Saturday Night Before Sunday Morning

Blogging every day is leading me towards even more statements of the bleedin’ obvious. I’m really scraping around for subject matter today. Wimpole Estate parkrun’s 6th anniversary celebrations were this morning so that might be a good place to start.

I haven’t really had much to do with The Best parkrun in Cambridgeshire (as decided by me) for the last few months. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the birthday run though. In addition to the usual huge turnout of marshals and finish line volunteers, there were pacers running even times from 20 minutes up to 40 minutes plus me running for 1:00 and walking for 1:00. I had two runners with me right to the end, one of whom posted a nine minute PB while the other managed a course PB. We ran, or ran-walked or walked and then we had cake. What can I say? It was a parkrun but with a few people in fancy dress and a couple of silly hats. A special shout out to the father and daughter in camo gear, Bergens and big boots. That was a rather strong performance.

Now it’s Saturday evening and I’m contemplating tomorrow’s long run along the Roman Road. I need to fuel it with a good meal tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning. One of those early nights I was talking about yesterday will help. It all feels a bit odd, like I’m waiting to go back to school or something. I’m not going to do my sodding homework though.

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I don’t like glace cherries. I never have. Fresh cherries have an odd taste anyway. Preserving them with sugar syrup or embalming them or whatever they do with them to make them inviolable like that does nothing to improve them as far as I’m concerned. Glace cherries are the winnets of the preserved fruit world. There are tastier things dangling from round the arseholes of sheep.

Yesterday was my last day as event director at Wimpole Estate parkrun. I have had the privilege of being at the heart of a wonderful community. I’ve built that community round me like a caddisfly larva builds its protective shield. The silk is creative swearing and there are pebbles and bits of weed and they’re represented by the friends and dogs and dogs of friends and the sheep and cows and geese and ducks and gorgeous children and they’ve all kept me safe and sane when my world has been coming apart.

Now I’ve left it behind. In a way. It’s its own thing now. I’ll be part of it and I’ll let someone else feel the love the way I have. I am not good at accepting praise. It embarrasses me. I deflect it or dismiss it with a joke. It’s not important to me. What is important to me is a sense of mutual respect and I am grateful to have had the chance to set the tone of our community if I’ve even done that much. I prefer to think I’ve let others do the touchy-feely stuff while I’ve been just the right side of misanthropic for sanity.

Yesterday was still mildly surreal. I didn’t want any fuss but Chris was never going to let me get away easily. He stood up and was warm and effusive and I was mildly embarrassed at the attention. It’s never been about me, it’s always been about the runners and that special landscape we run through and about the community we’ve become. He gave me a National Trust goody bag which is why I wittered on about glace cherries. They’re in a cake, an otherwise remarkably lovely fruit cake which I started with a cup of tea this afternoon. They’re the only disappointment in a day full of delights and I can pick them out of the cake if I really have to.

I’m a lucky, lucky man. I have friends and health, a roof over my head, food in the larder, the love of an excellent woman, a cat on my lap whenever I want one and sometimes when I don’t. I don’t need an artificial shell.

Good luck to Colm Crowley. You have a remarkable thing to curate and I know it’s going to change and grow and develop and continue to be a place where friends can inspire and be awesome for one another.

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The God of Small Joys

There must be one surely? I’m not talking about those major events in life like the birth of children or falling in love. I’m talking about the little things. Finding a fiver you didn’t know you had in a pocket when you really need a coffee and a cake. A smile from your beloved when you wake up. That sort of thing. They deserve to have a god. If love can have a god, then so can smiles from loved ones and children.

This came to mind because I had a really rubbish run yesterday. I had no energy, no vim or vigour and I worked really hard to post a 26 minute run around Wimpole Estate parkrun. It was a bit muddy and sticky but it shouldn’t have been so bloody hard. I’d spent the week on the road in Manchester and Yorkshire meaning lots of miles, hotel nights, unfamiliar beds and crappy food on my own. I hadn’t run since Sunday’s St Neot’s Half in spite of taking all my kit and shoes with me. My lack of energy and oomph has been hanging around for a while.

