter of priorities, you see.
Thoughts for the Week: When you think you know where it's at, chances are it's somewhere else.
"Notes From A Tangled Webb" is syndicated by: