Wordpretzels, today was the day I took part in The Forest of Dean Half Marathon, a beautiful run through the trees situated in the magnificent county of Gloucestershire, South West England. I would share some photos, but I forgot my camera. Therefore, I will have to use somebody else’s.
As you know, I am quite keen on running. I know that some of you are keen on running too, such as runnersami http://wordpress.com/#!/read/blog/id/11246489/, who blogs exclusively about running and beer. What’s not to like?
I’m also aware that a lot of you would prefer to bang yourself over the head with a tin tray than go running, so I thought you might like an insight into what a race day is like.
It usually starts with parking your car in a muddy field, whilst being directed by a volunteer in a yellow jacket. Yellow jackets tend to either be a) old and very keen that you follow their every instruction, or b) very young and relaxed in their parking a car approach. They also have a tendency to wear some form of quasi militaristic uniform, for example boys’ brigade, scouts or some other regimented representation of a religious/monarchist cult organisation. These days I prefer the older ones, who point dramatically at another grey haired yellow jacketed official who guides you into your imaginary parking bay with the accuracy of a flight attendant on an aircraft carrier.
The uniformed spotty youth, on the other hand, spends his time looking at his adenoid phone whilst waving his arm around in the air, giving the occasion a certain je ne sais quoi, but also leaving me confused and generally badly parked.
I like to arrive in good time for an event, so that I can prepare at leisure and not be stressed. In most cases, you have to collect a chip and a race number. A chip is a little device that times your run and you generally wear it around your ankle. It bleeps when you step on a blue mat at the start and finish, so the start of a race involving thousands of people emanates lots of bleeps. I always have this mental image of a supermarket check-out worker on amphetamines hurling items across the scanner at break neck speed, which if you shop exclusively at Lidl, would be impossible for you to imagine.
Last year at the Tewkesbury Half, the race started and as I shuffled towards the start line, I realised that I’d left my race chip in my car. I veered off to the car park, fitted my chip and confusingly started with the 5 mile runners, looking bemused as to why an overweight middle aged man was at the front of their line up and wasn’t waiting for the gun. The commentator took great pleasure in explaining my predicament. In return, I gave him the appropriate hand signals.
Anyhow, having collected the necessary equipment, I then enjoy watching all the other competitors warm up. Some of them appear to want to run several miles before the race. Others have strange contortions or rituals to help them stretch their muscles.
I don’t bother with warming up. I read that older people didn’t need to after they were 50. Though to be honest, it might have been an article about sex.
Then there are the wonderful sights to behold. Fancy neon kit, lycra and flashy colours, knee braces, compression tights, old men in worn out cotton running vests, long socks, tight shorts, tight short shorts… all sorts.
And the shapes and appearance of the runners. Grey and white haired, bald, big, small, thin, fat, gorgeously attractive and terrifyingly ugly. They’re all there.
But don’t be fooled by appearances. Very often, the runners in the seriously streamlined kit pulling the entire professional warm up moves are more often than not the ones puffing and struggling by mile 7.
Do not underestimate anybody.
1) In my first half marathon, I reached a steep incline at mile 10 and diligently put my head down, trying to ignore the burning sensation in my calves and my fading ability to take in enough oxygen. As I endured this experience, a man who must have been in his 60s wearing an M&S singlet and an old pair of shorts overtook me, chuckling. I couldn’t believe it. What made it harder to accept was the fact that he was also pushing his son in a wheelchair.
2) The following year, I was left standing at mile 8 by a pantomime camel, who rushed by at incredible speed. This time I was prepared. By mile 11, I caught up with the camel, which appeared to have fallen on its haunches, heaving huge gasps of air into its head and bottom at the same time. Punching the air in triumph and shouting ‘In your face, camel!’ as I ran past was greeted with bemusement by the watching crowd.
I’m not even going to mention the rather rotund lad in a rugby shirt and cut-off jeans who stubbed out his fag on the starting line and disappeared into the distance, never to be seen again. Maybe he just stopped at the next off licence, but I have a feeling he would have completed the race and been in the pub on his third pint by the time I crossed the finish line.
The Forest of Dean course is multi terrain, so there are lots of places to trip up, which I tend to do on a regular basis. I haven’t as yet fallen arse over tit, but have come very close to it on lots of occasions. Not so much a run as a ‘nearly fall over’ for 13 miles.
Of course, there are some beautiful sights to see in the forest, but when you’re pursuing a personal best, this becomes an unnecessary distraction. Much like the female runners, since lycra is extremely forgiving, and lots of these women are very well toned. A well-defined bottom combined with the sort of noises a tiring woman makes in only one other physical situation can make you completely lose track of your running aspirations.
Then there’s the camaraderie. People often give me encouragement, nodding at my knee brace and making sympathetic comments. Today I managed two acts of kindness, both jelly related.
I noticed a stream of coloured objects toppling out of a man’s jacket in front of me. I accelerated and tapped him on the shoulder. He was wearing an ipod. I smiled and told him he was losing his jelly babies. But as I smiled at him and he removed his earplug, the only word he heard was ‘baby.’
The panic in his eyes made me repeat my statement. You could see the relief on his face as he realised he wasn’t being propositioned in the woods whilst running 8:30 /minute miles.
At mile 11, two young girls were giving away jelly sweets from large ice cream style containers. I didn’t want any, but took a handful and gave them to the mother of a little girl as I passed by. They cooed their appreciation as I disappeared into the distance.
“So, a sweaty, smelly, middle aged man tried to push sweets into the hand of a little girl before running off into the woods,” was how Lady Barton St Mary recounted it when I told her.
“Eww, Dad, what did her mum say? Was she freaked out?” asked Miss Katherine.
Thanks. In an instant I’d turned from a kind, thoughtful athlete into an opportunistic paedophile with ADHD.
I’d like to finish with a funny ending, such as me taking a wrong turning and ending up in a nudist colony or an angry ex-olympic middle distance runner catching me up and punching me for giving his little girl some perspiration stained sweets, but I can’t.
I ran the best half marathon of my life. Although if I told you my time and you are a serious runner, you might find that funny.