Last Sunday I ran the Amsterdam Marathon with my son John. He's a fit young man and can burn me off easily in a half marathon or anything shorter, but this was his first brush with the full distance and his aim, in his own words, was to "just get round in one piece". So we conservatively arranged ourselves in the 4 to 4,5 hours pen at the start in the Olympic Stadium under a cloudless sky. The morning was chill enough for us to keep on our raggedy old throwaway tops until the last minute, then we were off, half a lap of the track and out into the streets, a 10k loop to warm up past the Rijksmuseum and through the Vondelspark, then out into the second major loop to complete the 42k.
It's a fine course, hardly any of the soulless residential areas and industrial estates that make up the miles in many big-city marathons; the low October sun was in our eyes as we turned southwards along the River Amstel but the day was warming up into perfect running conditions. We allowed the crowds to keep our speed down, just overtaking when it was easy, chatting to each other and to others occasionally, half a mile or so with a girl from Rochdale "long way to come to run with your neighbours!" (John lives in Manchester), and cruised easily through halfway in 1-55. Same strategy through to the end, walking a bit to eat and drink something every 10k, you need to enjoy your first marathon although it will always be tough, 26 miles on the road is still a long way. Back to the stadium, round the track to the finishing arch, John clenching fists and raising arms as we crossed the line in 3 hours 51 minutes, done it! In no time we were back with our ladies for hugs, hot coffee, the warm glow of elation that comes at these times and a lazy lunch.
Two years ago on similar clear, crisp day in November I ran the New York marathon with my daughter Julia, on that occasion her first experience too of the distance. She found it hard at times but was helped round by a big enough supply of jelly babies and the matchless support and enthusiasm of the folk of the five boroughs (if you only ever run one marathon in your life, this has to be it). Just after the finish one of the medical checkers (who look into your eyes to see if there is still a soul connected to them) saw her and announced to everyone in earshot "Look at that smile, that's how the rest of you guys should be looking!"
I'm quite proud of my marathon PB, achieved earlier this year at an age when I should probably be doing something more sensible in my spare time. But the run in which I got it has already faded almost completely from my mind, while the details of those two golden autumn mornings in Amsterdam and New York will stay with me for many years to come. Because although the results and medals are nice enough momentos, the real rewards that we get from what we do are the experiences that we share with our friends, our families, and the people that we meet along the way, that carry us into the future.