18 October 2009

Promenade sentimentale

Race organisers who'd like to tempt me to enter their events - not that there's much reason for them to do that - would be well advised to steer clear of references to topography in the title. Unless they use words like "pancake". But I take my duties as a race reviewer for Runner's World seriously - of course! - so was I going to be put off by the second word in the name of the Frieth Hilly 10K? Not much.

The course shares some road with the Marlow Half, which is - erm - strenuous, so it was clear that the organisers were being nothing more than honest with the off-putting name. Quite right, too, that they should issue a caveat to prospective entrants who for whatever reason would find it too much.

As well as the roads (with very little traffic, though the organisers had at least one set of "stop" and "go" signals operating, apparently at the insistence of the County Council) it includes a lot of off-road stuff, much of it through glorious autumnal Chiltern woodland (with plenty of roots to catch the unwary). The villages through which the course wends feature lovely flint cottages with fantastic views, most seeming to have a dog or cat watching with bemusement from a window.

I turned up according to my usual "just in time" policy, collected my number, went back to my car (the car park was a couple of hundred yards from the start), took off outer clothing, removed car key from ring, locked up, placed key in pocket, jogged out of the car park, returned to car for race number ... arrived at the start only to turn round almost immediately and head back towards the car park as part of a running millipede, hundreds of feet tramping up and down. So, not the most relaxed start in my running career - is it ever any different? And did I miss the vicar's pre-start blessing which was a feature of the race's first running last year? I must find out.

The race is held to raise funds for the village school, and it seemed that every parent was on marshaling duty unless they were running (there being prizes for parent-runners). The support, from the marshals and the numerous spectators, was uplifting and the sheer number of marshals was extraordinary. This is a tremendously well-organised affair.

The course took to a wooded track before crossing a field and plunging down a narrow woodland path, where the tree roots were hidden beneath leaves. The entrance to this section created a bottleneck, which perhaps was just as well given the nature of the route on the other side: if we'd all funnelled into that path without having to pause and get into single file there would have been trouble. Then we burst out of the woods and hurtled (some faster, more recklessly, than others) down the side of a steep field: I crossed my fingers and hoped that the surface would not be too slippery for my pell-mell descent, and thankfully it wasn't. I passed several people on the way down - they got me back later, of course.

I chatted briefly to a couple of guys as I passed them, though with hindsight I should have saved my breath (as a marshal to whom I called out thanks advised me to do in the first mile). The fourth kilometre mark arrives as the course has begun to climb to its highest point, through woods on narrow pats 9so if someone stars to walk in front of you, it's difficult to find a way past). One young lady bounded past scores of us struggling up the gradient: I felt the complaints of Achilles again, and realised that even a week's rest after the last race (a week after the race that caused the niggle, with no running in between) wasn't enough to see it right. I stopped at the top and stretched it out, then continued on my way - not in pain, not even discomfort, but aware of my limitations, and of Achilles.

A young guy stopped in front of me, as he had done earlier before passing me while I was stretching, and I encouraged him on. He tagged on with me, so I asked him to pull me along when I needed help. He told me he had done this route, or most of it, many times, but never the last stretch - and others had spoken darkly of a hill at the end. As it happened, we parted company before kilometre 9 (not in the way I had anticipated, with him leaving me standing, but with me stepping up my pace), then we were back in the village and the road cruelly stretched, straight as a die, up a formidable ascent. A photographer snapped action pictures of us struggling up: "I'm not at my best" I complained to him through gritted teeth. Head down, driving on with my legs, ignoring Achilles, I reached the top from where it was a short distance to the school behind which the race finished. I even managed to sprint round the playing field, though spectators could have been excused for not recognising this.

Then I splashed out a fiver on a massage - possibly the best decision I have ever taken, at the time, although Achilles is even more sore now than after the race ...

Here are the gory details. After the race I delivered a goody bag to another competitor who ran 7 miles home afterwards and not surprisingly did not wish to be encumbered. Private Passions was on Radio 3 - Ian Rankin making his choices - including Promenade Sentimentale, minimalist piano music from the soundtrack to Diva, my favourite movie and a simple but relaxing piece of music. It seemed a perfect close to the morning.

No comments: