28 June 2009

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: the Thame 10K

A young guy in an Argentine football shirt drew level with me at about 8K before leaving me for dead, and we chatted for a little while. He referred to this event as a fun run, but I can't believe it was ever billed that way. "A fun run is 20 yards, at the most" I told him. And I might have added (had he remained longer within earshot) that it does not take place on a blisteringly hot June morning.

I arrived a little early to enter on the day, slightly anxious about the race perhaps being full, but I need not have worried. However, the entry form gave me pause for thought: it invited me to state in which category I fell, and the option for a man over 50 was described as "Super Vet". The adjective I rather liked, but in conjunction with the noun I was at least a little ambivalent. This novel classification is the work of the governing body - thanks for making me feel good about myself.

By 0930 as we lined up at the start - around a thousand runners - the sun was already beating down. I joked to the guy next to me that we would have heatstroke before the start, as we had several minutes to wait. Last time I ran this race - fifteen years ago! - it was equally hot, but I was a novice: it was one of my earliest races, and I knew little of what I was letting myself in for. I do recall the pleasure of running through the spray provided by a spectator standing outside their house with a hosepipe, though. No such luck today.

Like I so often do, I ran well for 80 per cent of the distance. I have too many of these in my record: a good 11 miles in a half-marathon, a good half-marathon in a 15-miler, a decent 25 miles in a 40-miler ... By 8K (the course had km markers but no mile markers, the first time I have seen that in England) we were running along an old railway track - what Cinephile was referring to in this weekend's FT crossword: they hadn't reckoned with Beeching when they named it permanent way - with little relief from the sun. A short stretch of shade was very welcome, but short it certainly was. And, like another footpath-cum-cycle route that I have run, in last year's Shakespeare marathon, it seemed pretty well endless. My willpower evaporated and my legs went on strike: I stopped for a short rest, I stopped for water, I stopped for another short rest, then set off at a jog to get the final couple of kilometres out of the way. Compression socks meant that my calves were fine, but even the green shoes (an experiment, running 10K in them) were almost too heavy for the above-the-knee muscles to lift.

I know where I went wrong, of course. I always do after a race. I imagine that all runners do. I did not hydrate enough before the start, and I needed a bowl - a big bowl - of porridge before leaving home, not just crunchy oat cereal. Nevertheless, after I got myself jogging again in the last couple of km, I arrived in sight of the finish with enough energy to outsprint four guys (John Harvey's photo here), none of them Super Vets as far as I could tell, and although my Garmin device had enough juice left to obey my instruction to stop and reset I had to get home and plug it in before I could find out that my time was 47:39:15. The chip time will be a bit more than that, but I didn't feel unhappy about that - although I thought ruefully about chasing 40 minutes just three years ago.

Another tee shirt for my collection, and a goody bag containing a very welcome bottle of isotonic drink, two Mars Bars (almost liquid by the time I got them home in the hot car) and, bizarrely, a couple of wristbands and one of those things for hanging a pass round one's neck, all from the Euro 2008 football tournament. A novel way to dispose of out-of-date junk!

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