First of all, the rumours that I was eaten by bears during yesterdays Pumpkin Run 2011 have been greatly exaggerated.
As those of you who know me (or who just enjoy following me around with high-powered binoculars) will already have learned, yesterdays crack at running a Half Marathon was a bit of a success. The fact that it was a success despite weeks of worrying, wittering and gentle panic just makes it sweeter still.
Sitting comfortably? Good. I can feel a lengthy waffle coming on. Mmmm… waffles.
At around 4am I got out of bed and for the third time that night trudged downstairs bleary-eyed to check my kit, count safety pins (yep, still four) and reread the registration email for the hundredth time to make sure I’d be turning up at the right time, date and continent. Satisfied that I wouldn’t be turning up at Stanwick, Alaska like those other mugs, I got what sleep I could, finally rising at around 8 so that I could repeat those sacred steps of check/count/reread, only this time over porridge.
An hour later I was out of the house, in the car, out of the car, back in the house, pick up my bag, out of the house, in the car and away. Efficiency personified.
I’d decided to be sensible for once, and had opted for tried and tested kit. I’d resisted the temptation to try anything new at the last minute, so I wasn’t setting myself up for any nasty surprises. No chafing seams on new shorts, no unexpected live electrical wires in new socks, nothing.
I arrived at the lakes with half an hour to spare. Plenty of time to make several trips to the toilet between nervous small-talk with my fellow competitors. I still feel a bit of a fraud when surrounded by proper runners and this in turn can render me a little shy, so small-talk is often limited to tugging on someone’s elbow, muttering “g’luck” and scurrying off to hide in a bush like a bashful five year old who enjoys hiding in bushes.
Glancing around as I tried and failed to detangle myself from my earphone lead, I indulged in a quick game of race-stereotype* eye-spy, and in no time at all I’d scored a full house…
Lean, wiry and full-to-the-brim with steely determination. These club runners mean business. Their sweat, if bottled and distilled, would be the very essence of running. Sadly, it would still smell of sweat.
With their cheerful mumsiness and a penchant for dayglo pink lycra, it’s clear that these ladies aren’t serious runners at all. If anything, they’re the running equivalent of the women who just stand idly gossiping in the shallow end of a swimming pool. It’s a horrible assumption, and I fall into this trap at every race, just before my misogynistic musing takes a kicking and the Pink Ladies speed off into the distance. I’m left eating their dust, sullenly reflecting on how appearances can be deceiving as they casually settle into a 7 minute/mile pace and become a rapidly disappearing pink blur.
These people tend to be Vests, but cunningly disguised with devil horns or Dracula outfits. I know my place in the world of running, and so no longer feel any shame whatsoever at being lapped by a pantomime horse.
Or “CaniX/CaniCross” runners, as they’re more officially known. Even without their dogs, these runners are easily identifiable by the fantastic amount of kit they carry on their belts. If Batman won a trolley dash around the mountaineering section of Go Outdoors he’d come away looking like these guys. I’m an unashamed kit-junkie, so it’s a look that appeals to me. Sadly I don’t have a dog, so my only option is to deck myself out in belts, harnesses, water bottles and numerous carabiners, and complete the illusion by loudly whistling while I run, looking around for a missing Labrador that only I know doesn’t exist.
In my experience, runners of (ahem) advanced years tend to be the running equivalent of the little bloke in a biker gang. Often underestimated until they suddenly show that they’re in fact the ones to watch, at which point they jump up and bite your nose off. Well… not so much the last bit, although you do hear stories. Anyway, my point is, they’re quick.
So, back to the race…
I took my place in the huddle, opting for a modest starting position three-quarters of the way back, and awaited the signal to begin, whether it be starting pistol, airhorn or a 3-second excerpt from Paul McCartney’s “Frog Chorus”. I’m not sure if it was due to being so far back or simply because I was in my own little world, but I heard none of these. Instead, someone next to me piped up with “Oh, looks like we’re off then”, and with a surge forward it started. The tightly packed mass of runners moved as one, and I was slap-bang in the middle, taking my first faltering steps as a (half) marathon man.
But no sooner had I started, I looked up and saw the glint of sunlight on razor-sharp talon. Screaming straight towards me through the mid-morning sky, hunger and hatred burning in its piercing red eyes, was none other than… a griffon!***
To be continued…