By Tom Simmonds.
Football’s vocabulary is full of fusty, yet compelling, clichés. The phrase, ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’, is one commonly reached for. The London Marathon returns this Sunday and, as somebody who completed the course in 2014, I feel qualified to take you on a metaphorical tour of its sights and sounds, looking at the football clubs who have replicated runner behaviour this season.
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Anybody who has run the London Marathon will tell you, particularly at the start and end, the noise is deafening. The fever pitch at the outset of both the football season and the marathon affects runners and footballers in different ways. The last thing you want is to go off like a train and have nothing left for later.
The first 10k takes in Blackheath to Greenwich, with a trip past Charlton’s Valley. Charlton were the only team to beat DERBY COUNTY between opening day and 29th November. The Rams floored it early on, and it’s caught up with them in the home straight. A winless March stalled them, though their April results at least show they have it in their legs to grind out a finish that most would be satisfied with, but which will disappoint them.
Pass the Cutty Sark, and it’s up through Deptford and Bermondsey, passing near Millwall’s Den, with a spectacular swing over Tower Bridge at mile 12. If you’ve trained properly, you’ll be feeling great now, and you’ll be tempted to kick on at this point to maximise the endorphin buzz. Much in the way SOUTHAMPTON did in the equivalent stage of this Premier League season. A nine-game unbeaten run across December and January, including wins over Manchester United and Arsenal, made Saints the team who made the break at this stage, setting the foundation for a possible PB finish.
Once the Tower is behind you, you come into a stretch lasting for approximately 10 miles that is, frankly, dull. It is here, more than any part of the race, that you need screaming crowds shoving Haribo at you.
Unfortunately, just as football fatigue affects the casual fan in winter due to fixture pile-ups, the crowds start to thin out here too. If winter games are a relentless grind asking players to go to the well a bit too often, so is this procession through Docklands and Limehouse. You need serious mental strength to keep your pace and your spirits up through this bit and maintain serene progress. Much as BRISTOL CITY did, as they mercilessly devoured League One opponents the way Dennis Kimetto eats miles. The Robins are the equivalent of the runner who the rest of the field hates; strong and effortless throughout.
City also avoided hitting the infamous ‘Wall’, which comes around mile 22, a distance generally further than you run while training. Finishing is now about mental fortitude rather than fitness. Under-prepared NEWCASTLE, with their one league win in 2015, hit it a bit earlier, and have almost been caught by the bloke with a fridge on his back (aka ASTON VILLA), though they should have just enough this time to avoid being caught by Mr Blobby.
The noise ratchets up again as you come through the City, down Victoria Embankment and approach the Mall, it’s now about who can best use the histrionics to their advantage in order to get down the pub quicker. The Championship’s enthralling promotion bunfight between BOURNEMOUTH, WATFORD, NORWICH and MIDDLESBROUGH is this scenario transferred to the footballing arena. All remain more or less in lockstep, though Boro’s recent overtaking manoeuvre on Norwich might be the first decisive blow in deciding which two will have champagne in their goody bags to accompany their finisher’s T-shirts, medals and granola bars.
Who are the teams you think have paced themselves well in 2014-15? Which ones ended up walking halfway through? Which footballers do you think would make good marathon runners?
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