11 March 2009

Hole in the Road

Even if it had not been a lovely spring day, the Teddy Hall Relays, starting and finishing at the Iffley Road track where the first sub-4 minute mile was run, in the presence of the soon-to-be octagenarian Sir Roger Bannister, followed by a birthday tea in his honour, was not to be missed. The small detail that this was a working day did not prevent a field of about 700 assembling at lunchtime, though many were students as this is essentially a race for them.

I ran this race years ago, in a scratch Kellogg College team so it was difficult even to remember who to take over from - a bearded Pole in my case. With three clubmates it would be easier. I ran the second leg - as did Dave for Bristol University, but not exactly in competition with each other. It all started promisingly enough, and although such a large field racing through the streets of a mediaeval university city is pretty fraught, some of the extra matters you have to contend with contribute to the charm of the event, such as the car reversing against the flow of runners in Rose Lane. Running through Christ Church meadow is a delight, and it is good to get away from the Oxford traffic: but at about 1.1 miles (2.5 still to go), leaving Christ Church and executing a sharp left turn onto St Aldates (and thence past the police station known to viewers of Inspector Morse) my right ankle twisted and I ended up in the roadworks, in considerable pain. (I am not going to go into detail of why this happened, other than to say that the pavement is extremely uneven at this point: the matter might be sub judice soon.)

I sat on a convenient bench for a while, massaging the painful region: the marshal at that turn said she could call for first aid or to report my retirement, but not just to say I would be later than anticipated. The next marshal was at Folly Bridge, she said, so I set off at a hobble intending to reconsider when I got there. In fact running was more comfortable than remaining stationary, so I carried on down the towpath to Donington Bridge where (by dint of climbing up the very steep ascent from the riverside to the bridge without slowing down) I caught and passed one competitor. Then the race followed, roughly, the course of the river back towards the running track, climbing to Iffley Road about half-a-mile out and giving me a chance to pass more runners for whom a hill at that stage was more daunting than it was to me. Then back to the track, taking care to keep well over to the left through the narrow entrance through which third-leg runners were simultaneously emerging, two-thirds of a lap and there was Julian ready to take off as I crossed the line.

Once i stopped running, the pain came and I could walk only with difficulty. I found an official at the start and remonstrated with him; he referred me to the organisers' office, so I hobbled round there and remonstrated with them too, although the main organiser was absent. One of the guys who was there said he would call her: I was concerned lest another runner have a similar experience, and disappointed that no-one had even marked it with bright paint.

I spent twenty minutes or so at the first-aid post, first with an ice-pack on my ankle and then strapped up to enable me to walk. I struggled to the tea party, which turned out to be the college dining hall at St Edmund Hall packed with runners (and, I suspect, random passers-by in search of refreshment) with students churning out sandwiches using Tesco sliced loaves as fast as possible while others set out biscuits and cakes that had a distinctly Tesco Value air about them, yet others made tea and coffee and yet others poured hundreds of glasses of champagne - Heidsieck , which is as it happens available from Tesco though their website reverses the second pair of vowels. Or perhaps it's another product altogether, a supermarket look-alike?

After an interminable delay, during which we ate Marmite sandwiches (very British) and pretty much anything else that was on the tables, the results were announced and prizes given by Sir Roger, a process which took up the rest of the afternoon on account in part of the difficulty faced by winners of the many prizes fighting a way to the front of the room through the assembled runners (et al) and the heavy and unwieldy wooden chairs and tables.

Eventually the proceedings were concluded with a toast to the great man, and I limped off to catch a bus home. A fun event, but nevertheless one that I might now tick off and not bother with again. And I'm certainly not going to waste time with the tea - not until Sir Roger's 90th, anyway.

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