The Beauty of the Marathon: in defence of Katherine Jenkins

Katherine Jenkins crosses the finish line of the London Marathon 2013

Newspaper columnists have a tough time, especially those who have to churn out words of wisdom on a daily basis becoming instant experts on every subject under the sun from the Boston bombings to Lindsey Lohan’s love life. I sympathise with them, really I do. There simply isn’t enough wisdom or expertise for one person to fulfill such a brief – unless you are Matthew Engel, of course, but I think he may be from another planet where the virtues of wisdom, expertise and readability are dished out at birth.

Hence, I do not often allow my blood to boil when I read tinpot typists like Jan Moir of the Daily Mail. To be honest I don’t often read the Mail but her piece about Katherine Jenkins and the London Marathon, which was splashed across my Yahoo homepage, got right up my nose.

Here are the facts. Katherine Jenkins, the Welsh mezzo-soprano, ran in Sunday’s London Marathon. She completed the course in five hours 26 minutes, raising £25,000 for MacMillan Cancer Support – that is a week’s wages for 25 nurses. She raised the money in memory of her father who died from the disease in 1996.

As a runner/charity fundraiser she was no different to the vast majority of the 38,000 people who waited at the start line in Greenwich and she was doubtless as thrilled as anyone to cross the finish line and collect her medal.

Ms Moir saw fit to highlight Jenkins’ achievement in her column on Monday. Here is the headline:

“Katherine the (I’m so) Great: A marathon in full make-up. ‘Cathedral cleavage’ at Lady T’s funeral. Shy and retiring Ms Jenkins simply can’t help stealing the limelight, says JAN MOIR”

Here is the link to the full article which in true Glenda Slag fashion, attacks Jenkins for being a good-looking young woman “of slender vocal gifts”. Moir disses Jenkins for running the marathon in make-up and wearing sunglasses

“She had lashings of pink lip gloss, sooty false eyelashes and sweeping, coal black eyeliner,” writes Ms Moir. “Not to mention a perfect silvery manicure, those ever-tanned limbs, her blonde hair pulled back into an immaculate ponytail and raisin-sized diamonds in her ears.”

Before the start: a picture of Jenkins’ late father on her back

The article goes on to suggest that Jenkins was using the event for self-promotion while throwing in a dig about her “cathedral cleavage” at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and a peculiar Twitter denial of an affair with David Beckham. In short it was an all-round attack on Jenkins, accompanied on the Mail website, needless to say, by six photos of the singer which make no prurient effort at hiding her curves. And running down the flank of the story, a host of other titillating titbits about celebs caught in their bikinis or without make-up or some other paparazzi guff that makes the Mail website one of the most popular around.

Maybe Ms Moir is right in suggesting that, as a performer (you can hear her in action at the bottom of the page), Jenkins thrives on the oxygen of publicity. I don’t know her, I have never met her, I cannot say. But she is completely out of order in attacking her efforts on the streets of London on Sunday.

Here are some more facts gathered from my experience of running marathons.

They hurt. Not just the 26 miles and 385 yards (or 42.2 ks) but the training. You don’t do it for fun. The daily short runs, the longer run at the weekend, the specific hill climbs, these all hurt; the toenails which fall off, the chafing, the aches in the feet, the ankles, the knees, the neck, the little voice in your head which tries to convince you that you have done enough and that it is quite all right to go home and eat cake; the other little voice that tells you just to keep going to the corner and then it is only one more lap… It is hard work and it is lonely work which is why many runners, like Jenkins, prefer to run with music, something else that apparently upsets Ms Moir.

Everyone who runs a marathon wants to look their best on the start line. Most of us are going to look pretty ropey at some point on the course so it is important to feel comfortable with yourself at the start. That means physically, mentally and sartorially. During training, runners work out what shorts, shirt, shoes work best for them. If diamond earrings make you feel good, then wear them (remember Flo Jo? She had those incredibly long finger nails and always looked a million dollars). The same goes for hair. Like Jenkins, most women – and men with long hair –  will tie it back to stop it flopping in their face.

TV cameras are dotted everywhere on the London Marathon course. Any of the 38,000 could be stopped and interviewed; someone of Jenkins celebrity is even more likely to be picked out. Jenkins has in fact denied that she was wearing make-up but if it makes her more comfortable why shouldn’t she wear make-up?

Erm, runners don’t wear sunglasses to look cool, Ms Moir, they wear them to keep the sun out of their eyes; the glare even from a weak spring sun coming up can be tiring and irritating during five hours on the road. Some use special running glasses; others, like Jenkins and myself, just use their regular sunnies. Hers just happen to be expensive Prada glasses, a fact I would not even have known had Ms Moir not brought it to my attention.

The point is that Jenkins did the training and completed a marathon. It is an achievement which requires dedication and guts. As I said before, it is a hell of a long way and it hurts. That is why everyone who completes the marathon gets a medal because they have won a personal battle. Any other marathoner will give a nod of respect to Jenkins for doing it.

Jan Moir: could earn some respect by running the next London Marathon

Some years ago I interviewed the great Haile Gebrselassie before he made his marathon debut in London. He marvelled at the efforts of what we might call the charity runners.

“We are paid to do this,” he said. “We train and we train and we train. It is our job. But there are the thousands of people who will be running for charity. They have to do a job – and then train. They are the real heroes of the London Marathon.”

And you can copy that for any city marathon.

The other aspect is the point Gebrselassie made about the money raised for charity. Celebrity is a double-edged sword. It means you get crass Daily Mail columnists checking on your every eyelash but it also puts you in a position where you can raise money. By looking pretty good in her running outfit, Jenkins featured in plenty of newspapers and websites (including this one). This may do her own publicity no harm but I imagine the people at MacMillan must be thrilled to pieces to see their name plastered across her tee-shirt. If it is good for Jenkins it is equally good for MacMillan and that means it is good for thousands of cancer sufferers. Is Ms Moir really so small-minded that she cannot see the bigger picture?

As I said above, running a marathon is not a simple task. From my experience, and even in spite of the problems facing a daily columnist, it is far easier to settle down at the laptop on a cold, wet morning and bang out 800 words for a newspaper than it is to lace up the running shoes and pad around the bleak and miserable streets. I suspect Ms Moir wouldn’t know this because if she had run a marathon she would have shown a little more respect.

©Barney Spender 2013

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