Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Shame about the weather

As I was loping through the fens yesterday ... no, that sounds much too glamorous: the sheer ugliness of 99% of the fens depends on the fact that a landscape that was lacking in either pastoral charm or sublimity has been wrecked by a modicum of human intervention by humans with little or no interest in beauty reinforced by an almost theological conviction that they understand the countryside in a way you don't ... so: as I was running along the B1102 yesterday in the glorious, sweltering heat, I decided that I liked running in the sun. Sunshine has a similar mood-improving effect to running. You feel relaxed and let your arms move freely, you don't worry too much about your pace, you absorb the dusty air through your pores.

It reminded me of a run with Sean a couple of years ago in the dark days of rehabilitation (from injury, not from Sean's encouragement of late-evening-prior-to-long-run toping). At 7 am we looked out into a dreary Nottingham cloudscape and, pooh like, wondered if it would rain. Gilets on, we started the run and it started to rain. 'It's bloody started to rain,' I said, by way of making what passes for conversation between runners who don't want to be running.

'It's perfect race conditions,' he said, 'only a year ago you would have thought this was perfect.'

And he was right. When on a relaxed lope through the countryside you want to enjoy the weather and pretend all is well with the world and rack up some miles without too much boredom or suffering. And when in the monocular tunnel of training or, worse, racing, you want a slight bite in the air and a little drizzle. Look out of your door at those conditions when you just want to run, and they seem inhospitable and you try to think of some other commitment that insists on being addressed immediately and require you to take your shoes off; look out on race day, and you know that whatever time you rack up this morning, the weather will have been on your side. You won't overheat, you'll be focussed on that space floating above the road.

Runners can always find something to complain about. Or enjoy: they're happy people. The fact is, running and racing prefer antithetical weather, and that's just the way it is. It's another mental obstacle to overcome on this long road to recovery: the weather doesn't have to be great.

I look at Facebook later and see that my friend Simon was running the Milton Keynes marathon, and was crucified on the altar of the sun. It was not a good day for breaking three hours. Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved; do not presume: one of the thieves was damned. It's a fair percentage.

J

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Pieces of a Runner

Running and runners have been on my mind for the past few weeks. I started running again. My boy was training for a half marathon, and I ran it with him. He's 16. I had a moment of pride a few weeks before that when he did a fitness test in order to get into an elite rowing programme. He did the collapse test and ran into the toilet to throw up. I felt proud. And I thought: I need to pull myself together. So we ran the Cambridge Boundary Run, and I discovered it was no effort at all. And it was a lovely day.

So I've been running, in snow, rain and sun. With and without dog. Slowly and very slowly. And then of course came Monday, and the news of the Boston Marathon. Many things went quickly through my mind – many of them about the way that news works today – but the one my mind kept returning to was: why a marathon? Of all of the events to attack in the name of God or a political ideology or whatever, why a marathon? There is nothing less divisive, less nationalist, less imperialist than marathons. The same might be true for running in general, but marathon runners seem to me to be a truly open community, and a community-minded community, one that rejects national interests, one that embraces the globe. One that recognises that you share something with everyone else who's been through miles 16-18, and especially the things that bring you to confront miles 16-18. I could tell a thousand stories, but I would be digging into memories of when I was a runner.

So this morning I set off from Lower Clapton on my fixie at 6:30 am and cycled to Greenwich. I took the towpath along the River Lee Navigation canal, turned onto the Herford Union Canal and crossed Victoria Park before heading down to the Isle of Dogs. I crossed by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which was completely deserted. An echoing, sallow artery. Outside the air was cold but bright with sun, the air that wakes your spirit. I ground the single gear north into Greenwich Park, and found the marathon route, near the start. Then I rode the marathon route.When I run I manage to miss everything, as though I have tunnel vision; and with my new-found knowledge of London topography and putting the pieces and perspectives together this was completely different. And it was fun slowly riding the cleared streets (only one jobsworth of a copper – one in 20-odd miles – told me to get off the road), and taking roads on the wrong side, recklessly following the triple blue lines, and riding the wrong way down one-way streets. And reliving those meteoric, aphasic flashbacks of joy and suffering from the four previous times I followed this route (or was it five: there might have been a fifth too painful to recall). All of that was just beautiful.

But what was most wonderous was the logistical preparation. Thousands of volunteers. The hundred of helpers erect barriers; hundreds of schoolchildren setting up the drink tables; lorries delivering showers; bands doing soundchecks; pubs putting out tables; the marshalls standing in groups agreeing on roles; marshalls setting up the arches; technicians laying the chip readers under mats at the 5k points; hundreds of charity volunteers setting up banners to cheer the runners ruining their knees raising thousands of pounds for them; well-wrapped sexagenarians carrying their camping chairs to watch from the roadside; hard against the barriers; families with their personal banners. The race was less than an hour away and towards the end helpers were still getting things in place. And everyone – except said copper – was smiley. And I saw a couple of references to Boston, one reading "running London, thinking of Boston", and I thought: you terrorists are trying to deter the wrong people.

J