Oi Polloi

Marathon Casuals

Published: Mon Mar 30 2020

For obvious reasons, the Manchester and London marathons of next month have been postponed. While this may come as a disappointment to many, to others it could be a (secret) relief. After all – aside from straddling the charity cash-cow – what possesses 60,000 of us to splutter through such an event in the first place?

Non-runners might suggest it’s an excuse to gorge oneself on kilos of pasta bake the week before. Or smirk that it’s an opportunity to go a little faster than walking for a really, really long time (then cry about it at the end, whilst inhaling Reece’s Pieces).

Avid runners may wax lyrical about escapism, a reminder that we’re still red-blooded humans, our feet pummeling the earth’s surface beneath us. A sense of physical accomplishment rewarded (all too briefly) by the high potency of endorphins.

Either way, marathon running can be seen as sadomasochistic relief to our comfortable, first-world existence – a manifestation of both fight and flight in the same moment. A grueling race against the rat race, where the safe word is Lucozade.

No matter how motivated, most of us share a crippling Achilles heel. Our race-day bibs don’t read Eliud Kipchoge, and our mates only refer to us as Fly Mo sarcastically…

So, why do we pay handsomely to gear up like the pros – looking like colourful condoms, shuffling along with the newest Nike jet skis attached to our trotters?

I mean, sure, lightweight and aerodynamic – but do those forearm tights actually do anything for Trev from Hull? It’s a bit like the potbellied cyclists in pink Rapha Lycra falling off their Nasa-engineered bikes on a Sunday. Maybe stick to your ol’ Brompton and trusty windbreaker?

Technological advancements dictate running fashion year on year, but when everyone blindly follows suit, there leaves little room for personality or style. However, if we delve into the cultural archives, a more laid back approach to running attire emerges – a movement we can salute: the way of the Marathon Casuals.

A friend of mine recently re-ran the Stockholm marathon in his forties, sporting the same pair of Nike Air Max 90s (infrareds no less) that he ran it in 20 years ago. Call it eccentricity or nostalgia, they were good enough then, why not now?

Albeit fictitious (humour me), the pop cultural prophet of Marathon Casual is the leg-brace-shattering, 19,000-mile-running Forrest Gump. Before his doting Jenny gifts him sacred treasure in the form of 1972 Nike Cortez, the concept of “running footwear” never crossed simple Gump’s mind. And why would it – he already had perfect gait with his childhood orthopedic booties.

From an iconic underdog to the champ who made brain damage macho – it’s no surprise that Rocky Balboa put in effortless montage-worthy runs in Converse Chuck Taylor 70’s.

Iliotibial band syndrome or shin splints were obviously of no concern to The Italian Stallion as he pulverised 50km of Philadelphia concrete in the rudimentary plimsoles. Equally, if it’s a little nippy out, opt for the Balboa-approved velour trackie, normcore has never been so sprightly.

With marl on the mind, let’s go back to 1967 and celebrate Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to defiantly run (and dupe) the Boston marathon as a numbered entrant… five years before women were officially allowed to participate.

This photograph captures the historic moment a disgruntled official tried and failed to strip Kathrine of her bib mid-race, dramatically thwarted by Kathrine’s boyfriend, a fellow runner. What this photo also documents is fantastic running attire all around. A nonchalant flair for fisherman hats, cagoules and a sea of grey marl sweats.

Japanese author Haruki Murakami is a critically acclaimed powerhouse of surreal fiction. He is also a seasoned ultra-marathon runner. As readers from across the globe enjoy pages upon pages of his complex “dream narratives”, Murakami endures miles upon miles of death-defying scuttling.

In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami details the horrifyingly deceptive levels of ecstasy he experiences as his body struggles during a 62-mile stint. He recounts his salt-crusted skin due to instant sweat evaporation as he runs the original Athens marathon route under the blistering sun.

Yet he professes he’s a casual runner. He’s cautious, thoughtful, patient. Murakami embodies the true spirit and soul of amateur running. No frills, no pressure. And no specialist gear it seems…

Whether running a marathon is a spiritual exercise, a humble personal endeavor or you actually are Mr Kipchoge (hats off to you sir!), remember to remain casual.

Let’s all absorb a little wisdom from the late, great Joe Strummer. Joe Strummer the runner. In the early 80s he ran both the London and Paris marathons, mohawk on head, adidas Hamburg on foot.

Joe was asked how he prepared for the Paris run and enlightened us all, “Okay, you want it, here it is. Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race. Ya got that? And don’t run a single step at least four weeks before the race.”

Now that’s casual.