10 December 2008

Winter's shadowy fingers

I didn't know how much to wear for the Bridges Race this lunchtime. The temperature in London was scarcely above freezing, and I arrived at the start wearing leggings, thermal top, fleece, waterproof jacket, hat and gloves. I removed the jacket and the fleece before the start. I have rarely been cold when running, and if I am ever cold when I start I soon warm up (I remember once gallantly giving my gloves to a running mate when my need for them had passed, and hers was pressing), but these were extreme conditions.

I joked with another competitor that I would run just fast enough to keep warm, but when I was called to the start and immediately sent on my way (the start of these handicap races is always a bit messy) I set off at a cracking, some might say foolish, pace.

After track training last week, I had realised that good runners get their feet much higher up behind them than I imagine I normally do. No wonder I don't lift mine as high: it is extremely hard work, as I found that evening. But here I was striding down the Thames Path kicking my heels up and feeling as if I was eating up the ground.

Of course, it didn't last, but I saw off the runner who set off on the same handicap (or nearly) as me - she got ahead at first, but I'd passed her again before we reached MI6 (or is it 5? I can never remember). I overtook Guy, who suggested I might have my eye on the trophy - and it occurred to me that there hadnt been many starters ahead of me and with the generous handicap I'd acquired by virtue of a bad time last month it might just be posssible.

But I lumbered up the steps to Vauxhall Bridge (only two at a time), although I still felt as if it was flowing nicely as I headed for Millbank. A couple of competitors were in sight ahead of me and I'd have to catch them - but the gap wasn't closing, and my legs, the calves in particular, were tiring from the ffort of lifting my feet so high - even though I stopped doing that a couple of hundred yards earlier. (Would compression socks have made any diffeence? There's one way to find out!)

Although it was cold, the sun was shining and I regretted having left my sunglasses at the office yesterday when I went for a lunch that lasted until 6 o'clock (although I maintained thoughout that I'd be going back to the office). Where the route came out of the sahdows alongside St Thomas's I could feel the warmth. Turning onto Vauxhall Bridge there was an unwelcome breeeze in my face, but I suppose it was at my back (and therefore unnoticed) as I crossed Lambeth Bridge.

The two guys in front were in exactly the same place as I came off the Bridge, and there was nothing I could do to catch them in the final few hundred yards along the Embankment. I had nothing left in the tank, despite the terrible gaspoing noise I was making with each desparate breath. Not only could I not catch them: one runner passed me, closely followed by a second, then another, then three more, and I slipped down the order dramatically. Guy's words of encouragement didn't help.

My time, though, was 16:41, and now I think about it that means that I ran pretty much to my handicap.

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