13 July 2008

The long and winding road

To the Didcot 5, a race I had meant to do before and never quite got to. A nice flat course, mostly on paths through a housing estate - which is better than I realise that sounds. Dave, who lives a short walk from the start, assured me that there was only one climb, on the approach to Tesco, and I spent a lot of the race wondering how we were ever going to get anywhere near Tesco: in fact, I'd already done the climb (which was nothing to worry about) and it was outside Sainsbury's. Shows who does the shopping in his household.

Rachael was there, with Mark who was doing the Fun Run with his young daughter - but he made sure I knew he had already done 20 miles this morning, and an athletics meet the day before in which it seemed he had been obliged to do most of the events, including the pole vault and long jump and several track events which were much speedier than his normal running, so he had (he said) felt stiff this morning. Perhaps to prove a point, he was wearing a finisher's tee-shirt from the Comrades, which rather set him aside from the other fun runners (not to mention the non-fun runners in the 5 miler). I didn't ask him whether it had been a down year, though.

The course was flat but very, very winding. I don't know why town planners make footpaths and cycle routes meander through housing estates - presumably, pedestrians (if there are any) cut off the meanders, creating what I suppose one might call ox bow paths across the grass ... but of course we didn't, although there was a lot of scope for straightening out the meanders while remaining on the tarmac.

The first three hundred yards or so (and the last quarter mile) was across a recreation field, nicely rutted where it looked as if joyriders had been practising handbrake turns, though the ruts had been filled with sand. Still, it was bumpier even than the lawn that I levelled and reseeded at home this spring. (I finished the job in near-darkness, which probably accounts for some of the bumps.) By the time she exited the field, Rachael was fifty yards or more ahead of me, which was a bit less than I expected, and I had passed several people, including one with earphones in place who almost forced me into the barrier. (Later he came past me, cut in in front and slowed so I had to pass him again immediately: later still, he passed me again and I finally acknowledged that he was probably half my age.) Dave was behind me, though, and stayed there until it finally occurred to my body that this was twice the distance of most of my recent races, which ironically occurred just opposite Sainsbury's. He pulled out a bit of a lead over me, and was engaged in a spectacular sprint finish as I plodded round the last 400 yards before following his example to the best of my ability over the last 50 or so.

Not the most spectacular race, but very well marshalled and quite well-supported, with one water stop (about half distance, before the Sainsbury's Hill, where I paused to sip water and allowed Dave to make up a considerable amount of ground on me). At the end we received medals - Rachael kindly taking one for me while I got over the first half-minute or so after finishing, during which I always feel as if I am about to die, or if I have run really hard that I already have died) - though after being presented with a rose at the end of the Frohnau 10K in May medals will always seem a bit naff to me. She estimated my time at 36 minutes, my watch being in the office in London, and I reckon that isn't bad compared with 22:30 or thereabouts for a 5K and 16:15 for 2.3 miles in the Bridges Race.

I definitely need to get more training in if I am going to improve from this level, and I am conscious of the weight I am putting on as much as the fitness I am losing. I probably won't be taking a leaf out of Mark's or Rachael's book, though ... On to the Great City Race now, on Thursday, which is never a PB opportunity just because of the crowds, but at least will be a great evening out with colleagues.

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