Blood, sweat, boil and beers

Start of teh Hackney Half-Marathon 2015 (photo: Roddy Gibson)Done. Dusted. Another half-marathon in the warmth of a May morning in north-east London. No records, no glory. Just a job done. And dusted.

The Hackney Half came and went. It started at nine in the morning and at some point a couple of hours later it finished. In between there was music, cheering, bright blue skies, a light breeze and sweat – lots of sweat.

Water. Pavement. Road. Uphill. Downhill. An unknown voice from the crowd crying “Come on Barney”. More sweat. More water. More road.

And a blister. Just the one, about the size of Beijing. A massive boil on the instep of my right foot which made its presence felt from mile one and ballooned over the next twelve miles.

My Right Foot...
My Right Foot…

Not that we should care too much about blisters. As Rob Pinnington says at one point in The Road to Sparta: “You don’t want to worry about blisters; they help you stay awake.”

Mind you, Rob at another point cackles like one of Macbeth’s demented witches: “We laugh in the face of shin splints.”

Hackney hurt. But the job was completed. Got the medal, got the tee-shirt.

And I raised a few quid for Worldwide Cancer Research. Not as much as I had hoped but a little bit to honour the memory of The Digger, Brian Bloody Williams.

Please help me to raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research by sponsoring me at

I might even have had a personal best if I hadn’t stopped a hundred metres from the finish to take it all in. It took me the best part of two minutes to walk that last stretch along the carpet, trying to soak up the moment, take in the enthusiasm of the people lining the straight as they clapped and hollered, looking out for their own friends and family but encouraging every runner who passed in front of them.

As I shuffled over the finish line, the paramedics came hurtling the other way, a runner strapped onto a stretcher being wheeled off to the ambulance. Not enough water perhaps, straining too hard on a warm day to close out his personal best.

Barney Spender and Glenn Johnston await the start (Photo: Roddy Gibson)
Barney Spender and Glenn Johnston await the start (Photo: Roddy Gibson)

I was glad it wasn’t Glenn, even at fifty a wiry ball of compact energy.

This was Glenn my old roommate from university days in Dublin, Glenn the man who back in the day twisted his knee while falling drunk down three flights of stairs but never spilt a drop of his pint; this was Glenn who famously climbed a flagpole singing Irish rebel songs at a point-to-point race meeting in the rustic depths of sleepy Somerset. This was Glenn who had flown over from New York just to run the Hackney Half with his old mate.

It was great to see his ugly smiling mug although, truth be told, I saw little of it during the race. For the first mile we were running together, he just a pace or two in front of me, bouncing along, champing at the bit like a bloodhound on the scent, desperate to be allowed off the leash.

“Go for it Glenn,” I said.

“Do you mind? I feel in pretty good shape,” he replied guiltily.

“Go! See you at the finish.”

And that was the last I saw of him, a pair of tightly knotted carves springing daintily through a copse of runners and off in pursuit of the faster men and women. He finished some 25 minutes ahead of me which meant he was two minutes per mile faster. Not bad for a bloke who had been in urgent need of paramedics himself just two months earlier when he stepped out in front of a speeding German motorist. Had I mentioned that? No? Well, Glenn needs his own book.

To finish is a good feeling (Photo: Roddy Gibson)
To finish is a good feeling (Photo: Roddy Gibson)

A half-marathon doesn’t bear comparison to an ultra-marathon in terms of the physical and mental stamina but when I am running these days I bear in mind some of the pithy lines that I have now heard a thousand times while editing The Road to Sparta.

I mentioned a couple of Rob’s lines. Another little mantra came from Angela Terzi when she summed up the qualities that a runner needs to go the distance: “Patience and persistence,” she says.

Around the ten mile mark, I thought about quitting. What is the point of carrying on? It hurts, it is hot, I am not enjoying this; why not just pull up at the side and call it quits? Why wait for the beer when you can easily dip into the pub now and have a long, crisp, cold pint?

The best reward (Photo: Roddy Gibson)
The best reward (Photo: Roddy Gibson)

At which point I hear the mantra: patience and persistence. Keep on going. One step at a time. Enough steps and you will get there. Time isn’t important; reaching the finish is the thing.

I reached the carpet on 2:09 with a PB reaching out for me. Why did I stop and walk and deliberately scupper it? Well partly, as I said before, just to enjoy the moment. Seldom in my life have crowds cheered me on; make the most of it. And part because I really wanted to break away from the issue of timing. A personal best is unimportant.

What mattered was getting to the start line and making damn sure to reach the end. There were good moments and there were some bad moments but completing the journey was what mattered.



©Barney Spender 2015

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