So I ran flat out and slowly round parkrun on Saturday morning and crossed the line feeling a little meh. However, it wasn’t a crap run. It was a beautiful morning – really, really cold. It took the best part of twenty minutes for the feeling to return to my fingers even though I was wearing my best winter running gloves. It’s definitely winter again and that makes me happy. I was running among friends. I saw familiar, smiling faces everywhere I looked. I know lots of them now but even more of them know me. There were runners of all ages out on the course yesterday and they were by and large giving the absolute berries. Afterwards I had a very nice mocha, one of Cambridgeshire’s better sausage rolls and a slice of Bakewell so sexy I wanted to call it Joan.

My parkrun is so much more than the run and that’s just as well. Running in general is like that. My St Neot’s Half was an hour and three quarters of socialising and partying. I ran the last mile quite hard and it took a good five minutes before I stopped wanting to throw up but apart from that I was chatting and laughing. My time wasn’t dreadful, less than three minutes slower than my 2011 PB on the same course and it was a happy, happy day.

Small joys are important. They keep us going and give us something to rely on when small sadnesses creep up on us and the god of small joys knows there are enough of those around.

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PB Saturday

I hadn’t really planned it. I seldom do. I thought it likely that I’d be needed at Wimpole Estate parkrun on Saturday morning so when Paul said he had a full roster and that I wasn’t needed, I thought I’d have a trot round Cambridge instead. I’d planned to have a real go at my Mile PB at the Fetch Summer Mile which was on Saturday lunchtime at the university track. It’s traditional to have a bit of a blow at a parkrun first, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a pop at my parkrun PB while I had a decent set of legs. Training’s been going very well and I haven’t had an injury for a few months so I knew I was in good nick. I’ve been running at the back of the quick groups at C&C’s Tuesday night training sessions and not being too far off the back of the group.

I thought I’d be able to hold the pace I needed. My previous 5k PB, set in March 2012 was 21:03 and I’ve been running 800m repeats in around three minutes. I knew that pace was unsustainable over 5k but I should have been capable of running much more quickly than seven minute miles for the distance. I asked on Facebook for pacing help and Peter Stephens and Neil Tween both volunteered. I thought I’d need to be kept in check a bit at the start. I have a tendency to go off like a teenager at a porn party. There was a chance I’d blow up at 3k if I went off at my usual harum-scarum pace.

On Saturday morning, I had my perfomance porridge (not at all Scottish – made with honey, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries) and a coffee. I remembered to finish my orange juice but not my banana. All done before 7:30am. I need to have my breakfast to run properly but I can’t have it too late or I park my porridge on the finishing line and that’s just not pretty. I met Neil and Peter at Milton. Peter was in a very nice Tweed jacket. He intended to wear it on his run. Chris Darling has a reputation for dressing up on his pacing days so Peter thought that the least he could do was look smart. He looked very smart.

I warmed up. I don’t bother when I’m just jogging round but I needed to be on it from the start. I did the shorter first lap of the course and ran up the finishing straight to check conditions and to visualise crossing the line. I like to say that I don’t have a ritual before a race, that I just rock up and run but that’s not quite true. I need to get my heart rate up before I start or I spend the first half mile running through treacle. I do the same warm up and stretches each time I run hard. I suppose that counts as a ritual.

I ran just behind Neil and Peter for the first lap, It felt really easy. I nearly tripped on another runner and then nearly tripped her. The first lap can be really congested at Milton. I moved past the pace group just past the 1k board. I thought I’d cruise along just ahead of them for a bit in case Peter came in a little behind his target. I gradually pulled out a bit of a lead. I wasn’t wearing my watch so I had no idea how quickly I was running. I ran up behind a junior in a C&C vest at the far side of the lakes. I pushed out a few words of encouragement as I went to pass him and he kicked on a bit. Each time I caught him he would speed up a bit and I nearly fell over him a couple of times. I was a little frustrated but impressed that a boy who couldn’t be in his teens yet was easily keeping pace. He was right there for almost the entire lap. I finally got past at about 3k, I think. Martyn Brearley had overtaken us just before the long straight going back down to the Slippery Bridge at 3.5 and I set about trying to keep him in sight.

