Running the Athens Marathon (and why German hates me)

Jim Tonge Your Voice
Jim Tonge

Jim Tonge takes a break from training for the Athens Marathon this Sunday to tell us why he's running for STAMMA. As well as learning German as someone who stammers.

The Athens Marathon. The original marathon.

A brief history lesson: Pheidippides was a Greek messenger who, in 490BC, ran from Marathon to Athens, racing to tell his people they had defeated the invading Persians, and inspiring the gruelling races we now call… well, marathons.

As he finished his lengthy run he collapsed, uttered the words "Joy to you, we've won!" And then died.

So now I'm running it for STAMMA. On Sunday. My first marathon, God help me. Let's hope I don't die.

I'm super proud to run this amazing, historical event to raise money for a cause that means so much to me.

I'm Jim Tonge, a 44-year-old stammerer living and working in Berlin, Germany. Hello!

Since having one of many midlife crises and taking up running in my thirties, completing a marathon has been on my bucket list, and I'm super proud to run this amazing, historical event to raise money for a cause that means so much to me.

STAMMA suggested I could talk about training, so I'll briefly do that: it's boring.

I love running, and I go to a club a couple of times a week for the community and the exercise. 5km run? I like those. 10-20km? OK, it's getting to be a long way but you feel like it's an achievement. But right now, I'm in a world of weekly training runs so long that I could watch the whole of Oppenheimer and still have time left to clean my fridge.

So. It's very boring. I think that about covers training. But if you'd like to sponsor me, please go to my Just Giving page.

The older I get, the more I realise how stammering is a central part of my identity.

Now, I'm not such a ham-fisted writer as to use running a marathon as a metaphor for having a stammer. It's a hackneyed cliché to mention marathons in the same breath as anything arduous. But in writing this, it did occur to me that every time we communicate as stammerers, like Pheidippides, it's a little joy and a little death.

A little joy that we were able to express ourselves: a relief to be understood, and to get past the disfluency that affects us on a regular basis. And a little death that our disfluency is still seen as a negative, a thing to cope with, something to even have to overcome. A social sadness we all feel, like how we die inside every time someone says, "Calm down, just take your time."

Thanks, hadn't thought of that.

As STAMMA's tagline goes: It's how we talk. And we should continue to strive for representation; to normalise it, to be accepted as we are, and to be given the space and time to express ourselves naturally.

The older I get, the more I realise how stammering is a central part of my identity. I had speech therapy throughout my teenage years, and whilst my stammer is more covert these days, I still have daily blocks, frustrations, fluency envy, and anxiety in social situations that others take for granted — like saying my name when prompted or speaking on the phone. Challenges we all know.

But it's also given me so much.

My stammer gave me a love of language and communication. Every word needs three quick alternatives, every verbal anxiety a quick exit door, and every unkind word a funny retort.

Communication is not about perfection. It's about connection.

And there are so many of my heroes who stammer: the wonderful, fiercely articulate author & stammering theorist Christopher Constantino (go read him, he's amazing), the effervescent stand-up comics Daniel Kitson and Nina G, the charismatic podcaster, actor and poet Scroobius Pip. These are people who are not successful in spite of their stammer, but because of it. Their fluency didn't define them, their stories and experiences did.


I've already been on my soapbox too long, but I'll quickly close with what it was like for me learning German as a stammerer.

Mark Twain described it as 'the awful German language', and for a stammerer, he wasn't wrong. Words like 'Beschimpfungen' (insults), 'bedeuten' (mean), 'Missverständnis' (misunderstanding); it's a very consonant-heavy language. As a covert stammerer, coming back to my childhood disfluency has been a humbling experience that led me to reconnect with a part of myself that I hid for so long: I'm completely disfluent again. I block, repeat, and have the same social anxiety that I had when I was a kid. On the other hand it is so wonderful to learn a totally new way of expressing yourself.

Little joys and little deaths.

But, I now also understand that communication is not about perfection. It's about connection. And connecting our experiences is what makes life interesting.

Experiences like running 26.2 miles up Greek hills in hot weather for charity. Again here's my Just Giving page if you'd like to sponsor me.

If you'd like to fundraise for STAMMA and get a free running vest, go to our Fundraise page.

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