On Sunday, I ran The Forest of Dean Half Marathon. For all those Wordpretzels out there who don’t know where that is, it’s in the west of England, very close to the Welsh border. The Forest of Dean is a rather unique area, where wild boar roams the countryside and the locals sound like pirates, pronouncing their homeland as the “FarstaDean.”
Some of them look like pirates. They are also extremely proud and fiercely partisan, so at this point, I’ll give up on the description of The Forest of Dean and its inhabitants for fear of causing unintentional offence.
I’m a bit of a regular for The FarstaDean Half, but entered late this year, having felt quite poorly in January and February. However, my friend Sister Maria was taking part in the Farstadean Canicross. This strange pastime involves rather fit looking people tying themselves to dogs and being dragged around the course before normal runners have a go. That’s if you can call anybody who voluntarily runs 13 miles for fun normal. So I decided to enter, wanting to get there early and see her in action with Sasha or Mylo, her amazingly well trained Labradors.
However, poor Sister Maria was not well enough to run, so I still have to wait to see her in action.
Now, The FarstaDean Spring Half Marathon is always run on the Sunday when the clocks go forward from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time, meaning that not only do you lose an hour’s sleep; you have to run 13.1 miles as well. Which also means one wakes up at 5am and wonders whether one really moved the clock on before going to sleep or is it really 6 am etc…
You have to be there before 9.30am (8.30am?) for a race start of 10.00 am (9.00am???)
As usual, I stressed about being late. As usual, I arrived an hour early. Cheerful middle aged men direct your car into the car park, which is essentially a very soggy field.
I had time to kill. Never mind! I could get in the queue to collect my race number from the race headquarters, which is essentially a gazebo full of lovely volunteers handing out paper and safety pins. You enter one side of the gazebo a citizen and appear out of the other as a finely tuned athlete. I noticed that the race number had two sticky labels attached to it, which appeared to be the timing chip. Usually the FarstaDean has a strip you fix around your ankle, which makes you look like an ASBO offender in lycra. I wasn’t sure whether you tore off the strips and stuck them to your ankle. It seemed unlikely. I asked the cheerful steward in the hi-viz jacket and cowboy hat.
“Excuse me, are these the timing chips?” I enquired.
“Oh arr, you bain’t wanna run without that!” he bellowed.
“Ah, usually you have a strip round your ankle,” I explained unnecessarily.
“Pah! Thaat’s so laaast year!” he said.
More time to kill. I decided to get a coffee from the hot food stand, run by ladies who looked remarkably like members of the WI. Once more I queued behind a lady who ordered 2 coffees and 2 bacon rolls. One lady in a yellow frock and blue hair scribbled something on a small pad of paper. Her friend in a chunky cardigan and tweed skirt eyed their latest customer over the top of her glasses.
“That’ll be six pound, please,” the calculating lady said.
The woman in front of me handed over the cash and stared at the WI pair. They stared back, neither party blinking.
“Do you have my rolls and coffee?” she asked.
The WI ladies drew closer together and emanated that menacing air only WI members are capable of.
“Oo no. We don’t handle any food,” said yellow lady.
“No, not food. Just money. Food safety, you see,” said glasses lady, handing over a (coincidentally) yellow raffle ticket. She pointed further down to two trestle tables, where other WI homies beavered away over steaming cups, soggy bread rolls and doughnuts.
Luckily, having witnessed how transactions took place, I dutifully handed over my money and received my ticket, moving towards the hot food stand. A lady with purple hair was barking commands.
“Audrey! More milk, we need more milk!”
Audrey, a woman in her sixties wearing red corduroy trousers and a sweatshirt with a picture of an owl on the front, looked startled, blinking the raindrops out of her eyes.
“Mother! Mother! We needs more milk!” she shouted into the wooden shack that represented their mothership. Mother was a tiny figure in a beige blouse and a brown skirt, the waistband of which reached half way up her chest. She hefted out a 4 litre plastic container of milk, which appeared to be nearly as heavy as she was.
“How are these runners using up all the baastard milk so baastard quickly?” she crowed.
“Mother! Language! You cassn’t say that!” said the daughter, turning back to me and pouring my coffee into a polystyrene cup.
“There you go my lover, milk and sugar is over there,” she said soothingly. I watched the diminutive matriarch heave her burden onto the trestle table and decided to have my coffee black.
Coffee finished, stripped for action, I pretended to do some exercises while really watching the other competitors – men in day glo yellow hats and gloves they wouldn’t normally be seen dead in. Other men in shorts that are so short they’d be a hit in the nightclubs of Soho, Brighton and San Francisco. There were runners with professional looking kit doing earnest looking warm ups who will probably be walking at mile 4. Then the runner I just have to admire. He was wearing a Newcastle football shirt, Marks and Spencer’s blue check boxer shorts, red socks and plimsolls, known as ‘daps’ in these parts. His unique pre-race exercise appeared to be sucking hard on a king size cigarette. Just to let you know, I did manage to overtake him at mile 9. Then he roared past me at mile 11, never to be seen again.
The conditions were wet and windy, I knew it wasn’t a day for fast times, so I just decided to take in the scenery and finish in a very slow time for me.
As I sat in the long queue to get out of the soggy field, I stared vacantly at the front wheel drive vehicles stuck in the thick mud and had a rather sombre thought.
It appears that my half marathon days may be behind me. When I finished the race, I decided that The FarstaDean Spring Half Marath 2015 would be my last. I would announce my retirement and just run to keep the weight off, the reason I started running in the first place.
Of course, this is a symptom of a slow time. When I say I’m retiring from half marathons, let me put it another way. I’m not retiring from half marathons.