As we went through the final lap, I gradually began to close the gap to Martyn. I try very hard not to slow down on Milton’s many corners and each time I ran round one, the gap would come down a little bit. I finally came onto Martyn’s shoulder with a huge effort going past the cafe for the last time and kicked hard to overtake him on the straight just after the final left-handed corner onto the starting straight with 400m to go. I was sure that not only Martyn but Neil and Peter were right up my chuff and I gave the finish everything to stay ahead of them. That finishing straight goes on for fucking ever. There is nothing but pain in your legs, nothing but fire in your lungs, the very hounds of hell in the form of a very gentle, kind and tall man are chasing you down and you can’t look back. You. Can’t. Look. Back. Look back and you risk falling. Worse than that, you give those chasing you heart. They think you’re worried about them. I was.

I crossed the line, collected my finisher’s token – number 45 – and then glanced back. Martyn was there. I had no idea of my time. Neil and Peter came across the line a few seconds later, Peter’s watch stopped on 21:00 so I had a new PB. I didn’t know what my time was then. I waited at the finish funnel for some more friends to come through and then wandered off for a coffee with Julia, Martyn and Alex. It was a happy, happy and completely exhausted time. James gave me my time before I left. 20:38 – a PB by 25 seconds. Job done on PB Saturday, part 1.

And then I had my Mile.

Once again I had a pacer. John Oakes is a legend. He consistently runs at the front of races up to Half Marathon distance and regularly wins his age group. He is another quietly driven, self-effacing, personable and very generous athlete. I had asked for a 5:50 pacer, once again more to stop me going off too quickly. Ours was the fourth of five rounds and it was the busiest. I settled in just behind John after the off and concentrated on moving as efficiently as possible round the track, hugging the inside of lane 1 on the bends. I had Martyn there again. He moved just ahead of me and sat on John’s shoulder at the end of the first lap. We cruised up behind Stacy Wheat, the only woman ahead of us at the 1k mark and this is where I came unstuck. John and Martyn overtook her on the straight before the bend but I was still on the inside of lane 1 and had to move round the outside of her to overtake her because I was losing ground on them. I took the entire length of the bend to do it and then had to work hard to close the five or six strides which had opened up between us.

I didn’t do it. Martyn was flying and I couldn’t close the gap. I took maybe two strides out of him in the final lap. I crossed the line in 6:06, three seconds outside my PB and 16 seconds outside my target time. It was silly to expect two huge PBs in a day but I had so much fun trying. I then ate far too much cake.

I would like to publically thank Peter and Neil for their time and generosity at Cambridge parkrun and John for his pacing at the track. Chris Hurcomb did a grand job organising everything at the track. My thanks to him as well.

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We inaugurated Wimpole Estate parkrun this morning. An astonishing 292 runners completed the challenging 5k course and we’ve had rave reviews so far. I couldn’t be more pleased for the team who have worked so hard for the past few months to make sure that we get off the ground. I’m the event director but I’m a bit like the Roman centurion in the Bible story who says “Do this” and someone does it. It’s been a team effort. All I’ve done is wonder for example whether someone might want to pull a volunteer roster together and lo! Paul pulled a volunteer roster together.

There were some remarkable parkrun personalities there. I talked briefly to Andrew Lane, a parkrun pioneer, one of the thirteen people at the very first Bushy Park time trial. He said that two weeks later there were only eleven runners at Bushy. This morning there were 1,027 runners at Bushy parkrun and thousands of others at 200 different locations around the world, from New Zealand to the USA. Colin and Elaine Brassington have completed 144 and 131 parkruns respectively. I met them first at the St Neots Half Marathon in 2011. They’re enthusiastic Fetchies as well as parkrunners. Alice Holmes has 52 parkruns under her belt, two more than me and she is much, much younger than me. Our youngest finisher this morning is five years old and she is inspiring.

