The race didn’t start until 10am, so even allowing for travelling time, getting kit ready and at least half an hour of gently flapping, I could afford a few more soon-to-be-well-earned minutes of blissful slumber.
If I flew round the course half as fast as I flew out of bed, I’d be guaranteed a shiny new PB and quite possibly a land-speed record (World’s Fastest Self-Propelled Midget). But a PB wasn’t going to happen if I missed the start of the race, so I rushed around the house throwing random things into my kit bag while trying to eat porridge and brush my teeth at the same time*. This last-minute panic could perhaps have been avoided if I’d managed to get to bed a bit earlier the night before, but pre-event nerves had seen me make the executive decision that taking my Garmin apart was more important than sleep.
Minutes later I was out of the house and making my way to the Bedford Half Marathon 2011, which this year was being held in Bedford. Apparently it’s been held there every year, and if you ask me that puts it at risk of becoming stale and boring. I might suggest to the organisers that next year they hold the Bedford Half Marathon in Aberdeen or Sierra Leone. Y’know, just to mix things up a bit.
The race organisers were laying on a bus transfer from a car park in Kempston to the race HQ to ease congestion and, handily for me, my place of work is just across the road from said car park. This meant that I could drop my kit bag off at my office and also have a quick look there for my running belt, which I’d hunted for everywhere else. And I mean everywhere. By a process of elimination, if it wasn’t in my office the only other places it could be were at the top of the Eiffel Tower or in Samuel L Jackson’s shed. I arrived at the office with time to spare, and took a few minutes to relax and read through the race information. My warm sense of relaxation lasted right up until the point where I read the words “coach transfer to race HQ will run continuously until 09:20am”. I glanced at my watch. I looked back at the words in front of me. I glanced at my watch again. It still said 09:17. I said a word that I’m really not proud of and that I may have invented just for this very occasion, before sprinting out of the door uttering a few (slightly more traditional) words that had a similar meaning. As my legs carried me through my unplanned warm-up, I was filled with that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when sudden panic at being late for something mixes with the sombre resignation to the fact that you’re not going to make it.
So, I had just three minutes to get to the bus, or miss the whole thing. Luckily, I knew a short cut that should just get me to the bus stop on time if I hurried. A quick dash across a playing field led me to a handy gap in the fence that brought me within a hundred metres of my goal. Except it wasn’t there. Seriously, they keep banging on in the news about how we’re in a period of austerity and that we all have to tighten our belts, so who the bloody hell is going around fixing perfectly good holes-in-fences with merry abandon. My options were limited – now that I’d opted for the short cut I was committed to it. I only had a minute to spare, and taking another route would have left me with no chance at all of catching that bus. So I stuck with Plan A and somehow managed to squeeze through a small gap between the fence post and a thorny bush, negotiating a big swampy ditch before finding myself, bedraggled but triumphant, on the other side. In my mind I was Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (sans motorbike) but in reality I probably looked more like Worzel Gummidge in that episode where he gets lost in the Amazon and has to eat his own shoelaces to survive**.
And there it was, just across the road from me. A double-decker siren. A vision of diesel-powered loveliness. A bus.
As I ran towards it, time seemed to slow down, and every step I took was accompanied by visions of it pulling away before I got there, while I waved my arms like Robinson Crusoe desperately trying to attract the attention of a distant boat. Or more accurately, like a funny little bloke in leggings trying to stop a bus. But, as usual, my melodramatics were unfounded and I got on the bus, chirping a cheerful (but breathless) “morning” to my fellow runners before taking my seat. Drama over. Time to run. Well, it would have been. Except the driver shared my sense of urgency and timeliness, so we sat at the bus stop for another five minutes before pulling away.
He was probably curious to see whether any more sweaty, sweary ewok-men were going to emerge from the brambles across the road. Perhaps he had a bet on.
As we made our way to race HQ, I nervously played with my phone, making a conscious decision not to look at the checklist of all the kit I’d need for the big day. I knew that in my haste to leave the office I was bound to have forgotten some vital piece of equipment, but if I could stop myself from realising it until long after the race then everything would be fine. I glanced at my race number, half-expecting to see that I’d inadvertently picked up the wrong piece of paper. I was idly wondering whether they’d let me race with a glossy photograph of Justin Bieber pinned to my shirt***, when the bus suddenly came to a halt. We’d arrived.
Race HQ was spread over a school campus, and as I made my way to the main building to collect my chip I was awed by the number of runners milling around. I’m still quite new to the world of organised races, and on my training runs I’m lucky if I see one or two fellow runners. But as I wandered through the sea of brightly coloured clothing and Garminised wrists**** it felt as if I’d stumbled into some wonderful utopian village of runners. It wasn’t though. It was still Wootton. I checked.
Just as I was about to walk into the main building I saw a familiar face. One I’d been looking forward to seeing since its owner had convinced me to enter the Bedford Half just a few short weeks ago. I won’t big him up too much (as he’ll be reading this at some point) but Gruff is a top bloke, as affable as he is tall. From our many discussions on runnersforum.co.uk (some of which were actually about running) I knew that Gruff ran at a similar pace to me, which was fantastic as in my year-and-a-bit of plodding along I’d never actually ran with anybody and it’d be nice to have a bit of a change. I affixed my chip and it was time to take our starting positions. We found the zone for 130(ish) minutes and waited patiently, but then everyone started to shuffle forwards a bit and all of a sudden Gruff and I found ourselves looking up at a sign that read “70-80 minutes”. People were still moving forwards but we started to make our way back against the tide, keen to distance ourselves from the scarily focussed vests nearer the front. It was like getting to the bottom of an escalator, but then suddenly realising there was an angry bear at the bottom and having to furiously backtrack in order to avoid being mauled to death, eaten and (ultimately) pooped out in a cave.
Well, not exactly like that, but you get the idea.
You know how part one of my last race report ended just after the start of the race…
Ooh, nearly forgot the cliffhanger…