My son and his family came to London this past weekend. We had a very pleasant family reunion, and he ran the marathon. His time was 3 hours and 19 minutes, which I think is a pretty good time, considering that he’s 43 – about twice the age of the leading marathoners. It was a beautiful day, and he enjoyed the run. He said that one distinctive feature of the London marathon is the huge turn-out of a very supportive crowd: “There was hardly any place where the crowd wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder on both sides, cheering encouragement!”
I noticed no apprehension in the crowd or among the runners for a repeat of the tragedy of the Boston marathon: everyone (except a few tired runners) was having a very good time. I’m certainly glad that both Tsarnaev brothers were found before they could do more damage. And I find it hard to understand why someone leaves his home country to find a better life elsewhere, and then, when he’s settled in the new country, he finds so many faults with it that he wants to destroy it. If he doesn’t like his adopted country, why doesn’t he go back where he came from? We have the same problem in the UK, where Muslim fanatics leave the Middle East for a better life in the UK. They become disillusioned and they (strangely) believe that their religion gives them the right to kill people. I find it encouraging that the Canadian train bombers were turned in by members of the Muslim community – a community which is beginning to recognise its responsibility to police its own members. I understand that the Tsarnaev brothers were ethnic Chechnyans. Incidentally, there is a Chechnyan character in Efraim’s Eye who provides Efraim with the high explosive he needs for his attack on the London Eye.
All this thinking about marathons got me to reflect on the parallels between running a marathon and writing a novel. Both activities require a lengthy effort, and some participants never finish. It would be fair to say that both activities require a fair amount of training or practice. A few participants win prizes in both cases. And some people feel their spirits sag at some point during a marathon, and during the creation of a novel. For many runners, their low point comes at the 15 to 20 mile mark, where they are starting to tire and they recognise that they still have a long way to go. I have a similar experience when writing a novel: I start out with a burst of enthusiasm, eager to put words on paper. Toward the middle of a novel, I find it a bit more difficult to motivate myself: there’s a lot more writing to be done. As I approach the end of a novel, my enthusiasm returns, particularly when I have a clear idea of the conclusion, and I become very productive again – eager to complete the project. Apart from the facts that running a marathon is a physical activity while writing a novel is largely mental, and that the time frames are quite different, there is one other major difference. During any given marathon, a runner has only that one opportunity to product a good result during the race. A novelist, however, can re-run his race many times: changing, correcting, editing, re-writing to produce a better result.