I find everyone who comes to parkrun inspirational in one way or another and that is one reason why I wanted to have a second parkrun near Cambridge. I wanted to have somewhere else for people to be one another’s inspiration. I’ve written before about finding my friends more heroic than my heroes, if that makes sense. I love seeing my friends succeed and when I struggle with my running, I need only chat to Chris or Paul or Carla or Al or Clare or Caz and things seem better. My friends are amazing and I want them to have somewhere else for them to be amazing in.

We will have more stories to tell one another in the weeks and months ahead. We’ll become fitter and quicker. We can’t possibly get our feet much wetter or colder. We’ll make friends and eat cake and race together and stand with one another because parkrun is a family. I quite like being the eccentric, forgetful uncle.

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It Was All A Bit Runny

One day, not so long ago, a writer went off to do writerly, authorial things with her writerly authorial friends and left her runny husband behind to attempt athleticism for the weekend. They both had a marvellous time. She was witty and erudite, met lots of friends, networked subtly, drank very nice whisky in a dark bar with an illustrious new chum and all in all had the sort of weekends writers can only dream about. Meanwhile, her husband ran so much and so hard he was sick. Twice. He loved it. Not the puking, that would be weird.

They say that’s it’s good for couples to have shared interests and it’s true. It’s also good for them to have things they can do on their own. I had a completely brilliant weekend of running fun and Anne did her thing in peace and quiet. We do have a shared interest in books and history. I love wandering around museums with her, even if I spend far too much time reading the labels on the exhibits and she’d rather take in the objects and do more research at home later.

This weekend, Anne was doing her own thing again. I ran my 50th parkrun at Milton Country Park on Saturday morning, had a wee jog round the course at our new parkrun at the Wimpole Estate and then today gave my ugly, weak legs a complete thrashing at the Cambridgeshire Cross Country Championships where I came 100th in a time of 53:13. I didn’t really have time to enjoy my 50th at Milton because I was in too much of a hurry to get out to Wimpole and get set up for our test event. I posted a respectable 23:30, had a brief struggle with the Chunder Monkey on the finishing line – which I won, by the way – grabbed a very good mocha from Cafe Diem and escaped from Milton only 20 minutes behind schedule because I was too chatty with my mates there.

When I got to Milton, I dropped the Great Big Box of Stuff off and went for a jog round the course to check conditions for the briefing. They were damp in some places and downright muddy as all fuck in others. I even lost a shoe at one point. It’s a challenging course with one major climb finishing at the 2k point with my favourite view of Cambridgeshire. During the summer, it’s going to be a quick one but it’s too boggy just now for outright speed. There are a couple of places where it’s actually ankle-deep in water but you soon thrash and splash your way through those.

The test event went well, everyone had a good time, nobody got lost and the marshals and volunteers were top notch. Our first official run is next Saturday morning at 9:00am. Please come and join us.

I was only slightly broken after a brisk 5k followed an hour later by a challenging one so I wasn’t too worried about the Counties this morning. I had a complete shocker at this race last year. I was 103rd out 109 in 53:02 and felt dreadful all the way round. I was 11 seconds slower this year but felt quicker. I probably paced it much better. I started from the back and cruised up the first hill. I enjoy hills and mud. Anne said to me this evening that she doesn’t understand a definition of fun which includes running up and down a muddy, slippery park. Once I got into the rhythm and began to take the brakes off on the downhills, I really began to enjoy myself.

I managed not to come last. I was 100th out 121 this year. It’s just possible that three of the men ahead of me last year died in the interim because I had my arse handed to me in grand style by some fairly elderly gentlemen. I hope not. Everyone behind me today was either older than me or carrying more weight than me. So were quite a lot of men ahead of me.

We were all out in our club vests. My vest means a lot to me. When it goes over my head, I feel part of the team and our team did very well today. I was never in a school sports team. I lacked both the raw talent and the will to train and improve so I didn’t deserve a place ahead of boys who have both talent and a work ethic in training. I work at training now because I want to give as much to the team as they have given to me.

I have had such a splendid weekend of running with my friends during the day and coming home to fine dinners in the evening. I’m a very lucky man. Weekends like this happen so infrequently and unexpectedly. I’d like to thank everyone who has made mine so good. You all know who you are.

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