Shorts: The Wall

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

Everyone has a trick for surviving. For getting through, surviving the worst. When I was preparing for it, I read that Paula Radcliffe used to count to distract her from the suffering her body was going through.

man running on black asphalt road
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on

That trick was saving me. It was keeping me going. Mile fifteen: eleven more to go. But I was done. In another mile it would be the longest I’d ever run. I could feel the muscles in my legs pulling, dragging my weight onwards another half a metre with every tiny step.

One, two, three…

Every time I got to ten, I stuck out one of my fingers, then when all ten were done I kept one down like that trick you use to learn your nine times tables. Then I’d try to see how many steps it took me to get through a mile. Then I’d see if I counted to that again for the next marker. Sometimes I got a bit confused in my counting, distracted by the pain or sometimes something more positive. A spectator stood up from her chair as I ran past, toasting me with a glass of prosecco. “I’m getting shitfaced for you,” she said. Not that funny, but it made me laugh out loud.

…four, five, six…

Rows of small children held out boxes full of jelly babies through the railings which were on sale for the price of a high-five – they didn’t take contactless.

I made myself a promise at the start that I wouldn’t walk any of it, but when I hit the wall and I couldn’t run anymore I used my counting to allow me a hundred steps of walking before I started running again. I had no idea how I was doing, but the sun was beaming down and it was much hotter than I was used to. Than any of us were used to. I felt pretty grim. Even my stomach was tight, like every muscle in my body was trying to help out. I prayed I wouldn’t shit myself. It happened to me on a training run – I had to dive into a nearby bush as I cried. That was definitely a low point. Another thing Paula and I had in common, I heard.

…seven, eight…

The 4:15 pacemaker group caught up with me, and I made every effort to stay with them. Only a little behind my time, I thought. But soon I felt my energy slip and they passed me, just after a cheery celebration of having been running for three hours.

…nine, ten, one…

Someone overtook me, then tripped over a hump in the road. Three people surrounded her instantly, and four was too many. I ran on, hoping she was okay.

…two, three, four, five…

The water stations became more excuses to slow down and walk a bit, but still I forced myself to run on after every hundred. It was a hundred walking and a thousand running now, and I was being fuelled by every high-five. It wasn’t a cost – it was energy. It was life. I needed the cheers. I felt myself absorbing every scream of my name, which was emblazoned on the front of my jersey.

…six, seven…

Then the home stretch. Two miles to go. No more walking. The bones in my feet hurt. My legs were heavy. I couldn’t stop now – I would never start again. I kept my head up. I refused to look at the ground. There was sea to my right. Beach huts to my left, brightly painted. The sea gave me breath. The bright yellows and vermillions and azures made my heart beat.

…eight, nine…

At last, the finish line. A giant clock. The counting stopped – it was doing it for me. It started off out of sight; I could just see the banners, hear people screaming. I was slower than I expected, but I made it.

…ten. Finished.


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