Exactly 20 miles into the London Marathon – just as you reach Poplar High Street in Tower Hamlets – there stands The Wall. It’s monolithic. Impenetrable. A blockade that towers into the sky far beyond The Shard. There’s no way around, above or over The Wall. The only way is to crash through – best foot first – and hope with toes crossed that you get through to the other side.
Of course, you don’t have to be an East London architectural enthusiast to know that The Wall isn’t a physical fixture of the city. It does exist, though, in the minds of every marathon runner. The 20-mile point is notorious for marking a total depletion in energy and unthinkable level of exhaustion, with six miles (and 300 metres) still ahead of you.
It’s something that the two remaining runners in Chapter Four of 26.2 Miles: The Runners’ Story – our series with Swiss running brand On, directed by Jon E Price – come to grips with as they count down the days to the big one. Both Corbin Shaw and Hélène Selam Kleih are paired with mentors to guide them to the starting line and add a final burst of pre-marathon energy. Corbin speaks to designer and marathon runner Charles Jeffrey about sport and identity, while Hélène chats to Olivia Ross-Hurst, a running coach and triathlete.
Both runners are apprehensive about the wall. “I’m so scared because I’ve actually never ran past 20 miles,” Corbin says. Hélène asks Olivia about the dreaded milestone. “That wall is when you’ve used up all your reserves, you’re going to get to that 20-mile mark.” Olivia puts Hélène’s mind at rest though, emphasising that any marathon is a series of ups-and-downs, highs and lows – not a fixed obstacle. “It’s not just that wall,” she says. “You’re going to have hard points, you’re going to have amazing points. None of it is going to last, you’re just going have to ride it.”
Aside from deconstructing the wall, time with the mentors is a chance to explore personal experiences that surround running. Charles, who ran the marathon in 2019, shares his reflections with Corbin. “I class it as one of the most important days of my life. I never really experienced that sporting situation growing up as a queer kid, so I never really got that thrill running.” Later in the conversation, Corbin explains to Charles how running gives him the space to “move into something less rigid”.
In parallel, Hélène and Olivia discuss readying your mind for a marathon. Olivia encourages her mentee to tap into her mental strength and take things moment by moment, kilometre by kilometre. “I started counting clouds. It can trick your mind when thinking about the finish line,” Olivia confides. Even better when you’re wearing On’s Cloudmonster shoes, right?
Emphasising that you should never forget your motivation for running, Olivia also recommends absorbing the stamina of those around you. “You’re going to be surrounded by thousands of other people… so use that energy.”
This realisation of running it as a collective interlaces Corbin and Hélène’s individual journeys, as they remember that they’ll be running side-by-side. “I’m so excited for that euphoria,” Corbin says. “Having that with other people and having it with Hélène as well.” Smashing through The Wall might be a herculean challenge, but it’s a little easier when you’re doing it together.
DIRECTOR Jon E Price CREATIVE DIRECTOR Kieren Birtchnall EXEC PRODUCERS Rosanna Gouldman, Adam Lilley & Rose Darkins PRODUCER Kevin Cheung DOP Isaac Eastgate STYLIST Hollie Williamson EDITOR Kit Wells STORY EDITOR Ellen Evans SOCIAL EDITOR Millie Gray MUSIC COMPOSITION Father GRADE ETC SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER Victoria De Zanche PRODUCTION COMPANY Riffraff