20 December 2009

Winter song

Winter's shadowy fingers pursued me for the full 13.1 miles today: indeed, they started even earlier as I had offered to assist with putting out signs on the course, for which purpose I presented myself at the Royal British Legion Hall in Wootton at 8 o'clock in the morning. The road surfaces were predominantly black ice - hardly a bit of tarmac to be seen. By 10, the sun had come up but was making little impression on the ice or the air temperature.

From the start, we headed up Boars Hill, a demanding climb when you reach it after mile 8 (last year's route, starting and finishing at Tilsley Park which no longer opens on Sundays - a leisure centre closed on the day of leisure: what will local government think of next?), only marginally less demanding in these conditions. Use the verge when possible, seek out the patches on the road surface that have melted, and hope for the best. But the greatest problem was breathing - at least, it was for me. I have, certainly, lost fitness (and gained weight) in the last few weeks with my enforced lay-off, but the cold air made my chest feel as if it were constrained in something tight but slightly elastic - a wet suit, perhaps. I'd dragged myself, gasping and wheezing, over Boars Hill, through Bayworth and down to Lodge Hill before I felt I could breathe. (Here's a photo, by John Harvey, of Dave and me at this point.)

Unfortunately, that meant that I got into my stride just at the moment that my body decided to make other demands. Tilsley Park was near at hand, but closed, and there are no other public facilities in the area. I tried Hilary's cousin's house, not far off the route, but there was no-one at home, so I diverted to the local running shop, Fit To Run - someone later pointed out the irony, which escaped me at the time - where I was received very helpfully, as they could see from my running number that I was taking part in the race.

After that, with ten or fifteen minutes wasted (but my dignity preserved), I clocked some reasonable miles round the ring road and through Abingdon, right to the ten-mile mark where Tor and Mel were running the second water station. I was able to report that there were two runners behind me - all that I had managed to pass again after my extended pitstop. I drank the sports drink that I had prepared earlier and left with them, and headed off towards Cothill where I hoped I might catch Andrew, who had been in sight when I first spotted the drinks station. But outside the Merry Miller (where we had dined the previous evening, perhaps too well judging by the way my stomach was reacting to a little light running) something in my groin succumbed to some sort off strain that I hadn't even been aware of imposing on it. As it happened, I didn't get much chance to run on it any more as the last two miles were more suited to skates than running shoes. How the first man home did it in 1:24:something (and the first lady in some ten or twelve minutes more) I cannot imagine, although even those are not fast times and must have been spoilt by the conditions.

At least no-one was hit by a wayward car, a real concern at the start: the only injury was Andrew, who fell and grazed his knee somewhere - claiming that the cold anaesthetised it so well he had not even noticed until he saw the blood when he stopped at the water station.

In so many ways, a fitting end to a highly unsatisfactory week. I hoped that completing the race would give me a sense of achievement (it has merely left me with more sore muscles than I have had for years, and still wheezing hours later) and do me some good in the Club championship: but it might even be that, having been beaten by nearly all my clubmates, I have actually boosted their positions. Roll on 2010.

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