24 March 2012

The Warrior (Abingdon Parkrun)

This is real progress. After a week during which I didn't have the confidence to risk aggravating my left knee (complaining after that ten-miler on Sunday) or Achilles so abstained completely from running, I feared that this morning's Parkrun would be more than I could handle. I'd taped the uncomfortable parts of both legs yesterday, though, and they felt a whole lot better. Just in case, though, I added knee support and compression tights to my ensemble. And after last Sunday's outing in my new cushioned shoes left my knee hurting, huaraches were needed - but I knew I'd have to take great care to avoid Achilles problems.

I don't think ahead about how I should run an event like this. Next weekend, for the White Horse Half, I'll give it some more consideration, but this is just 5K ... Don't go out too fast, though, that's a crucial lesson. I didn't have Hugo to pull me along today, so I could do it at my own pace.

That pace still turned out to be surprisingly fast. And not just in terms of minutes per mile: I can't yet accurately estimate 180 paces a minute, but I think I got close, and I could feel the difference. Landing on my forefeet, directly (or pretty well directly) below my centre of gravity, there was noticeably less strain on my lower legs. My knee felt OK too, and my confidence built as I got into my stride. Along by the moorings after the lock I passed a few others, and even squeezed past some more runners along the narrow path leading to the meadow. The only problem was the dew which was lubricating the interface between my feet and the sandals, causing some unwelcome lateral movement - not good on an uneven path with the Thames a couple of feet away.

My one, two, one, two breathing rhythm sounds pretty dramatic when the cadence is so fast, and it must have been a bit disconcerting when I came up behind another runner. But it was all going well, and a glance at Garmin told me that it was a good pace - it began with a 7 rather than 8 or 9 which is what I usually see, even on a 5K. I picked my way carefully along the stony track from the meadow at the eastern end of the course to the tarmac road by Kingfisher Barn, and fell in with a lady runner who pulled ahead as we made the sharp turn (I run wide there, to avoid an uneven-looking, huarache-unfriendly apex) before I got back alongside her down towards the lock. As we left the metalled surface for grass and bare earth again she seemed to slow, and with the narrow riverside path coming up I decided to clear a couple of other runners so I had some space in front of me - both, I think, with ears plugged and presumably some music masking the sound of what was going on around them, including me puffing my way past.

A little later, as I picked my way along the stony section for the second time, one of them came past again. A  big guy, he was making quite a noise as his feet made contact with the ground - probably much as I have done for many years - and striding much further than me. The contrast was striking: I felt as if I were leaving no sign of my passage. I stayed close to his shoulder on the long, long drag to the finish, acknowledging Paul (who'd finished first and was going back to meet one of his children who was also taking part) and another guy who offered a spot of encouragement, advising me that there was about 400 metres to go - as I could have worked out for myself. When I judged that I was close enough to give it a go, and feeling better than I could ever have hoped, I accelerated. So did the guy in front, when (despite the music) he heard me coming. I accelerated more. I was flying. He seemed to realise there was no point in trying.

At the finish he wasn't far behind, and we shared that great near-death moment that marks the end of a good fast run, bent over as we waited for our breathing and heartrates to settle down again and the nausea to pass before shaking hands and registering our finishing places (17th for me - unprecedented - and a PB for this event, by 37 seconds). Then my female running companion came to thank me for the race, and to remark that she thought perhaps she needed similar footwear (how will I feel when for the first time I am not the only crazy tarahumara-imitator at a race?) as she'd been very impressed at how I had taken off. As I was.

And after a period of, we guessed, ten years I met up with my old running mate John, still living in the same place and from what he said maintaining a running (and racing) schedule that corresponds to some of my wildest dreams. He and some other Didcot Runners incorporate the Parkrun in a 20 mile loop - which is a seriously crazy way to do it. But I have a feeling, now that I have at least overcome fears of exacerbating injuries even if I haven't quite overcome the injuries themselves, he's just the person I need to help me rediscover my inner warrior.

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